0n Chanukah we usually honor the Maccabees, brave men who fought with the sword against injustice. This year, we choose also to honor those courageous women who, throughout our history, have challenged injustice – not with the sword, but with word and deed. Each night, choose one of the women described below – a woman from our past – or choose a woman you know, a friend or relative, who has made a difference in the life of the community; read or tell her story. After each reading, everyone listening should repeat the woman’s name and say, “Zichronah Livrachah, May her memory be a blessing.” Then say the blessings over the Chanukiah and light the first candle of that night in her memory. You may also perform the entire ritual on the seventh night, which falls on Rosh ChodeshThe new moon, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month. According to tradition, because women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf, they were given the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It is customary for women not to work on Rosh Chodesh. Tevet, “The New Moon of the Daughters. “May the light of these women’s lives continue to illuminate us.
Shamash: ShlomZion haMalkah (Salome Alexandra)
Queen of 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., first century BCE.
This ritual is devoted to one of the last Hasmonean rulers, “ShlomZion ha Malkah,” who brought peace and prosperity to Israel after the turbulent years associated with the later Maccabean dynasty. Shlom Zion (as the 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. refers to her) or Salome Alexandra was married to Judah Aristobolus, the first Hasmonean to take the title of king and high priest in 104 BCE.
Her husband died of a fatal illness before she had any children, leading to a levirate marriage with the successor, his twenty-two-year-old brother, Alexander Jannai, with whom she had two sons. Alexander Jannai was associated with the upper-class Sadducees and persecuted the Pharisees, whom Shlom Zion supported. During Alexander Jannai’s reign (considered tyrannical by historians), the head of the religious parliament, Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach, was forced into exile.
However, on his deathbed, Alexander Jannai bequeathed the kingdom to Shlom Zion. She assumed the monarchy at age sixty-four and reinstated Rabbi Shimon and the Sanhedrin, an act which led to many educational and religious reforms, including the development of the marital contract, the ketubahThe Jewish wedding contract. Traditionally, the ketubah protected the wife in marriage by spelling out the husband's obligations to her and guaranteeing her a financial settlement in case of divorce. Throughout the ages, ketubot (plural) have been illuminated and calligraphed, becoming significant as Jewish art. Today, all manner of egalitarian ketubot are written. Some dispense with the financial and legal aspects, focusing more on the emotional and spiritual sides of the relationship. Others maintain the rabbis' concern with the practical, but define mutual obligations for each spouse..
The Talmud praises her wisdom and piety, indicating an almost messianic quality to the nine years she was in power; a time of abundance, justice, and peace. Historians cite her role in foreign policy; some credit her with successfully maintaining the kingdom against the surrounding empires through clever diplomacy.
Candle One: Namnah Bat ha Levi of Baghdad
Eleventh-century Persian scholar
A beautiful and wise teacher, Namnah lectured to rabbinical students in the YeshivahSchool of traditional Jewish study. Although historically only for men, today there are some yeshivot (plural) that are for women, and there are progressive yeshivot which are coed. of her father, Rabbi Shmuel Ben Eli, the enlightened eleventh-century Gaon of Baghdad.
Rabbi Petachiah of Regensburg described Namnah (also called Bat ha Levi) as follows:
“She is an expert in Scripture and Talmud. She gives instruction in scripture to young men through a window. She herself is within the building; whilst the disciples are below outside and do not see her.”
Stories about Bat ha Levi say that her fiancé, a scholar named Azariah, died before their wedding. Soon after, she and her father are said to have passed away on the same day! Their graves were regarded as sacred by Persian Jews, who made pilgrimages to the site.
Candle Two: Dulcie of Worms
Twelfth-century communal leader (martyred 22nd Kislev 1196)
Dulcie of Worms was part of a distinguished family of scholarly Franco-German Jews associated with the academies of higher learning in the cities of Worms, Mayence, and Speier. She was the great-granddaughter of the renowned French commentator “Rashi” (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105).
In a poem, Dulcie’s husband, the renowned Rabbi Eliezer Bets Yehudah of Worms, describes her religious devotion as well as her work in leading women’s prayers in the synagogue and teaching women in various cities. He tells us that she supported his scholarly work with her business activities, provided room and board for his students, and also escorted brides, sewed 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. scrolls, made candles for the synagogue, etc.
RebbetzinLit. Wife of a rabbi (Yiddish) In many communities the rebbetzin has had a special and honored role, if strictly prescribed by gender. She often has with many expectations and duties attendant to her husband and the shul. Dulcie also instructed her two daughters, named Belet and Chana. Both of the girls and Rebbetzin Dulcie were brutally murdered in 1196, between the second and third crusades, when two Soldiers of the Cross broke into their house. Despite her heroic efforts to save them, both girls were killed. Her son was wounded in the same incident and later died.
Candle Three: Rebbetzin MizrachiLit. Eastern The adjective describing the origin of Jews of North African or Middle Eastern descent.
Sixteenth-century Kurdistani scholar and administrator
In Amadiyah, Kurdistan, where women were held in high esteem and Jews traced their origins to the Assyrian exile, a sixteenth-century scholar offered his learned daughter, an only child, in marriage to Rabbi JacobLit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov. Mizrachi. The contract contained the stipulation that she never be troubled with housework.
The new “Rebetzin” Mizrachi (who is referred to by some authors as Osnath Barazani, the daughter of poet Samuel Barazani) worked as a teacher in her husband’s yeshivah and assumed its administration, freeing her husband to pursue his studies. Unfortunately, his death left her with two young children and a school with limited funds.
She maintained the school, with her son, for many years despite financial difficulties. In fact, her poverty has made us richer: her fundraising appeals, drafted in poetic Hebrew, have survived to document her learning, humility, and courage in the face of adversity.
Candle Four: 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. Bat Tovim
Early-eighteenth-century eastern European liturgist
Sarah Bat Tovim is usually identified as a firzogerin (foresayer) who led and interpreted the prayers in the women’s section of the synagogue. She wrote special prayers for women, known as techinot, which were usually drafted in Yiddish.
Sarah compiled religious pamphlets for women which included language to accompany the female mitzvotLit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." (challahBraided egg bread eaten on Shabbat and holidays. Reminiscent of bread eaten by Priests in the Temple, of manna in the desert, and sustenance in general. Plural: Hallot, candles, and mikvahThe ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat.) and prayers for Rosh Chodesh (new moon) and High Holidays. The two booklets attributed to her are Sheker ha Chen (Beauty is Deceptive), and Shlosha Shearim (Three Gates.)
The style of the early drafters of women’s techinot was often emulated by male writers, eager to enter the techinah market. For that reason scholars debate Sarah Bat Tovim’s historical authenticity. Whether she is archetypal or biologically real, she represents an early genre of female religious writer and teacher.
Candle Five: Soreh Bezalel
Late-eighteenth-century woman of valor
The story of Soreh Bezalel reflects the kind of faith and courage we associate with the tales of RuthAn important female biblical character with her own book. The Book of Ruth, read on Shavuot, tells the story of Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and their return to Israel. Ruth’s story is often read as the first story of conversion. Ruth is the grandmother of King David. and 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.. As a beautiful young woman in Germany, she proposed to an elderly teacher, Reb Yoseph, for whom she had great respect. The “Melamed” was amazed and agreed only after being convinced that Soreh was endangered by the advances of the local nobleman, who had threatened to kidnap her when she rejected his proposals.
After their secret marriage and escape to southern Poland, Soreh gave birth to Yehudah Leib Ben Bazalel, who would become an important member of the Baal Shem’s circle. Not long after the boy’s birth, her husband died.
Soreh raised the boy by herself, guiding him toward involvement with Chasiduth. He was assigned by the Baal Shem Tov and later the MaggidLit. The telling The section of the Passover seder for telling the story of the exodus from Egypt of Mezerich to the ransoming of Jewish captives. The early Hasidim honored his mother by calling him Rabbi Leib Soreh’s, after his mother.
Candle Six: Penina Moise
Early-nineteenth-century Sephardic-American writer
Penina Moise, a religious poet, was the first Jew to publish a book of poetry in the United States. An acknowledged contributor to the majority culture, she did so without diminishing her commitment to Jewish life and values. Her hymns, which she wrote for the congregation in her community of Charleston, South Carolina, were later compiled in Reform and Conservative hymnals.
Her SephardicJews of Spanish descent; sometimes used to describe Jews of North-African and Middle-Eastern descent. The term also describes the customs and practices of these Jews, often in comparison to those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. family emigrated from Alsace to the West Indies and from there to the American South. Once wealthy, they lost all their resources, and Penina’s life became one of hardship after the death of her father when she was twelve years old. This was also the year she began publishing her poems.
Clearly precocious in understanding and responsibility, she resented the fact that girls could not have a bar mitzvahLit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." and were denied more advanced Jewish education. A precursor to contemporary feminism, she is known to have scoffed at the traditional daily prayer “Thank God, I was not created a woman.”
A lifetime of financial hardship and prolific writing culminated in the loss of her eyesight during her later years. Though she lived a long, productive, and saintly life her epitaph reflects a sadness that is not uncommon among accomplished Jewish women whose energies were directed to caring for others:
Lay no flowers on my grave
They are for those who live in the sun
And I have always lived in the shadow
Candle Seven: RachelLavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem. Luzzato-Morpurgo
Nineteenth-century Italian mystical poet
KabbalahThe tradition of Jewish mystical interpretation of sacred texts. The foundational kabbalistic text is the Zohar., the mystical practice of Judaism which grew to prominence in the 16th century, popularized the notion of the Shechinah, God’s feminine presence. Yet despite its emphasis on female sacred energy, the movement itself was almost exclusively male. One of the few identified female kabbalistic scholars was Rachel Luzzato, a descendant of the Italian kabbalist MosesThe quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe. Chaim Luzzato.
Her family, who were quite prominent, settled in Trieste where she was schooled in biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and secular subjects. She became conversant with the Talmud as a teenager and later studied the Zohar. She began writing poetry at the age of eighteen and continued to do so during her marriage to Jacob Morpurgo, in which she bore four children.
Living under strained financial conditions, she nevertheless continued her writing and correspondence with other scholars. Despite a demanding domestic life in which she carried out all the housework and child care for her family, she produced the numerous poems that comprise the book Rachel’s Harp.
Candle Eight: Malkele Die Triskerin
Nineteenth-century eastern European Hasidic rebbe
The practice of receiving contributions from the affluent to care for less fortunate members of the community was common among Hasidim. The women who shaped the development of this form of philanthropy included “Malkele die Triskerin” – Malka the Rebbe of Trisk – who is known for her sponsorship of public meals for the needy. She reputedly held court and received petitions twice a day, indicating a rigorous schedule of responding to her hasidim.
Malka was the daughter of Reb Avrohom of Trisk, a descendant of the Chernobyler Rebbe. After her husband Efraim’s death, Malka assumed the direction of the court and was known for her love of music. She organized a choir of great singers and enjoyed Hasidic singing and dancing after every festive meal.
Used with permission of the author. This ritual was developed into a full-length play which is available in a video version for $22 postage paid from Rabbi@ruach.org. You can also order the video on the RuachLit. Spirit. Some new versions of blessings call God "Spirit of the World" (Ruakh Ha’olam), rather than "King of the World" (Melekh Ha'olam). HaMidbar website.