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Newsletter 43: The First Oil War in History


Shalom everyone,

Almost every Saturday Ettie and I drive out to Modiin to visit Tamar, my granddaughter and her parents.

They live in Modiin, a new town (10 years) between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It's named after the old Biblical town of Modiin, where the family of the Hasmoneans lived. That is the family which led the rebellion against the Greeks 167 years B.C.E.

Next to Modiin there's a great forest known as the Ben Shemen forest. Here some remains of a village from the time of the Hasmoneans was discovered. It might even be the actual village where Judah the Macabee, the most famous member of the family, lived.

This is one of the first forests planted by the JNF after it was established in 1897. It makes the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem quite beautiful with green everywhere.

Yesterday I took a visitor along that road on my way to show him Jerusalem. I explained that the area where the trees grew is known as the green line and demarcated the territory under Israeli control from the war of Independence to the six day war in 1967.

Then all changed; overnight the area beyond the green line also came under Israeli control and became known as the West Bank. Now the only way of distinguishing the two areas is the trees.

Naturally Arabs still inhabit the villages once under Jordanian control. Their style is different from Modiin. Here houses are low, one or two storey buildings.

Typically they have little tracts of farm land around them, where vegetables are grown. The villages are always on the tops of hills. The names can always be associated with Biblical villages, such as Gibeon, Bet Horon, Bet Ur etc. Most of them have buildings which date from the Crusader times.

The slopes of the hills are covered with terraces where olive trees and some almond trees or occasional vineyards grow. The most prominent structure is the Mosque, always, located at the very top of the hill.

This is the West Bank and is under Palestinian control. Unfortunately the Palestinians got into the habit of taking pot shots at Israeli cars passing along the road, so the Israeli government declared the road to be under Israeli protection. Now we have fences all along the road and constant surveillance. Israeli armored vehicles now patrol the road and they have lookout posts and road blocks all along there.

Seeing the olive trees and the vineyards certainly reminded us about the important place we were heading for, namely the Garden of Gethsemane, which means olive oil garden, and it's located at the foot of the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem.

Olive oil and wine were two of the most important products of the land of Judah, as Israel was known in Biblical times. Many people earned their livelihood either by selling these products or by manufacturing them. The people who must have had the greatest benefit from them, however were the priests, because these two products featured prominently in Temple worship; the 7 branched candelabra was ignited with olive oil and the libations on the altar required great amounts of wine.

History books, like the Books of Macabees only give religion as the reason for the rebellion against the Greeks. The miracle which we celebrate at Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil which burnt for eight days and made it possible to perform the all important ceremony of lighting the candelabra in the Temple.

The right to practice the Jewish religion is the only reason given for the rebellion which the Hasmoneans led against the Greeks, but, perhaps, after seeing the area of Modiin we can add another reason, why they led the rebellion, an economic reason.

The livelihood of many Hasmoneans, who lived in this area, cultivated olive trees and vines and were priests in the Temple, must have been seriously curtailed by the Greek takeover of the Temple. This was a good reason to lead the rebellion.

Could it be that the rebellion was to prevent the Greeks and Syrians from capturing the oil and wine market? Was Hanukkah the first oil war in history?

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