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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We Need Heroes!

To make your Chanukah more meaningful this year we at TorahLab have worked very hard translating anew and annotating the Megillas Antiochus - The Scroll of Antiochus.  This ancient scroll which dates back to the first century B.C.E. is read on Chanukah in many Yemenite and Italian synagogues. It retells the story of the heroic Maccabees and brings to life one of the true lessons of Chanukah; the power of heroism in faith.

Please be our guest in downloading the scroll. Read it with your children and share it with your friends. May this wonderful story of the Jewish people cause your candles to burn brighter than they ever have before.

From My FOREWORD To The Scroll of Antiochus

Like the story of Esther, The Scroll of Antiochus is a story about heroes. In it we learn of individuals who, with their great dedication and conviction, were able to save the Jewish community in Israel, delay the destruction of Yerushalayim by 200 years, and topple the powerful Greek army. The sons of Mattisyahu, grandsons of Yochanan the Kohein Gadol, waged war against Antiochus and his governors and eventually succeeded in toppling the Greek forces.

On Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of quality over quantity. The Talmud (Shabbos 21b), emphasizes the miracle of the oil. After the Greek invasion and defilement of the Second Beis HaMikdash, the victorious Maccabees discovered only a small amount of pure olive oil, sealed with the distinctive seal of purity of the Kohein Gadol. Even though there was only enough oil to light the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days. The codifiers of the Siddur, in the Al HaNissim prayer, emphasized the miracle of the armed rebellion which is also the subject of Megillas Antiochus.

The lesson of these two main stories is that a little bit of purity can go a very long way. It is not the quantity of the oil that matters; it is the quality of its purity.

The greatest developments in world history did not take place because of large armies or mega corporations. Change for the better is effected by individuals with courage and by heroes of faith. It is not the fire power of an army that wins the battle, but the purity, power and conviction of its cause.

This is the story of the Jewish people. “Not because you are larger than all the nations did God desire you and choose you, for you are the minority of the nations.” (Devarim 7:7). Our ability to be a ‘light unto the nations’ is in direct proportion to the purity of that light.

The scroll that we put before you in this short volume is an ancient historical account of the Chanukah story. The Scroll of Antiochus was originally written in Aramaic. Rabbi Saadia Gaon (ninth century) claimed that the earliest written copy of this scroll can be traced back to the period of Bais Hillel and Bais Shamai, Talmudic scholars who lived one hundred years before the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash; approximately 30 BCE. However, in his opinion, the scroll originated one hundred years before that and was originally written by the Maccabees themselves.

For generations it was the custom of communities in Italy and in Yemen to read the Scroll of Antiochus in the synagogue on Chanukah. (see thirteenth century Tosfos Rid; commentary on Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 42) . It is printed in many Siddurim, including Otzar HaTefillos.

The Maccabees, like the oil found in the Beis HaMikdash, were a small drop of purity amongst an enormous amount of contamination.

We need heroes in order to survive as a people. The story of Chanukah is a story of pure spiritual heroism. It is our hope that the republishing of this story with a new and modern translation will serve to inspire purity, integrity and the heroism which we so direly need.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5768

Posted on 11/21 at 12:13 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at