There's an old stereotype that Jewish people are bad at sports and not physically strong, and that we instead get by on our wits and intelligence. Bullsh--. I'd like to consider myself witty and intelligent, sure, but plenty of big, strong Jews (lookin' at you, Bill Goldberg) have been kick-ass athletes.
But the biggest badasses in Jewish history happen to be the dudes who inspired Hanukkah: The Maccabees. The whole Hanukkah story reads like a movie script, so here's the trailer.
In a world where Jews lived in peace...
Early Jews had been chillin' in Judea, a Tattoine-like landscape later to be known as Israel, since around 1200 BC. At first it was chill, but soon they became a magnet for aggressors: The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans... the list goes on and on. More than 800 years of bloody battles, temples destroyed, and all kinds of sword-and-sandal fighting went down. (Need visuals? Think the "Hercules" reboot with The Rock.)
Pure evil came knocking...
Antiochus IV was the ruler of the Seleucids, who were basically Syrian-Greeks, who were basically ancient Greeks. (Hey, if "300" can stretch the truth about Xerxes and his crew, we can take some shortcuts.) The Greeks captured Judea from the Egyptians, which meant the Jews came under their rule. They were ... not the coolest landlords, to put it mildly.
But this time, they went TOO far...
In around 167 BC, the Greeks began "Hellenizing" Judea. That meant forcing the local populace to worship their gods and give up on Judaism. The Jews in the area used to be controlled by outside empires, but trying to force them to give up their beliefs? Think "Braveheart," bro. It led to a lot of angry Jews looking for a reason to fight.
That man was Mattathias ben Johanan, a name that's not quite as cool as "The Bear Jew" from "Inglourious Basterds," but stick with him. A Greek official tried to force Mattathias to make sacrifices to their gods. Matty wasn't havin' it -- in fact, he straight-up KILLED the Greek dude, then went on the run. Talk about a "Righteous Kill."
This killing pissed off the Greeks, who began cracking down on the Jewish populace. Mattathias actually died soon thereafter, but his sons picked up the slack.
To avenge his father...
One son in particular became a legend: Judah, better known as Judah Maccabee. "Maccabee" was not Judah's real family name. It's actually Hebrew for "Hammer," and Judah gained the nickname because... well, he and his father hammered the hell out of any ancient Greeks who got in their way?
Using a certain set of skills...
The Maccabee boys fled Judea, then returned with a small team that took out the Greek forces using guerrilla-style warfare. (Here's where the "300" comparisons really ring true.) The Greeks sent an even larger force, and the Maccabees put them down with ease. Within three years, the Maccabees had retaken Jerusalem for the Jews.
Won the battle... but the war had just begun...
The Maccabees kicked out the Greeks from the Holy Temple, and brought back Judaism like it was going out of style. They reconsecrated sacred sites, they circumcised boys who hadn't been snipped under Greek rule (yikes), and generally got things back to Yidness.
The Hanukkah story is based right here: once they got back into the Holy Temple, they realized the Greeks had desecrated everything and soiled all the holy oil. Only one pure jar remained, and that one jar burned for eight straight nights in miraculous fashion. This is basically that part in "Die Hard" where John McClane and Sgt. Powell joke around via walkie-talkie, but McClane's feet are totally bleeding and it's clear there's more terrorist baddies to murk.
They fought for freedom... and for the future...
The Greeks kept coming. For twenty years, the Maccabees and their descendants fought off every attack, securing their place as the baddest badasses in Jewry. By around 140 BC, the Jews were independent and ruled Judea under their own terms. And nothing bad ever happened to Jews ever again! The End.