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November 29, 1991 - Image 70

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Jewish Heroines: Judith and Hannah

By DARYL L. LEITER

Women have played significant
roles in the perpetuation of
Judaism. It is a sad commentary
that we know so little about these
incidences.
Indeed, during times of
persecution many women have
served their people with distinction,
bravery and wisdom. Rabbi Joshua
ben Levi stated, "Women are
obligated to light the Chanukah
menorah for they took part in the
miracle." (Shabbat 23a)
As Chanukah approaches we
should remember the stories of two
Jewish women, Judith and Hannah.
The little-known story of Judith
takes place during the reign of
Nebuchadnezzar, one of the
Assyrian rulers. Nebuchadnezzar
sends Holofernes to defeat the Jews
of Bethulia. After a month-long
siege — the end is near for the
Jews. Judith, a "brilliant and
beautiful" young widow, enters the
tent of Holofernes, who is
completely "taken" by her. Judith
feeds him cheese and wine until
Holofernes falls into a drunken
sleep at which time Judith beheads
him, places the wrapped head on a
platter and sneaks out of camp.
When the Assyrian soldiers realize
what has become of their leader,
the soldiers flee panic-stricken.
The story of the second
Chanukah heroine, Hannah, and her
seven sons, is well-known.

Antiochus decreed that all Jews
perpetuating the spirit of Judith and
must "partake in swine." When
Hannah. A huge impact has been
Hannah and her sons refuse, each
made on secular issues by such
son is brutally tortured in front of
religious traditionalists as Letty
Hannah. She does not relent,
Cottin Pogrebin (founding editor of
though each son dies before her
Ms. magazine), Carmela Kalmonson
eyes. Hannah then suffers the same (international president of
fate.
Hadassah), and Shoshana Cardin,
However unsubstantiated and
(chairperson of the Conference of
fragmented the details of the two
Presidents of Major American
stories are, their significance in the
Jewish Organizations).
traditional holiday customs and
Eminent scholars such as
religious faith cannot be mitigated.
Susan Weidman Schneider have
The eating of dairy foods on
thrown new light on such vital social
Chanukah is related back to Judith
issues as anti-Semitism and
feeding Holofernes cheese and
women's rights. Historians Sondra
Hannah's courage inspired victims
Henry and Emily Taitz have
and martyrs time and again
heightened our awareness of the
throughout our history.
important role of Jewish women in
For the contemporary Jewish
our history.
woman, the stories of Hannah and
Although rabbis and cantors are
Judith carry important messages.
now being ordained in the Reform
The story of Judith illustrates
and Conservative movements of our
characteristics (courage, physical
religious communities, acceptance
aggression, and direct confrontation) in all areas is not complete. There
often thought of as traditionally
are deep schisms between liberal
male. Hannah is the opposite of the Jews who wish to include women in
stereotypical submissive woman.
all aspects of the rabbinate, and
Indeed, both women fought for the
traditionalists who feel such
right of a minority to be different yet concessions threaten the very
equal and independent. Today
essence of Jewish and family life.
women such as these can and must
But the highly visible presence
be heard on two fronts: as Jews
of women in Jewish communal life
and as women.
and leadership is having far-
The role of the present-day
reaching effects across the Jewish
Jewish heroine is evolving with
spectrum. Today's Jewish students,
changes in social mores and
liberal or traditional, expect to see
religious Halachah. In both the
female scholars, rabbis and cantors.
religious and secular communities
Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz
contemporary women are
conclude with their newest book,

Written Out Of History: Our Jewish
Foremothers, with the following

statement: "A commitment to
Judaism need not preclude a
commitment to equal rights and
equal recognition of women as a
dynamic force in society and history.
Jewish history confirms our right to
take on this challenge, and gives us
precedents to follow while at the
same time it binds us more closely
to our heritage."

Daryl L. Leiter is Religious School
Coordinator at Congregation
Shaarey Zedek.

DREIDEL PUZZLE

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HA

Standing Up For Who You Are

Continued from Page L-1

Chanukah is the story of the Jews'
struggle against each other. It is the
story of Jews struggling with
assimilation and a rampant
hedonistic culture. Chanukah is a
story about what to do with free
time, and whether to spend it
Jewishly. It is the story of the Jews'
struggle against oppression and
fight for religious freedom. It is the
story of victory. And, it is the story
of miracles.
On Passover, we are taught that
we must tell the story as if each of
us, ourselves, is going out of Egypt.
However, it seems that Chanukah
has so many parallels to
contemporary conflicts and
struggles of daily living that it is the
story of Chanukah that we really
relive today.
The time between Thanksgiving
and Christmas in American society,
is a time that challenges Jews. No
matter how assimilated we may
have become, we own very little of
this season.
I remember in kindergarten

L-4

FRIDAY, NOV. 29, 1991

having been delighted to discover
that my teacher had finally chosen
a holiday song to which I could
relate. Its title was "Deck the Halls
with Balls of Challie." I couldn't wait
to race home and share it with my
sister. She was nine. I was five. She
quickly corrected my blunder with
less than a sensitive approach. It
wasn't that I didn't know I was
Jewish, and it really wasn't that I
felt burdened by being Jewish. It
was simply that at age five, I really
wanted to find a source of
commonality with my friends during
a time in which they were so happy.
Regardless of how wonderful
and glorious our Chanukah
celebrations become, the
boundaries between Jew and
gentile are rarely more profound
than at this season.
So, one might ask again, how
is Chanukah like an onion? An
onion is strong. An onion's
characteristics are distinct.
Chanukah is a holiday of strength
and distinction, and it gives us the

opportunity to capitalize on these
qualities.

It offers at least one more
opportunity as well: Several years
ago I recall petitioning my husband
with something I truly wanted.
Whatever it was, it was clearly not
something that was vital. About half
way through the discussion, my
then five-year-old daughter piped up
with, "Ima, don't you know the
difference between wants and
needs?"
Chanukah offers a wonderfully
appropriate chance to talk to our
children about the difference
between wants and needs. The
dialogue might be something like
this:

"Yes, I understand that
you want this. And you know
what, it's OK to wish that you
could have something different
than what you have. But this is
not something you need."

Chanukah tells the story of
being different. It glorifies the

characters that dared to be different.
In the simple act of retelling the
Chanukah story we claim our own
difference. We become distinct by
retelling a story of distinction.
Perhaps, the real miracle of the
Chanukah lights is not found in the
endurance of the cruse of oil, but
rather in the light that small flame is
able to ignite in each of us during
this season.

Chanukah is the perfect
opportunity for family discussions
about daring to stand up for what
you believe. Reread the story of
Chanukah as a family. Then try
asking your family, "How is
Chanukah like an onion?" See what
they come up with. Or better yet, try
coming up with your own
metaphors.

Harlene Winnick Appelman is
director of Jewish Experiences For
Families, consultant to the Jewish
Community's education task force
and advisor to L'Chayim.

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