Photo by Sam Kittner for National Geographic magazine.

Photo by Sam Kittner for National Geographic magazine.

Hanukkah is the 8 day Jewish Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, spirituality over materiality, and purity over adulteration.

An ancient book written in Hebrew tells the story of a heroine who helped defeat the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks). The original book was lost, and there have been many different versions, named after the heroine, ‘Yehudit’ (Judith). One version places the story during the Maccabean revolt against Syrians. Judith was the daughter of a high priest who was a young widow who had devoted her life to charity and prayer. Judith’s home town of Bethulia was under siege by the notoriously cruel Syrian-Greek general Holofernes, who was determined to crush the rebellions that refused to accept Syrian rule. Holofernes cut off the water and food supply to the town to force its inhabitants to surrender. His plan almost worked, as the townspeople decided they would rather surrender than die of hunger and thirst, but the defending army argued for 5 more days before surrendering. Judith argued that they should have faith in God; that he would help and they should give him more than 5 days to answer their prayers. The elders of the town agreed.

Judith then devised a plan to approach Holofernes herself. The elders asked her not to go as they believed she would be sacrificing her own life. Judith continued with her plan and prepared to visit the merciless general with her maid; putting on her best clothes, and packing a basket of bread, cheese and wine.

When they approached the camp of the opposing army, they were stopped by soldiers who demanded to know who they were and who had sent them. Judith told them they had an important message for Holofernes and wanted to be taken to him. And so they were. Judith told Holofernes she would advise him on how to capture the town if he promised to be merciful with the townspeople. She told him that the situation in the town was desperate but their faith was strong and they would not surrender to him. But soon the townspeople would be forced to eat unkosher food, God would be angry and the town would then be easy to capture. Her plan included exchange of information between Holofernes and the watchmen of the town. Holofernes was impressed by the plan, and told Judith that if it was true, then she would become his wife when the town was captured.

Judith was given a tent next to Holofernes and allowed to live on the army camp. She visited the watchmen of the town to tell them her plan was working. On the third day after visiting the watchmen, she told Holofernes that the town had run out of kosher food. He ordered a celebration and a feast at hearing the news. Judith fed Holofernes the wine, bread and cheese she had taken with her until he was drunk and fell unconscious. She took the opportunity to chop off his head, wrapped it in a blanket and returned to the town to show the townspeople her plan had worked. The towns‚Äô army made an early morning attack on the camp, where the soldiers were sent into panic at the discovery of their generals‚Äô headless body. Thanks to Judith’s bravery, the town’s people were free from persecution by Holofernes and his army.

-Leanne Beard
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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