Yehudit and Holofernes

I recently learned that it is a tradition to eat dairy on Chanukah. And here I was thinking dairy was just for Shavuot. I have been an observant Jew all of my life, and I never heard of this before. Upon further googling, I found out that this tradition is based on a story about a beautiful widow (perhaps the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, father of the Hasmoneans) called Yehudit (Judith) who bribed a Syrian-Greek general called Holofernes with cheese, got him drunk and chopped off his head, and saved her village. (That is totally the abridged version of the story. For a lengthier explanation click here).

This story is not part of our Tanach (abbreviation for the books of Torah, Prophets and Writings) which probably explains why I never heard of it before. Our school was very big on learning approved texts, and the story of Yehudit is from the Apocrypha (written in Greek) and its authenticity is in question. Perhaps it is an allegory, perhaps not. True or not, it is yet another example of how a brave woman put herself in harm’s way and used her feminine wiles to save her people.

Now that I have heard of this custom, I wonder how many people out there know of it. I also wonder how many of us (male and female alike) would be able to just chop off someone’s head like that. The story makes it sound like it was no big deal, that it took only two strikes of the sword, but I am so sure it was awful for her to do.

Could you have been a Yehudit? Do you make a point to eat dairy on Chanukah?

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  1. David says:

    Since we do not know whether Yehudit was a slight or not-so-slight woman, it’s impossible to gauge her ability to wield a sword, not to mention there are a variety of swords, which in turn can have edges of varying sharpness. Suffice to say there is sufficient lattitude in the latter to factors to allow for any first.

  2. YC says:

    Story if it happened or not is Medrash on Yael.

    Story is not part of Hannukah drama exactly.

    But the theme and story falls in line with themes of Hannukah. The fight, the risk, weak beating mighty….

  3. didn’t she kill him by driving a tent pin through his temple, not by chopping his head off?

    I remember learning that story in high school, but I’m not sure if it was part of the tanach or not. It’s not in the navi somewhere?

  4. scientist says:

    “This story is not part of our Tanach”
    “its authenticity is in question.”
    How are these related?

  5. Lady Lock and Load says:

    write a letter to your old school telling them they must include this minhag in their curriculem! What’s wrong with them? ;)
    I think I could be a yehudit if I had to be, to save my people…seriously! (I’m lady lock and load after all, right?)

    • sheldan says:

      LLL (I’m scared to ask where the name came from!),

      I was aware of the Apocrypha…they include the Books of Maccabees (interesting that the Bible was codified before Chanukah became a part of it).

      I just bought a book on the Apocrypha, and the book club at shul is about to have a series on why Maccabees did not make the Tanach. I’m a book lover anyway, so I look forward to reading these books.

  6. David says:

    Apocrypha does not mean that a book is suspect. It simply means that they were not canonized. Nor does it mean they were originally written in Greek. Many of the books are/were studied by frum Jews. Some sefardim read megilas chanukah in which the story of Yehudis appears on Chanukah and I have a sidur in which it is printed. Furthermore my rebbe in Yeshiva quoted Ben Sira (also apocrypha) once in a while. Eating milky on Chanukah is a well established custom brought down in halacha. B y eating a dairy doughnut, you cna be yotse both! Incidentally, some antique menoras have a picture of her holding her victim’s head.

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