Ask the Rabbi on “Maccabi or Maccabee?”


Q. How can some texts describe Maimonides as a philosopher? Wasn’t he a theologian? Aren’t the two roles contradictory?

A.  As a theologian Maimonides uses rigorous philosophical methodology to reason about the faith and tradition which he upholds. It should be said, however, that modern philosophy also analyses the meaning and use of words and it is still called philosophy. Maybe this proves the pragmatic view that philosophy is what philosophers do, analogous to the definition of law which I heard as a law student, that law is what lawyers do.


Q. Maccabi or Maccabee – which is the right spelling?

A. Both. The Hebrew word is spelled M-K-B-I, possibly from a word meaning “hammer”; a well known interpretation sees it as the initials of the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord?” (Ex. 15:11). There is also a view that it is the initials of “Mattityahu Kohen ben Yochanan” – “Mattathias the kohen, son of Yochanan”.

References in English to the Mattathias family generally use the Maccabee spelling, but this is not essential.

The Maccabean Revolt A. Antiochus Epiphanes continued to heap outrage upon the Jews even after the desecration of the Temple in 168 B.C. E.

General usage is to apply the spelling “Maccabi” to sporting teams, though there is a paradox; one of the things the original Maccabees opposed was the Greek athletic contests that valued physical form over spiritual attainment.

However, one might fittingly quote the words of Justice Brandeis, “The Maccabees’ victory proved that the Jews – then already an old people – possessed the secret of eternal youth: the ability to rejuvenate itself through courage, hope, enthusiasm, devotion and self-sacrifice.”


Question.    Why do parents bless their children on Friday evenings?

Posted with permission of the artist.

Answer.       Blessing one’s children goes back to the patriarch Jacob, who blessed his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh with the wish that future generations might say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh” (Gen. 48:20). equivalent blessing for girls is, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah”. The girls’ blessing is not a direct Biblical quotation, but is suggested by Ruth 4:11 (“The Lord make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and Leah”).

After these blessings, the priestly blessing (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) is invoked upon both boys and girls (Num. 6:24-26).

Friday night, according to the kabbalists, is the appropriate time for this ceremony because that is when Divine emanations come together in the world. A Spanish/Italian scholar, Yosef ben Chayyim Jabez, says that children need extra blessings on Shabbat because “they lack the power to draw down the flow of abundance through their own deeds”.

Adults have to earn their own blessings through the way they live their own lives. We would all dearly love to be children again and hear a parent or grandparent wish us a good Sabbath and a good life. If that is not going to happen, we have to bless ourselves through our deeds.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at

Check Also

Whenever I feel afraid – Rosh HaShanah

Julie Andrews made it into a famous song – the notion that whenever I feel …