The name Maccabee is, according to mystical or pilpulistic students, simply the initial Hebrew letters of the biblical phrase "Who is like You, O Lord, among the celestials" (Exodus 15.11). These words emblazoned on the battle standards fired Judah's army with invincible faith and religious zeal to enter the field of combat against the Syrian infidels. The rubric "Maccabee" also is formed by the name of Judah's father: Mattityahu Kohen Ben Yohanan. His children perpetuated their stalwart father's name when they used the first letters for their own surname.

Searching into the sources of genealogy, others recognized Maccabee as a combination not of initial letters, but of the last letters of the names of the patriarchs: Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakob. Maccabee (MKBI) was the progenitor of the Hasmonean priestly dynasty, even as the first letters in the name indicate Mamlekhet Kohanim Bet Yisrael, "kingdom of priests of the House of Israel."

Scholars have also advanced various explanations of Hasmonea, the name applied to all the sons of Mattahias. The Hasidic student would find concealed in the name "Hasmonean" those elements of the Jewish religion which the Syrians had aimed to abolish, and he would interpret the letters in the following manner:

New Moon celebration
Circumcision rite
Laws of menstrual purity
Sanctity of the betrothal
Belief in the unity of God

Attempts were made to ascribe new meaning to the name Hanukkah. With great ingenuity, therefore, they read Hanukkah as two words, hanu and kah, "they [the Maccabees] rested [from their fighting] on the twenty-fifth [day]." Thus the Hasmonean struggle and ultimate victory on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev was chronicled in the name.

The talmudic controversy between the schools of Shammai and Hillel concerning the laws of kindling the lights was also used to interpret the word Hanukkah. According to the Shammaites the lights were to be kindled in descending order: eight on the first night, seven on the second, and so forth. On the eighth only one candle was lit. The school of Hillel proposed an ascending order: one on the first day and finally eight on the last day. The final decision is recorded in the name itself as follows:

And the law is
According to the school of

To demonstrate how these letters reflected the detailed controversy would be a novel scholastic achievement. Some students attempted it and succeeded, thus:

Shammai's view:
Eight candles diminishing nightly during the week.

Hillel's view:
One candle to be added nightly.

The accepted opinion:
"The rabbis decided in favor of the school of Hillel"

In sum, Hanukkah adds up to eighty-nine, as does the word guf, "body," manifesting the physical prowess of Judah "the hammer" or "the general" (matzbi).

From: Sidney B. Hoenig, "Hanukkah Oddities," in The Hanukkah Anthology (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992)



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