Friday, January 2, 2009

Chanukah Travel

(Maccabees I, Chapter 6, verses 32-46)

When writing about different locations associated with Chanukah, some obvious places would be Modiin, where the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Greeks all began, and Jerusalem. Alternatively, one could write about the different battle sites such as Wadi Haramia, near modern day Ma'ale Levona, Beth Horon, Emmaus or Beth Zur north of Hebron, Adasa or Elasa near Ramallah. For your enjoyment, I have decided to write about a battle site which did not have a happy ending for the Jewish rebels— the Battle of Beth-Zechariah located just outside Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion.
In 164 BCE, Yehuda HaMaccabee (Judah the Maccabee) defeated the Syrian Greeks at the Battle of Beth Zur, and restored the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. However, Seleucid forces still controlled the Acra, a strong fortress within the city that faced Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) which served as a symbol to remind the Jews that their land was still occupied [by the Greeks]. Two years later, in 162 BCE, Yehuda HaMaccabee laid siege to the fortress. The Syrian Greeks then took the field against the Maccabean army.
With an army of about 50,000 infantry and thirty war elephants, along with cavalry and chariots, the Greeks approached Jerusalem from the south and besieged Beth-Zur eighteen miles from the city. Yehuda HaMaccabee lifted his own siege on The Acra, and led his army south. The Jewish force of about 20,000 positioned itself on the high ground across the road to Jerusalem — directly in the path of the Syrian-Seleucid army.
After the Syrian Greeks captured Beth-Zur, they then marched on to Beth-Zechariah. Yehuda HaMaccabee used traditional field tactics and fought the Syrians in their own fashion. The result was a defeat for the Jews.
The war elephants unnerved Yehuda’s troops. As the Jews began to break for the rear, the Maccabee's younger brother, Elazar, attempted to show his fellow men that the elephants were vulnerable. Charging into the mouth of the Syrian assault, he spotted a large elephant bearing the royal seal. Elazar cast himself under the animal and thrust his sword into its soft belly. The elephant died immediately and fell onto Elazar, killing him.
Today you can visit the settlement of Elazar located in Gush Etzion just across from Efrat. The site of the Maccabean battle where elazar the Maccabbee was crushed by an elephant is located nearby in Hirbet El Zachariah. A wonderful place to visit there is the Path of the Patriarchs which runs between Rosh Tzurim and Neve Daniel.
In all probability, the Romans built on this existing path that has been around for many generations earlier. This is the most logical path to take according to the landscape of the region. The book of Braishit is filled with stories about the forefathers walking between Beer Sheva and Nablus. This would be the path they travelled on. Abraham and Sarah walk from Nablus passing Bet El and then southwards on this path.

And then there is the story of the binding of Isaac, where Abraham takes his son and they travel three days from Beer Sheva to ‘that place’, the Temple Mount. On the beginning of the third day, they are able to see ‘that place’ from a distance. On the hills at the top of modern day Neve Daniel, it is approximately 60 km. from Beer Sheva, which is two days’ travel and it is also a place where you can see on the horizon the Mount Moriah.

And so here you have the path, travelled by our forefathers as well as the Maccabees. On June 7,1967, during the Six Day War, Israeli forces advanced on the Path of the Patriarchs towards the Etzion Bloc and entered the abandoned Jordanian army camp on the site of Kfar Etzion. By Rosh Hashana, some of the Gush Etzion survivors from 1948 were granted permission and returned back to Kfar Etzion.

To visit the Kfar Etzion Memorial museum call 02 993-8308.