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).
OK 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 â€œpraise will never depart from the heart of those who remember the power of God,â€ and she acted with a certainty that her legacy would â€œgo down through all generations of our descendants.â€ 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.
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!