Judith’s story is written in the Book of JudithJudith saved her people by seducing Holofernes, the enemy general, and then decapitating him. The story of Judith, found in the apocrypha, is associated with Chanukah (relating to the tradition of eating cheese dishes because she seduced the general and fed him dairy). Her Hebrew name is Yehudit. which is codified as the fourth book of the Apocrypha. (The Apocrypha are works written/collected at the same time as most books of the Bible but not included in the Hebrew canon.) Although the story is set in the Babylonian period, the Book of Judith is thought to have originated at the time of the Maccabees. Medieval Hebrew versions understood the story in the context of the Hasmonean revolt.
The Story (paraphrased and excerpted)
Once upon a time a certain king came up against JerusalemLit. City of peace From the time of David to the Roman destruction, Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the spiritual and governmental center of the Jewish people. During the long exile, Jews longed to return to Jerusalem and wrote poems, prayers, and songs about the beloved city. In 1967, with the capture of the Old City, Jerusalem was reunited, becoming "the eternal capital of Israel." Still, the longing for peace is unfulfilled. with forty thousand warriors and besieged the city for many days. The Israelites suffered tremendously during this siege and were in great distress. Now, there was a pious widow, Judith, daughter of a prophet, who devised a plan to help her people. She removed her mourning attire and dressed in beautiful clothes and jewels and went out with her maidservant.
When Judith and her maidservant reached the gates of Jerusalem she said to the watchmen: “Open the gates for perhaps God will perform a wonder for us, and I shall slay the king. IsraelLit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. will be saved by me.” “We will not open the gate,” they said to her, “since we fear that you have fallen in love with one of the king’s cavalry and wish to marry him, and this is why you wish to leave. Or perhaps you will aid in plots against this city so it will be overcome.” “Heaven forbid!” She replied to them. And she took an oath before them.
So the gatekeepers opened the gate and Judith and her helper left Jerusalem. They continued on and eventually entered the royal pavilion and came before the king. Now, Judith was an exceedingly beautiful woman and when the king saw her, she found favor in his eyes. He asked, “Who are you? Where do you come from and where do you wish to go?” And she answered, “I am one of the daughters of the prophets and from my father I heard that you will conquer the city and take possession of it, so I came to seek to save myself and my father’s household when you take the city.” The king replied, “I will do what you ask. I wish to take you as my wife.” Judith agreed.
That night the king held a feast to celebrate his new bride-to-be. At the feast the king drank a great deal of wine, became drunk, and fell asleep. When all the guests left, only Judith and her maidservant remained. Judith turned her thoughts to God, lifted her sword, and cut off the king’s head. Judith then took the king’s head in her hands and she and her maidservant passed unnoticed through the camp until she reached the gates of Jerusalem. There she summoned the gatekeepers and said to them, “Open the gates, for the Holy Blessed One has aided me and I have slain the foe.” But they did not believe her. Judith then showed the head she was carrying to one of the king’s captains. The captain confirmed that it was indeed the head of the king. The gatekeepers believed these words and opened the gate; Judith’s deed became known in Jerusalem. And the people shouted at the top of their lungs, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One!” When the king’s men saw the Israelites they ran to the royal pavilion. Finding their king dead, they fled.
HANUKKAHThe holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving. CUSTOMS
- Lighting the hanukkiyahThe modern Hebrew term for the Hanukah menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum (eight primary candles plus the shamash/server candle) lit on Hanukah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. (the special eight-flame menorahThe seeven-branched menorah stood in the Temple, and many present-day synagogues feature the menorah. Titus' arch depicts the Romans' sacking of the Temple and theft of the menorah. A nine-branched menorah called a Hanukkiyah is lit on Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days., with a ninth shamas or servant flame)
- Telling the story of Judith: Among the Sephardim (Jews from the East), women traditionally gather on the seventh night to tell Judith’s story and to eat cheese dishes, sing and dance, and receive special blessings. Some Ashkenazim (Jews from the West) used to tell the story of Judith on the eighth night of Hanukkah, in Yiddish.
- Giving gifts to daughters: Some Sephardim call the end of Hanukkah the “New Moon of the Daughters” when parents give special presents to their daughters. Playing dreidelA four-sided top bearing the letters "nun," "gimel," "hay," and "shin" for "nes gadol haya sham" - a great miracle happened there. In Israel, dreidels have a "peh" for "po" (here) -- a great miracle happened here. Played with on Chanukah in a gambling game, traditionally using chocolate gelt as the wager.: Dreidel is a classic Hanukkah gambling game. The letters on the dreidel—nun, gimmel, hay, shin—stand for a Hebrew sentence that translates to mean, “A great miracle happened there.” Some say that the origins of the game are German, and that the letters correspond to the directions for playing the game: nichts (“nothing”); ganz (take “all”); halb (take “half”), and stell ein (“put one in”).
- Eating chocolate Hanukkah gelt (coins).
HannahHannah is the mother of the prophet Samuel, who, through her prayers, is rewarded a child. She herself is also considered a prophet. Hannah's intense devotional style of prayer becomes the model, in rabbinic Judaism, for prayer in general.
The Second Book of the Maccabees records cases of pious Jews who chose to die rather than submit to the Syrians. A celebrated mother (she is referred to in TalmudThe rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. as MiriamMiriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance., but the first-century historian Josephus identifies her as Hannah), Hannah expressed unfaltering faith in God as she was forced to watch her seven sons die for refusing to bow to an idol, and then she kills herself.
Hannah’s martyrdom raises the issue of supreme sacrifice for religion. We might ask ourselves where we would draw that line today. Hannah also calls upon us to hold in our hearts those mothers in every generation who must give up their children to war. We are reminded in particular about mothers in Israel today.
The Four Women of Light
According to legend…
SarahThe first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah. Imeynu (our foremother) lit candles at the beginning of ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends.. Miraculously, the flame burned throughout the entire week, lighting the tents of AbrahamAbraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham. and IsaacAbraham and Sarah's much-longed-for son and the second Jewish patriarch. Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father at God's command (Genesis 22). He is married to Rebecca and is the father of Esau and Jacob. His Hebrew name is Yitzchak..
RebeccaThe second Jewish matriarch, Isaac's wife, and mother to Jacob and Esau. Rebecca is an active parent, talking to God when she is pregnant and learning the fate of her children, then ultimately manipulating Isaac and the children to ensure Jacob's ascendancy. Her Hebrew name is Rivka. Imeynu (our foremother) inherited the task of lighting these candles when Sarah died. Because Rebecca was also a righteous woman, her candle light shined throughout the entire week as Sarah’s had.
Queen EstherHeroine of the Purim story and Megillat (the scroll of) Esther. She is married to the king by her cousin Mordecai and ultimately saves her people from execution. was known as the Ayelet HaShachar (the morning star) who brought a bright, rekindled spirit to the Jews after the dark night of suffering at the time of King Ahashuaros.
Deborah was a wise and important Judge who lived in the twelfth century BCE. In the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. Deborah is referred to as the “Woman of Lapidot.” In Hebrew, lapid means torch or flame, and so the Talmud refers to Deborah as a “woman of flames.” A contemporary midrashA rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories. teaches that Deborah made candle-wicks which lit before fire ever touched them; the candles were illuminated from the light inside of Deborah, which grew as she grew.
The Four “Women of Light” remind us that each one of us can share her light without diminishing it. They also invite us to remember the female ancestors in our own families every time we light the Shabbat and Hanukkah candles.