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This Hanukkah, learn about the holiday’s forgotten female heroes

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THE CONVERSATION via AP — The eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah commemorates the ancient Jews’ victory over the powerful Seleucid empire, which ruled much of the Middle East from the third century BCE to the first century CE.

On the surface, it’s a story of male heroism. A ragtag rebel force led by a rural priest and his five sons, called the Maccabees, freed the Jews from oppressive rulers. Hanukkah, which means “rededication” in Hebrew, celebrates the Maccabees’ victory, which allowed the Jews to rededicate their temple in Jerusalem, the center of ancient Jewish worship.

But as a professor of Jewish history, I believe that seeing Hanukkah this way misses the inspiring women who were prominent in the earliest tellings of the story.

The bravery of a young widow named Judith is at the heart of an ancient book that bears her name. The heroism of a second woman, an unnamed mother of seven sons, appears in a book known as 2 Maccabees.

Saving Jerusalem

These books are not included in the Hebrew scriptures, but appear in other collections of religious texts known as the Septuagint and the Apocrypha.

According to these texts, Judith was a young Israelite widow in a town called Bethulia, strategically situated on a mountain pass into Jerusalem. To besiege Jerusalem, the Seleucid army first needed to capture Bethulia.

Facing such a formidable enemy, the townsfolk were terrified. Unless God immediately intervened, they decided, they would simply surrender. Enslavement was preferable to certain death.

But Judith scolded the local leaders for testing God, and was brave enough to take matters into her own hands. Removing her widow’s........

© The Times of Israel

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