August 21, 2011 | by

I'm a big fan of Matisyahu, the chassidic reggae singer. What is the origins of his name?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

Matisyahu (also pronounced, Matityahu) is known from the Chanukah story as the father of Judah the Maccabee. During the second century BCE, the Jewish community was divided in response to the Greek appeal for assimilation. Some saw assimilation as a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. In general, two camps polarized: the Jewish assimilationists (called Hellenists) on one side, and the religious community on the other.

The matter came to a head in a small village called Modi'in, not far from Jerusalem. Greek soldiers came one day and demanded that the Jews sacrifice a pig to the pagan god. At first, no one stepped forward and the Jews stood in proud defiance of their pagan oppressors. But then a Jewish Hellenist volunteered to perform the mock offering.

Furious at this outrage, Matisyahu, from the family of Hasmonian priests, killed the man on the spot and then killed the soldiers who were present. Matisyahu and his five sons fled to the nearby caves and became the core of a guerrilla fighting unit. Led by Matisyahu's son Judah, they fought to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism - battling the Greeks not only militarily, but religiously as well.

In the end, we know who prevailed!

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