The Feminine Side of the Hanukkah Story

Judith with the Head of Holophernes, by Cristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London)

Judith with the Head of Holophernes, by Cristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London).

— by Barbara Goldberg Goldman

Throughout history, the victor, the statesman and the warrior all are glorified and magnified in literature, art, theater, film, dialogue, debate and a host of other forums and disciplines.

Yet, one cannot ignore the fact that most are men, including the members of the Maccabean forces. However, we do know that multitude of women have contributed equally or even more than their male counterparts to many historic events. This is the case with the Hanukkah story.

Perhaps a lesser known version of the Hanukkah miracle centers on Yehudis, or Judith, during the time of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian oppression.

Judith was just as significant as Judah. With the help of her maid, she conceived and executed a plan that convinced the people of Bethulia in the land of Judea to have faith and trust in God, and not surrender to Holofernes, the Syrian-Greek General who took siege of her town.

To a great extent, it was because of Judith’s heroic deed that the faith and courage of the Jewish people throughout the ages are inspired. Her plan led to her beheading Holofernes and the surprise attack on his army, thereby saving all of the people of Bethulia.

In addition, we know that Esther, in the story of Purim, saved her people. And let us recognize the righteous women of Israel who participated in bringing forth the Exodus from Egypt. All were miraculous events.

There can be no denying that the Jewish people’s survival and identity always have depended upon women. On Hanukkah, the festival of lights, the significance of the Jewish woman is underscored.

In fact, women are required to participate in the candle lighting. Rashbam explained that they were the catalysts for these miracles, and that women were as exposed to just as much danger from enemy decrees as were the men, and therefore, must be equally celebrated.

The NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network aims to lift up women’s voices and stories, and fight for women’s freedom, equality and justice in the U.S. and abroad.


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