3rd night

Third night of Hanukkah! Yay! So it seems it’s open season on the Maccabees. Some claim the miracle of the oil never happenned because it’s not mentioned at all in the Books of the Maccabees. Others note that the Hasmonean dynasty began as the result of a bloody, fundamentalist civil war that devolved into an oppressive Hellenist regime – a betrayal of the Hanukkah revolution (link requires subscription to the Jpost epaper service).

Judith Kicks AssOK so it may not be so much about the oil and more about the light and what that symbolizes. Our motely collection of Chanukiahs is representin (gettin kinda bright) as are Chabad who lit a Chanukiah on the Great Wall of China! But still … isn’t their some kick ass story we can get behind? Some seasonal something something that’s both fierce and symbolic and satisfying?

Well… actually there is! And her name is Judith. The Jewish Women’s Archive notes that

Once Hanukkah festivities included the celebration of two heroes – Judah Maccabee and Judith. Although for several centuries the Rabbis included Judith in their Hanukkah narratives, her story, recorded in the Book of Judith, never made it into the canonized Bible. The Book of Judith promised that her “praise will never depart from the heart of those who remember the power of God,” and she acted with a certainty that her legacy would “go down through all generations of our descendants.” Neither she nor her contemporaries could have imagined a time when her story, as a story of courage in the face of enormous risks, would cease to be part of the story of the Jewish people passed from one generation to the next.

They continue:

In the second century B.C.E., as the powerful Assyrian army invades the Near East, the town of Bethulia is besieged by the cruel and domineering Holofernes, foremost general of the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar. If Bethulia yields, the whole country will fall into Assyrian hands. Discouraged, the city’s elders agree to surrender the famine-stricken city if they are not rescued within a few days. Judith, a young widow and most unlikely savior, challenges them to take responsibility for the future of their community. She enters the Assyrian camp where Holofernes, smitten with her remarkable beauty, invites her to a banquet. When he retires to his bed in a drunken stupor, they are left alone in his tent. Judith takes up his sword and decapitates him. With the Assyrian army thrown into confusion, Judith inspires the Israelites to launch a surprise attack from which they emerge victorious.

Songstress Sarah Nadav (think Nathalie Merchant with a Jewish sensibility) notes that “She is one of a few notable women who have managed to save the Jewish people through their feminine wiles, quick thinking and good aim. If you can name me two others than I will send you a free CD!”

So give it some thought, listen to Sarah’s music and contact Sarah if you have the answer (hint – tent peg). Otherwise, Happy Hanukkah!

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • I don’t know if most of you guys would agree with this, but I think we should just incorporate Chanukah into Tisha B’Av. The Maccabees decision to bring in Rome to help “mediate” the situation, a situation they already had contained, was an example of how they made decisions not out of strategy, but a desire for vengeance. They let their desire for a more complete revenge outweigh the obvious idea that maybe you don’t want to bring up and coming Rome into your political orbit, and your land. This was a key misstep step to the destruction of the second commonwealth.

    It (celebrating Chanukah on Tisha B’ Av) would also remind us that there is a terrible price to be paid for Fundamentalism and giving power hungry priests unchecked power.

    We aren’t allowed to learn Torah on Tisha B’ Av, but since the Books of the Macabees are not part of the Canon, we could learn them on Tisha B’ Av. And learn what happens to us when we justify our own tyranny and set policy on having been the victim generally, instead of considering each action in and of itself.

    Also — how come ten year old gentiles know there was no Santa Claus, but thirty year old Jews don’t know there was no miracle oil?

    Bah Humbug.

  • “Also — how come ten year old gentiles know there was no Santa Claus, but thirty year old Jews don’t know there was no miracle oil?”

    If it pleases you, 98% of my Jewish friends think all of Judaism is ONE HUGE CRUTCH for weak minded Jews who are too afraid to face the fact that everything is an accident and then we’re eaten by maggots.

    Trust me, they couldn’t give two hoots about miracles. Feel better?

    As an aside, I’d like to believe I’m part of the 2%. Thank you.

  • I beg your pardon, and i really don’t mean to sound rude, or even in the slightest bit offensive, however, the quote above is just not right. Judith is NOT on her way out of the minds and hearts of young Jewish women everywhere.

    Every child in cheder learns about Judith, or Yehudis as we call her. There is no conspiracy against woman heros here. Just tonight over latkes I asked my five year old daughter, who was Yehudis? and she answered: “She got the general drunk.” Then her 6 year old brother chimed, “and cut off his head.” Then my three year old said, “and he cant talk anymore without his head.” And my daughter added, “it rolled around too.”

    You see, kids who grow up estranged from Jewish education feel robbed, and somehow they take it out on us Rabbis.

    And as far as the book of Judith goes…it was not included for lots of reasons, as were other books of the same era.

    And not onto the final challenge: “she is one of a few notable women who have managed to save the Jewish people through their feminine wiles, quick thinking and good aim.”

    Women are the only ones we can really thank for saving the Jewish people so many times. The Torah is replete with examples. First lets look at Rivka who helped Yaakov get the blessing from his father Itzchak. The Women in Egypt fought the genocidal laws of pharoah by seducing their husbands and bearing children. DOnt forget the women never bowed to the golden calf…

    Now on to Devorah and Yael. Devorah was a brilliant judge and soldier who mobilized the Jewish army. Yael killed Sisera with a tent stake (wink wink ck) while he slept (she had tired him out in an unusual fashion…it gets a bit x-rated) There is of course Esther, who saved the entire Jewish people with her faith, courage, and brilliance.

    So I can at this juncture of night only come up with one lady who had all the traits that Sarah looks for. But there are many brilliance Jewish women who led us to victories, or saved our hides, and they didn’t even have to soil their hands.

  • Applying today’s ethics to second century BC is… I have no words. I know they needed to institute gay marriage, then David would be cool with them.

  • but what i want to know is, did they put up the big, bright chanukiah in jerusalem this year? you remember, the one at the city entrance that was up last year? i wonder if i’ll be able to see it as i land at ben gurion on mon.?

    i can’t believe i am actually missing jerusalem!

  • I’m not sure Rabbi Yonah could sound rude if he tried. But as to Judith, although I’m glad that she’s “back” in the hearts and minds of Jewish kids, as a former yeshiva kid, I have to say that I only learned about Judith when I was much older, and then, not much.

    The educational dilemma with many of the stories about the Jewish women you mentioned is that they involve women using the only weapon they had at their disposal: a seductive influence, which is hard to tackle for a kid audience. As someone who thought the “zonah” Rachav was a “seller of groceries” (from the word “mazon”) until she heard the word in Israel in a decidedly non-Biblical context; or as someone who understood that Yael literally used warm milk and cheeses to tire Sisera before, um, (tent)pinning him…I’m not sure what the solution is. You can’t tell a third-grader what a prostitute is, can you? But how long can educators manipulate the language and the facts of these stories without feeling like they are conveying fictions? And then, why should those teachers be surprised when their students begin to suspect that the biblical narratives are entirely, or partly, fictional? That’s why I think the educational focus is on Deborah, who operated on a cerebral level, instead of the other, somewhat more sensually problematic, other women of the Bible.

  • Rock on, Rabbi Yonah. BTW, I might need your help on this… CK: the miracle of the oil is mentioned in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), and depending on your theological persuasion, you’d agree that this is then “in the Torah”.

    Everyone else: remember that the Book of the Maccabees also didn’t get in to the ‘canon’ of the Hebrew ‘Bible’. It’s in the ‘Apocrypha’.

    DK: Israel since time immemorial has had to strike delicate balances between regional powers; from Babylonia vs. Egypt to USA vs. USSR. You’re giving our Hasmonean brethren too much credit by stating that they had ‘contained’ the Seleucids; what a bold statement! Alas, they were used as pawns by Rome perhaps, but at the time it might have easily have been the lesser of two evils. Your hind-sight criticism is too severe.

  • Thank you Esther K for your insights. The issue of how to teach about sexuality to kids is of course universal. I always propose teaching children according to their level. I cannot tell a five year old how Yael got him tired out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am fictionalizing things. Two reasons that students in my humble opinion begin to think of the Torah as fiction, are because their parents don’t take it seriously and have their own doubts, and their teachers don’t believe what they preach, and kids see through this right away.

  • I just want to point out that cheese and warm milk story has been taught to The Middle’s son as having been used by Judith, not Yael. The story was in an elaborate children’s hannukah book he received as a gift from a grandparent. By the way, the sexual part was called a “party.”

  • Oh, I should add that this was the reason given for the “custom” of having sour cream with the latkes. 😆

    By the way, Sarah Nadav’s music is very nice.

  • Does it really truly matter whether or not the miracle actually happened? We can enjoy age-old traditions simply for the sake of tradition. Everything doesn’t have to be questioned to the point that a lovely holiday is no longer so lovely.

  • Rabbi Yonah- Pointing out that Yehudit’s story has been left out of the Hannuka story was never meant to be a diss to the Rabbinic establishment.

    your kids, dafka, the kids in cheder know who she is. That said, most kids (and adults) have never even heard the story, including myself.

    I was raised sort of modern orthodox baal chuva and lived in Israel for almost ten years and this is the first that I have heard of her.

    BTW, I am still waiting for an answer to the trivia question. Hint- it has to be a Jewish woman but it doesn’t have to be a biblical Jewish woman.

    Thanks middle- I’m glad you like the music!

  • Esther – there is no real problem with teaching kids about these things. Any topic – including last week’s parsha, with the story of Tamar – can be explained in terms the child understands.

    My kids know that mommies and daddies have a special relationship, and that our bedroom is a special place. The kids who notice that the Cat in the Hat is missing his necktie on page 7 are observant enough to notice that their youth group counselors are sprouting breasts and grungy moustaches (not on the same counselor!).

    The problem is that Jewish education is often truncated. Too many people judge themselves (or their kids) to have “outgrown” Judaism and the inquiry stops – often for various self-serving reasons, leading to self-fulfilling notions of how limited Judaism is.

    My kids will not understand last week’s parsha the same way at 18 that they did at 9 – and we are putting out a lot of effort as parents to make sure they are still attending shul and reading that story on that higher level when they are 18, 28… and hopefully they will read the parsha together with Am Yisrael for all their lives, continually finding new insights.

  • Self-promotion: I discuss the historical problems surrounding the Judith-Chanukah connection here, and in this newer version, which focuses more on food.