At the end of the introduction to his הלכות חנוכה, the Rambam writes: “והעמידו מלך מן הכוהנים, וחזרה מלכות לישראל יתר על מאתיים שנה–עד החורבן השני” “And they appointed a king from among the Kohanim”—a major no-no—“and Jewish rule returned to Israel for over 200 years—until the destruction of the Second Temple.”
It is regarding this that we say Hallel for a week, and add a section to the Amidah and Birkat Hamazon. We are deeply grateful for this return of Jewish rule.
Rabbi Ouri Cherki reminds us what kind of Jewish rule this was: Kohanim do not make legitimate Jewish kings, and these were arguably the worst kings in the history of Israel. Yochanan Hyrcanus was king and Kohen himself, but looked to separate the two branches when he died; his son Aristobulus I was given the Kehuna while his mother was given civil authority. Aristobulus promptly put his mother in prison, starved her to death, and became king. His wife, Queen Shlomtzion, bribed a messenger to alter a letter from her husband to his brother that resulted in the brother being assassinated, allowing her to select the next king, Alexander Yannai, who killed Torah scholars. In the next generation, we were sapped by a brutal fight for power between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II; while the Kohen kings fought it out, the Nabateans beseiged Jerusalem, and then the Romans, under Pompey, turned Judea into a Roman province and used the kings as proxies for their own infighting. In the next generation, Roman Mark Antony executed the final Hasmonean king Antigonus, and installed Herod, an Edomite with a questionable Jewish lineage, who replaced the Kohanim altogether with non-Jews from Babylon and Egypt.
And yet the Rambam says: “And Jewish rule returned to Israel for over 200 years!” And this is what we celebrate, says Rabbi Cherki, because it is better to live under the rule of bad Jews than under the rule of foreigners.
Many shuls now adds a prayer for the State of Israel. Today’s State of Israel is not a Torah state; it is a labyrinthine bureaucracy founded by socialists. Its supreme court sometimes throws out democratically popular candidates simply by declaring them “racist.” Some Knesset members refuse to acknowledge the Temple Mount as an important Jewish site. Some of the hareidim don’t want to fight to defend it, and some of the smolim seem to be actively fighting on the Arabs’ side.
This Chanukah, let us say a heartfelt amen when we hear this prayer, even as we acknowledge the state’s deep problems and dream of a better political system in our homeland. Let us think with gratitude of our Knesset full of Jews as we light our menorahs. Because it is better to live under the rule of bad Jews than under the rule of foreigners.