by Sara Yoheved Rigler
The founders of the “Jewish Olympics” had a formidable task. To find a name for the games, they had to pick through Jewish history and find a hero who, if not actually athletic, was minimally physically fit. Two millennia of pasty-faced scholars did not qualify, so they reached back further. King David had a spindly physique and, as the author of Psalms, was remembered more for his lyrical poetry than his military conquests. The greatest war hero among the Biblical kings was perhaps Ahab, the husband of Jezebel, but he was a villain. “The Ahab Games” just wouldn’t do.
Then, voila! They found them: the Maccabees! These five brothers valiantly fought and vanquished the mighty Greek army. They were physically strong and morally upstanding. The games would be called the Maccabiah. After all, the Maccabees are the perfect role models for aspiring Jewish athletes.
Or are they?
Who Were the Maccabees Anyway?
The Maccabees were distinguished by two traits: They were idealistic and they were undaunted by difficulty.
In terms of their idealism, the name “Maccabee” says it all. The five brothers were the sons of the elderly priest Mattathias. The family designation was “Hasmonean.” The appellation “Maccabee” is actually an acronym for Mi kimocha b’eilim Hashem, meaning: “Who is like You among gods, God!” “Maccabee” is a statement of one-pointed dedication to the One God.
The battle the Maccabees waged was the first war in history to be fought not for the sake of land or power, but for the sake of a religious ideal.
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