Another Chanukah is ending and we’ve had a chance to light our candles, fry our food and sing of miracles and victories. When we teach our children about Jewish heroes, we teach them that heroes are people who hold strongly to their values and don’t give in to despair. Even if they’re outnumbered, outgunned and seemingly powerless, the strength of their values and their commitment to what they know is right will carry the day. Chanukah stands as the historic example of that truth.
We are invigorated by this holiday. It rejuvenates us, and perhaps even redefines us. It’s the holiday when we celebrate our determination to face those who threaten us and know for certain we will prevail. We teach our children songs of bringing light into darkness and the courage of a Jewish soldier.
Interestingly in our modern world, we neglect to put emphasis on a part of our community that the sages and rabbis throughout Jewish history have emphasized: the women. According to Jewish tradition, the women were the heroes of Chanukah. Whether it’s the description of the behaviour of the women in the books of the Maccabees or the figure of Judith and her attack on Holofernes, the women stand out in their bravery.
According to our ancient records, if not for the women, circumcision would have stopped. The faith and culture of Judaism would have disappeared and, according to a medieval midrash, there would have been no Maccabees at all.
There’s another midrash from the Middle Ages that speaks of the daughter of Matityahu who shocked her family and her community on her wedding day. She was facing the “right of first night,” which decreed that all Jewish brides would be forced to lose their virginity to the foreign ruler and not their husbands. This young woman challenged her brothers, the Hasmoneans, on the day of her wedding. She ripped off her clothing and yelled at her brothers, shaming them for not ending the humiliation of all Jewish women. “How can you not learn from Shimon and Levi who protected their sister?” she cried.
The midrash states that it was her actions and words that united her brothers under the leadership of her father and formed the Hasmonean revolt and the Maccabees. If not for this brave young woman, there would be no Chanukah.
Jewish tradition so values all these women that we are taught that women must rest while the Chanukah candles are burning. It’s sad how many Jewish families are unaware of this very important detail of our candle lighting. As we light the last candle of Chanukah this year, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Jewish woman could feel how much Jewish history values her strength, her bravery and her courage?
Rachael Turkienicz is director of www.rachaelscentre.org.