Spotlight on Modi’in: Ancient Birthplace of the Maccabees.

Modi’in used to be more famous for its past than its present. But not any more.

Today, this ancient birthplace of the Maccabees is about to become Israel’s fourth largest city. Once famous for its Hasmonean roots, modern day Modi’in has more than 150,000 residents and is Israel’s first planned city. Mentioned in the Talmud as a day’s walk from Jerusalem, Modi’in was an important stop on a pilgrim’s route to sacrifice in the Temple.

As modern Modi’in welcomes about 8,000 residents a year, almost every building excavation reveals layers upon layers of archeological proof of the town’s infamous past. Just discovered in the area known as Um El Umdan, the road between Modi’in and the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway may be exactly where the the Hasmoneans lived. Looking onto busy Route 443 today, it’s hard to imagine Matityahu, the Hasmonean priest and father of the famous Maccabees, fleeing Jerusalem to avoid the harsh anti-Jewish decrees of Antiochus, the Greek-Syrian leader, who outlawed keeping Shabbat, studying Torah and performing circumcisions.

Matityahu and his five sons, known as the Maccabees, led a guerrilla war against the Greek armies. They had the advantage of knowing the area and the narrow passes around the hills and villages, and although they couldn’t take on the whole army, they successfully lured enemy soldiers into treacherous narrow passes and killed them one or two at a time. The small number of Jews were victorious over the vast Greek army and the Temple was rededicated and restored to Jewish hands.

A few years ago, when route 443 was being widened, work stopped when machines unearthed a cave on the side of the road. The cave revealed a Jewish Hasmonean burial site with more than twenty ossuaries, burial boxes that held the bones of the dead. Archeologists are still searching for the exact whereabouts of the Maccabean graves even though a sign just opposite the modern town of Modi’in points out the Maccabean graves. The most reliable description of the real tombs is from Jew turned Roman historian Josephus Flavius. He described them as seven tombs in the shapes of pyramids deep inside a large building visible from the sea. Archeologists discovered signs of a large building of some sort with seven burial niches, and found a two-meter square slab of stone typical of burial sites during the Hasmonean era. The archeologists believe this is the actual burial site of the Hasmonean family’s graves.

Not surprisingly, Hanukkah is a very auspicious holiday for this time honored town. The week is an official municipal holiday with torch-lit processions, games, plays, lives play and performances, quizzes and seminars. Modern Modi’in revels in its heroic past as it celebrates its bright future.

Enjoy some of our favorite videos about the history and political significance of ancient Modi’in as well as some videos of modern day celebrations and observances of Hanukkah’s customs and traditions in and around Modi’in.

Following in the Footsteps of the Maccabim Part 1 and 2


 The Making of Sufganiyot

The Maccabeats – Miracle – Matisyahu – Hanukkah

Tags: ,


  1. The Ozi Zion Blog » Blog Archive » Modi’in and the Burma Road - new and old - May 15, 2012

    […] Then today we read that an ancient olive press has been found on the outskirts of Modi’in here.  Modi’in is course well know for being the area of the Maccabees and their famous victories over Antiochus and the Hellenists, see here and videos here. […]

Leave a Reply