Strong Jewish Women

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Women of Hanuka


When most people think of Hanuka, they think of the Maccabees, lead by Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee and his four brothers and their father, Matityahu (Mattathias). Few people think of the women of Hanuka.

Yehudit (Judith) was a widow living in the city of Bethulia. The Assyrian King, Nabuchodonosor, sent his general Holofernes to punish the city. Holofernes went and cut off the water supply and laid siege to the city.

The city's elders were about to give up when Yehudit told them she had a plan. She went in her nicest clothes and jewelry to the camp of Holofernes. The general was taken with her beauty and invited her to a feast. Holofernes drank a lot of wine and got drunk.

Yehudit went back to his tent and, when they were alone, and Holofernes was passed out from the alcohol, she took his sword and cut off his head.

With the death of Holofernes, his army was in disarray and the Jews were able to mount an offensive and defeat the Assyrian army. The account of this story is in the book of Yehudit, which is part of the apocrypha and, while it was originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek version survived to be translated.

Another brave woman whose story is associated with Hanuka is Hana. Hana had 7 sons and King Antiochus brought them to his throne room. He told them to bow down to him, since he considered himself a god. One by one, Hana's sons refused and were tortured to death in front of their mother and their other brothers. When there was only the youngest son left, Antiochus gave her the chance to speak to him. She told him that he should remember the Sh'ma and that Hashem (G-d) is One. Her son told her not to fear, he would not bow down to a false god.

When Antiochus heard from the youngest son that he, too, would not bow down, he killed him too, leaving Hana without her sons. She then prayed for the souls of her sons, for G-d to give strength and victory to the Jewish people, and that she should die before the Assyrian Greeks could kill her. She then fell over dead next to her sons.

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