כ״ט בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (February 8, 2016)

Gittin 57a-b: For the Honor of God

Continuing with the theme of hurban – describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – our Gemara applies the passage in Tehillim (44:23) to the story of a woman and her seven children. This story appears in Sefer Hashmona’im II, chapter 7 and in greater detail in Sefer Hashmona’im IV, chapters 8-17, as well as in various midrashim. As it appears in our Gemara, a woman and her seven children were brought before the Caesar and commanded to bow down to an idol. As each one of the children was brought forward to do so, he quoted a different pasuk from the Torah indicating that the one true God was the Jewish God and that he could not bow down before any other. Each child was in turn killed. When the Caesar saw that the last one also refused to bow, he suggested that the child simply bend down to pick up the king’s ring so that it would appear as though he had bowed. The child responded that God’s honor was surely more important than the Caesar’s honor.

The mother asked permission to say a few words to her last child. She instructed him to find Avraham Avinu in the next world and tell him of the woman who was willing to sacrifice not just one, but seven of her children for the honor of God.

The Gemara does not make clear when this story took place. When it appears in Eliyahu Rabbah the story is dated in the time of Hadrian. According to the versions in Sefer Hashmona’im, it occurred during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes – also the time in which Josephus places this story. According to those sources, the woman’s name was Hannah. This was widely accepted in the Jewish community over the generations and thus this story is known as “Hannah and her Seven Children”.

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