Chanukah: The Cheil and the Soreg
At the heart of the Chanukah story is the Holy Temple. It was here that the
persecution of the Jews began under the rule of Antiochus who ordered that
the Temple be desecrated and converted into a place of pagan worship.
Mattisyahu, son of Yochanan the High Priest, fled to the countryside where
he became the father of the Jewish resistance. His sons and followers, the
Maccabees, fought bravely against all odds and were aided by Divine
Providence to eventually return to Jerusalem and bring the Temple back to
Jewish hands. It is their miraculous victories and efforts to restore the
sacrificial service to its earlier glory which we commemorate on the holiday
In these upcoming classes we will explore the connection between the
physical structure of the Second Temple and some of the core elements of the
|The Cheil and Soreg outside of the Women's Courtyard|
Standing at a distance of 10 cubits outside the walls of the Courtyard on
all four sides was a low wall, half a cubit high. This wall, as well as the
area between it and the Courtyard walls, was referred to as the
Cheil. A wooden latticework fence, 10 handbreadths high, was built
atop this wall and was called the Soreg.
The purpose of both the wall and the fence was to mark the point beyond
which no one contaminated with corpse- tumah , nor any non-Jew, could
pass. Archaeologists have discovered one of the marker stones from the
Cheil and the inscription (written in Greek) reads, "Any foreigner
who passes beyond the wall and fence surrounding the Temple has only himself
to blame for the fact that his death will follow."
|Marker stone from the Cheil|
When the Syrian-Greek kings occupied the Temple during the years leading up
to the events of the Chanukah story they made thirteen breaches in the
Soreg fence to demonstrate their disdain at having been barred from
entering. After the Maccabees regained control of the Temple they repaired
these breaches and the Sages instituted that anyone who passes by one of the
repaired breaches must bow down to give thanks to God for destroying the
foreign regime and abolishing their evil decrees.
Al Hanissim ("For the Miracles") is a prayer of thanksgiving
recited during the holiday which gives a brief synopsis of all of the
historical events of the Chanukah story. One of the lines reads, "They
breached the walls of my Tower," a reference to the enemies of the Jews
breaching the Soreg fence which surrounded the Temple (i.e.,
"Tower"). While the heathen marauders were bent upon breaking down the
dividing lines between all nations of the world, our Sages underscored the
importance of preserving our Jewish identity by specifically choosing to
include the breaching of the Soreg in our liturgy.
The Chassidic masters are quoted as saying that this incident served as the
precedent for eating latkehs on Chanukah. To commemorate the repairs
made to the breached Soreg the Jewish people contrived a dish – the
potato pancake – which resembled a patch (as in a patch on a garment). This
Chanukah staple was originally called a latteh, which is the Yiddish
word for patch, and over time this became latkeh.
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post of this class.