December: Judith and the Hanukkah Story


In the Middle Ages Hanukkah festivities celebrated more than just the valiant deeds of the Maccabees. For several centuries there was another hero associated with Hanukkah: Judith. The Book of Judith promised that her praise would "never depart from the heart of those who remember the power of God," and that her actions would "go down through all generations of our descendants." While not historically connected to the story of the Maccabees, the Book of Judith shares the theme of Jewish faith and courage overcoming a larger force.

The Rabbis who included Judith in their Hanukkah narrative could not have imagined a time when the story of Judith's bravery in the face of enormous danger would cease to be part of the legacy of the Jewish people passed down from one generation to the next.

And, yet, like so many other Jewish women, Judith has been virtually written out of the Hanukkah narrative as we know it. Who was she? Why should we remember her?

In the second century B.C.E., as the powerful Assyrian army invaded the Near East, the town of Bethulia was besieged by the cruel and domineering Holofernes, the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar's top general. If Bethulia fell, the whole country would come under Assyrian control. Discouraged, the city's elders agreed to surrender if they were not rescued within a few days. Judith, a young widow and most unlikely savior, challenged them to take responsibility for the survival of their famine-stricken community. Accompanied only by her maid, she set out for the enemy camp. Smitten with her beauty, Holofernes invited her to a banquet. When he fell asleep in a drunken stupor, they were left alone in his tent. After praying for God's help, Judith took his sword and decapitated him. With the Assyrian army thrown into confusion, she urged the Israelites to launch a surprise attack; they emerged victorious.

Judith's faith and courage changed the course of history. Modern-day Judiths carry on her legacy as they dare to act, to speak, to teach, and to write themselves into the record of American Jewish history. Examples include artist Judy Chicago, writer Judy Blume, social and political activist Judith Epstein, and other Jewish women whose deeds continue to inspire us.

We have listed some of the women who inspire us on the next page, along with links to their stories. Who would you add? Who are the Judiths who have inspired you? Publicize the miracle of Hanukkah by telling Judith's story, and by spreading the stories of modern Jewish women.

Highlighted Judiths

Judith Baskin
Judith Belasco
Judy Blume
Judith Chapman
Judy Chicago
Judith Kaplan Eisenstein
Judith Laikin Elkin
Judith G. Epstein
Judy Frankel
Judith Ginsberg
Judith Hauptman
Judith Helfand
Judith Herman
Judy Holliday
Judith Hurwich
Judith Kabalkin
Judith Kates
Judith Kaye
Judith Kerman
Judith Krantz
Judith Krug
Judy Langenthal
Judith Leiber
Judith Weinshall Liberman
Judith Lichtman
Judith Malina
Judy Meltzer
Judith Montell
Judy Nieto
Judith Obermayer
Judith Stern Peck
Judith Plaskow
Judith Graham Pool
Judith Resnik
Judy Robins
Judith Rodin
Yehudit Shadur
Judith Shapiro
Judith Vladeck

Who are the Judiths who have inspired you? Add their names, below.


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My sister zJudy Levine who died at 40 after getting her PhD in Psychiatric Social Work,married a Frenchman and moved to Francecwhere she brought two children into the world, introduced family therapy into France, using Minuchin’s family therapy methods.

Military widow and home care giver became Hospice Chaplin and Chaplain to the Southeast Missouri drug and alcohol abuse center. Helped to bring many to know the Lord.

Judith Butler is a nonbinary lesbian scholar, activist, philosopher, and founding parent of queer theory.

I'm adding Judith Edelman-Green, Jewish feminist and friend. Rabbi Judith has inspired by faith and has been a support during rough times.

Founder of El Ha Lev and Co-founder of Empowerement Self Defense

my Bubbie Yetta, Yehudis (in Hebrew) Neiditch Ginsburg. She left Pinsk in 1913 at the age of 16 to begin her new life in Chicago. She was very strong willed and determined to build a Jewish family in Chicago that held on to the Jewish traditions. My son, Seth, is studying at Machon Yaakov in Jerusalem with hopes to influence each of my children to follow the Orthodox ways, in my Bubbie's footsteps.

Two wonderful storytellers:
Judith Black
Judith Heineman

Great idea to remember inspiring Jewish women from Judith from the book of Judith from the time of the Hashmonaim till Judith Reznik the Astronaut.

We at WOL first portal for women in Israel would like to coolaborate with JWA and suggest for Purim together to list women to start for all holiday Purim Esther and so on.

so all the best and Happy Hanuka we will also publish your Hanuka-Judith campaign in

For people in Chicago, Artemesia Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes is at the Art Institute, on loan from the Uffizi. It is well worth the visit:

Judith Rosenbaum, a terrific historian, educator, and writer who is the Director of Public History at the Jewish Women's Archive.

adding a Judith

Judith Seid, secular humanist rabbi extraordinaire!

Judith Black - the amazing storyteller from Marblehead. A must to be added!

In reply to by Anonymous

Wonderful - but don't just post a name; tell her story and share it.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "December: Judith and the Hanukkah Story." (Viewed on May 23, 2024) <>.