Heroine of the Jewish People: Judith

Judith chopped off the tyrant’s head.

After we light the candles on Hanukkah there is a tradition that women refrain from work while the candles are burning. Why are women given this special honor? Because of Judith, the Jewish woman who singlehandedly saved her entire town during a brutal siege.

At the time of the Maccabee revolt, around 175 BCE, the Greek Empire ruled Judea. The Jewish town of Bethulia was under siege by Holofernes, a brutal general. He demanded that the Jews stop practicing their religion and instead adopt Hellenistic values and culture.

The Jews refused to bow to the Greek gods. Holofernes tried to starve them into surrender, cutting off the food and water supply to Bethulia. The townspeople grew desperate. They begged their leaders to surrender. Uzzia, the commander of defense forces, refused, but finally agreed to wait five more days, and if no salvation came, he would surrender.

At this point Judith (Yehudit), daughter of the high priest, stepped forward in outrage. “Why do you test G-d, giving Him only five days in which to send us His help? If you truly have faith in G-d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Don’t you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death??”

Judith came up with a plan. A beautiful young widow, she dressed in her nicest clothes and traveled to the enemy camp, praying as she went. She carried a basket with wine and salty cheese. Judith told the sentries at the gate that she had information for Holofernes regarding how to finally take the city of Bethulia. Dazzled by her feminine charm, they let her in to see the general.

Judith went into Holofernes’ chamber. The general was pleased to see such a lovely young woman, and accepted her wine and cheese. The cheese was so salty that it made him drink a great deal of wine, and soon he fell asleep. Then Judith unsheathed Holofernes’ sword, and chopped off his head.

Humiliated at their defeat by a woman, the Greek forces retreated from Bethulia, allowing the Jews to live freely and practice their religion.

For her stunning courage in slaying the enemy of her people, we honor Judith as our Thursday Hero, Hanukkah edition.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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