Heroines of Chanukah
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
Most people know about the Maccabeean victory over the Greco-Syrians and the miracle of the oil and the Menorah in the Temple. We all seem to know about the Heroes of Chanukah; but many people do not know about the Heroines of Chanukah found in the four books of the Maccabees and the Apocryphal book of Judith. The story of two women named Hannah and one named Judith. Ironically Judith is the feminine name for Judah, which is the name of the Hero of Chanukah “Judah Maccabee” AKA: the Hammer!
Let us begin with the first Hannah whom we shall call Hannah the Mother. Antiochus Epiphanies attempted to force this woman to renounce her Jewish faith and her G-d by enduring being an eye witness of each of her seven sons being tortured and killed. Each dying a brutally painful death with the utmost dignity and bravery, refusing to renounce their faith in Judaism and the G-d of Israel. The account of martyrdom rivals that of the modern day Foxes book of martyrs and such fortitude in the face of certain death gave the Jewish people the strength to fight and die as martyrs if necessary during the tyranny of the evil Antiochus Epiphanies.
The second Hannah, whom we will call, Hannah the Bride, was a woman of shock and awe. She was to marry Elazar, which was Judah Maccabees brother and wore nothing but her birthday suit to the wedding; obviously offending and shocking everyone! The shocked and blushing Jewish community said, “What are you doing!?” Hannah replied, “I’m making a point! If your shocked and offended to see me naked, you should be shocked even more by Antiochus’ and his antics to decimate our people! Do I embarrass you by my nudity? You should be more embarrassed by Antiochus’ attempt to strip our people bare of their faith and traditions!” Hannah’s point was made and taken and it inspired Israel to take up arms against Antiochus and his army. As a result they won their first encounter and engagement against the Greco-Syrians.
Judith on the other hand was a widow. A gorgeous widow! Like the Hadassah (Esther) of her day. One day she and her handmaid went to Holophernes, Antiochus’ general who cut off the city of Bethulia’s water supply and acted like they defected to the Greco-Syrians side stating that they believed G-d was going to give Israel over into their hands because of Israel’s gross sin and disobedience against the Torah. Her good looks and smooth talk won Holophernes over and she and her handmaid was permitted to stay in the Greco-Syrian camp and to come and go as please in order to pray and to obtain kosher food for themselves.
Holophernes was smitten with Judith’s beauty and impressed by her wisdom that he invited her to his tent for dinner. This was Judith’s chance to make her move. She fed Holophernes salty cheese which made him thirsty and so Judith got Holophernes drunk on wine until he passed out. Once she knew he was out like a light she cut off his head with his own sword and carried it out in the bag that she normally carried her kosher food in so as not to raise suspicions. By the time the Greco-Syrian army discovered the body of their headless general Judith and her handmaid was presenting the head of General Holophernes to the elders of Bethulia. The Greco-Syrian army retreated and Bethulia was saved. Judith’s bravery and cunning renewed the fighting spirit of the Jewish People to continue their conflict against the evil Antiochus Epiphanies.