Notes from Limmud 2005
Judith the Obscure
Rivy Poupko Kletenik
There is no tractate on Chanukah in the Talmud. What Shabbos and Chanukah have in common is candle-lighting; hence the laws of lighting Chanukah candles are found there.
A woman certainly lights Chanukah candles* because R. Yehoshua ben Levi says: women are obligated to light the Chanukah candles because they too were in the miracle [אף הן היו באותו הנס].
* Why would there be a question about this? Because it's a positive time-bound commandment, from which women are normally exempt.
What does "they too were in the miracle" mean? Because they suffered under the Syrians and so benefitted from the miracle. Or, alternatively, they brought about the miracle.
Rashi says in his commentary: The Syrians decreed that all virgin brides must first lie with a general, and it was through a woman that the miracle was brought about. I.e. Rashi agrees with both the above! So who was this woman? He does not say here.
Tractate Megillah 4a
R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: women are obligated in the reading of the Megillah because they too were in the miracle.
What does that mean here? The same again. The connection is that here too we have a positive time-bound commandment and female heroine.
The Tosafot [mediaeval commentators, of the school of Rashi] (which try to connect to issues of a similar nature elsewhere in the Talmud; and are not as terse as Rashi), say:
The Rashbam explains that the important part of the miracle was done by them. On Purim, by Esther; on Chanukah by Judith. On Pesach [the obligation being the four cups of wine—separate from the obligation for matzah], through the merit of the righteous women of that generation*.
This [interpretation] is difficult, because it says אף הן -- it sounds like they were extra to it. It should have said שהן. It seems to me that they too were in the precarious situation of standing to be killed and annhilated, or on Pesach of being enslaved, and also in Chanukah because the decree was very much upon them.
* The righteous women of the generation of the Exodus from Egypt were the midwives, Yocheved, Miriam, Shifra and Puah; and the women who, according to a midrash, went out into the fields [after Pharoah's decrees to (a) kill all male Jews, and (b) work the Jews to the bone] and seduced their husbands so they would continue procreating.
Codifications of the Law
Laws of Chanukah 670 opens with a summary of what Chanukah is, following which:
And the custom* is for women to abstain from doing work while the candles are burning and one is not lenient with them.
* נוהגות: a custom, not a law.
When we talk about a holiday, we talk about its level of holiness. Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] has the highest level of holiness, followed by Shabbos [the Sabbath]; on which all thirty-nine מלאכות [activities forbidden on the Sabbath] are forbidden. On Yom Tov [festivals, specifically the three yearly "Pilgrimage" Festivals] you are forbidden these except what is required for food. And then on חול המועד [the intermediate days of festivals] you shouldn't work unless you need to for your living. Purim and Chanukah are low-level festivals; there is no problem with working on them.
Yet here it says women are forbidden from working whilst the candles are burning.
Even where there's a practice not to work the entire day you also aren't lenient.
Bet Yosef (Commentary on the Tur) comments:
The reason is so that that they will have a way of recognising [a remembrance] that it is forbidden to use the light of the candles (ואין לנו להשתמש בהם).
Today with universal electric light, it's one thing; in past times it would be very tempting to get on with some work by the light of these eight candles.
Bayit Chadash says the women have this custom but the men do not.
This also raises the point almost immediately into the laws of Chanukah:
And the custom is for women to abstain from doing work while the candles are burning, and there are those who say one should not be not lenient with them.
The Taz (commentary) says:
Because on Chanukah the miracle was done through women it is an appropriate custom for them not to do work. But for men definitely there is no relevance for this custom. And in the Maharil there is a tradition that no one should work while the candles are burning, also during the entire first and last days.
I.e. a completely different view to the Tur!
Magen Avraham (another commentary) says:
Specifically women because the miracle was done through their hands.
The main text continues:
Women light Chanukah candles because women too are obligated
Women are obligated because they too because the Greeks decreed that their virgins had to sleep with an officer, and the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest killed the head of the enemies.
Daughter or wife of Yochanan? There is a confusion here... and still no name Judith.
Not only is a woman obligated in lighting candles, but she can light candles on behalf of her entire household, including her husband.
[There follows a discussion about whether men are obligated; this is skipped here. (In short, they are.)]
Kol Bo (an early mediaeval source; around Rashi's time):
Women are obligated because they too were in the miracle. [Explanation:] The enemies came to destroy everyone; men, women and children. Some explain it was through a woman that the great miracle occurred and her name was Judith, as it is explained in the אגדה: There was a daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, and she was very beautiful, and the king of the Greeks said that she should lie with him. She fed him a food of cheese so that he would become very thirsty and drink a lot, and become drunk and fall deep asleep*. This happened, and she took his sword and cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem, and when the army saw that their leader was dead, they fled.
* [וירדם—the same verb used for the deep sleep Adam fell into when G-d removed his rib, and that Abraham fell into for his vision at the Convenant between the Pieces.]
Rema (Moses Isserles)
There are those who say to eat cheese on Chanukah because the miracle was done through milk, that Judith fed the enemy.
Aruch haShulchan (R. Epstein; recent, last hundred years or so):
But women have a custom to not work all the while that the candles are burning, and we are not lenient with them, because a part [קצת] of the miracle of Chanukah was done through the hands of a woman at the time that they decreed that all brides should first lie with a general, as Rashi explains in Shabbat 23a; and also as time progressed a miracle occurred through the hands of Yehudit who gave the enemy milk to drink, and on the basis of this some are careful to eat dairy on Chanukah even though this was not at the time of Chanukah.
But the author of the Aruch Chanukah is modern and recognises this is not entirely historical. (See further below.)
Mishna Berurah (written by the Chofetz Chayim, in the 1910s):
The miracle also happened to them, that the decree was on all about virgin bridge to first be taken by the general, and also the salvation was done through a woman, for the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest severed the head of the head of the enemy.
She was the daughter of the High Priest, and there was a decree [etc] that all engaged girls must first be with the royal dignitary [etc (too fast to transcribe)] head of the enemy cheese in order to get him drunk, and then cut off his head.
So now we have the women being obligated to light candles ascribed to her, and not working ascribed to her, and now eating dairy products ascribed to her too.
So who was Judith, originally?
The Apocryphal Book of Judith
There are only four extant MSS of this book, and all are in Greek. These were preserved only by the Church Fathers; if they had not done so we would not have them. They were later translated back into Hebrew.
When did the story of Judith take place?
According to the book, the eighteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar! I.e. after the destruction of the First Temple! Yet the story is talking about Assyrians, and in Persia! There are anachronisms; it's a mishmash!
When was the book written?
Most theories are that the story was written during the Hasmonean period and plonked it down at an earlier period, and hence the confused countries and names.
There's no connection in it to Chanukah, or the Graeco-Syrian period!
The girl in it is indeed called Judith, but is she a young girl? No (Ch. 8), she's a widow! So she's definitely not a virgin (though the name of her town, Bethulia, is a word-play on בתולה bethula, "virgin"). Nor is she the daughter of any high priest!
Ch. 8, 1-17, 32-end:
Now at that time Judith heard of this, who was the daughter of Merari, the son of Ox, the son of Joseph, the son of Ozel, the son of Elcia, the son of Ananias, the son of Gedeon, the son of Raphaim, the son of Acitho, the son of Eliu, the son of Eliab, the son of Nathanael, the son of Samael, the son of Salasadal, the son of Israel.
And Manasses was her husband, of her tribe and kindred, who died in the barley harvest. For as he stood overseeing them that bound sheaves in the field, the heat came upon his head, and he fell on his bed, and died in the city of Bethulia: and they buried him with his fathers in the field between Dothaim and Balamo.
So Judith was a widow in her house three years and four months. And she made her a tent upon the top of her house, and put on sackcloth upon her loins and wore her widow's clothing. And she fasted all the days of her widowhood, save the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons and the feasts and solemn days of the house of Israel.
She was also of a goodly countenance, and very beautiful to behold: and her husband Manasses had left her gold, and silver, and menservants and maidservants, and cattle, and lands; and she remained upon them. And there was none that gave her an ill word; for she feared God greatly.
Now when she heard the evil words of the people against the governor, that they fainted for lack of water—for Judith had heard all the words that Ozias had spoken unto them, and that he had sworn to deliver the city unto the Assyrians after five days;—then she sent her maid, who was in charge of all her possessions, to call Ozias and Chabris and Charmis, the elders of the town.
They came unto her, and she told them, "Hear me now, rulers of the inhabitants of Bethulia: Your words you spoke before the people to-day are not right: you made an oath and pronounced it between God and you, and promised to deliver the city to our enemies, unless within these days the Lord turn to help you.
"Who are you to put God to the test to-day, and stand instead of God among the children of men? You try the Lord Almighty, but you shall never know any thing. You can't plumb the depths of man's heart, nor perceive the things he thinks: how can you then search out God, that made all these things, and know his mind, or comprehend his purpose?
"No, my brethren, do not provoke the Lord our God to anger. For if he will not help us within these five days, he has the power to defend us when he will, even every day, or to destroy us before our enemies. Do not bind the counsels of the Lord our God: for God is not as man, that he may be threatened; nor as the son of man, that he should waver. Therefore let us wait for salvation of him, and call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it please him."
Then Judith told them: "Hear me, and I will do a thing, which shall go throughout all generations to the children of our nation. Stand this night in the gate, and I will go forth with my maid: and before the time that you promised to deliver the city to our enemies, the Lord will visit Israel through my hand. But don't ask me what I will do: for I will not tell you it, until I have finished what I will do."
Then Ozias and the rulers told her, "Go in peace, and the Lord God be before you, to take vengeance on our enemies." So they returned from the tent, and went to their wards.
(Text based on the good old out-of-copyright KJV, complete with Greek-mangled Hebrew names, but with the English updated somewhat by myself.)
Judith's following prayer provides an example of religiosity of women in the Second Temple Period (9:1-6 cited):
Judith fell upon her face, and put ashes upon her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was clothed in; and about the time of the evening incense offering in the House of the Lord in Jerusalem, Judith cried with a loud voice, saying:
Lord God of my father Simeon, to whom you gave a sword to take vengeance of the strangers. They loosened a maiden's girdle to defile her, and exposed her thigh to her shame, and polluted her virginity to her reproach, doing so despite your forbidding it. Therefore you gave their rulers to be slain, so that they dyed in blood their bed, which was ashamed of their deceit, and you smote the servants with their lords, and the lords upon their thrones. You gave their wives for booty, and their daughters as captives, and all their spoils to be divided among your dear children, who were moved with your zeal, and abhorred the pollution of their blood, and called upon you for aid: God, O my God, hear me also, a widow.
For you have brought to pass not only those things, but also the things which happened before and after; you have thought upon the things which are now, and which are to come. Yes, the things you determined were ready at hand, and said, here we are: for all your ways are prepared, and your judgments in your foreknowledge.
Probably a man wrote this, yet here Simeon and Levi are being extolled for revenging a rape [their sister's], and there's an indication something similar might be about to happen here.
There are subtle indications of the Hasmonean period here: the zealous language, and a hint that virgins are being violated.
In chapter 12, she reserves the right to go out to daven by herself each night—her "back door"—and says she will only eat kosher food.
[Linguistic aside: interestingly, the NRSV, used in the version quoted here, restores the Hebrew names to the original form, but here retains the mangled Greek Bagoas rather than the original Persian Bagavahya.]
Now to the climax (12:16-13:15):
When Judith came in and sat down, Holofernes' heart was ravished with her, and his mind moved, and he desired greatly her company; for he had been waiting for a chance to deceive her, ever since he first saw her.
So Holofernes told her, "Drink now, and be merry with us."
Judith replied, "I will drink now, my lord, because my life is magnified in me this day more than all the days since I was born." Then she took and ate and drank before him what her maid had prepared.
Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born.
Now when the evening was come, his servants made haste to depart, and Bagoas shut his tent without, and dismissed the waiters from the presence of his lord; and they went to their beds: for they were all weary, because the feast had been long. Judith was left along in the tent, and Holofernes lying along upon his bed: for he was filled with wine.
Now Judith had commanded her maid to stand without her bedchamber, and to wait for her to come out, as she did daily, to go to her prayers as she had said, and she spoke to Bagoas to this end.
So everyone went out and no one was left in the bedchamber, be they little or great. Then Judith, standing by his bed, said in her heart, O Lord God of all power, look at this present upon the works of mine hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. For now is the time to help your inheritance, and carry out your plans and destroy the enemies which are risen against us.
Then she came to the bedpost at Holofernes' head, and took down his sword from there and, approaching his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, "Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day."
And she struck twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. She pushed his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and immediately after went out, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid.
The maid put it in her bag of meat; then the two of them went together according to their custom unto prayer. They passed the camp, they went around the valley, then up the mountain of Bethulia, and came to its gates.
Then Judith called from afar to the watchmen at the gate, "Open, open now the gate: God, our God, is with us, still showing his power in Jerusalem, and his forces against the enemy, as he has done to-day."
When the men of her town heard her voice, they hurried down to the town gate, and they called the town's elders.
Then they ran all together, both small and great, for they could not believe she had come back: so they opened the gate, and received them, and made a fire for a light, and stood round about them.
Then she said loudly, "Praise, praise God, praise God, I say, for he has not taken away his mercy from the house of Israel, but has destroyed our enemies by my hands this night."
So she took the head out of the bag, and showed it to them, and said, "See, the head of Holofernes, the chief captain of the Assyrian army, and see too the canopy, wherein he did lie in his drunkenness. For the Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman."
Okay... but there's no mention of any cheese here! So where did all the אגדות above come from?
Unfortunately, here my notes let me down. All I have is: מעשה Something:
There was a young girl from Jerusalem from the daughters of the prophets... ... Holoferni king of the Greeks ...
Not the daughter of the high priest, but other than that, it matches.
Other references to Judith
אוצר התפילות, a piyyut [liturgical poem] sung on the Shabbos in the middle of Chanukah:
Like the miracle of the Hasmonean the daughter of Yochanan.
They stood under the chupah, but she is shaking
and they are embarrassed to look at her (because she is to be taken by the general)
She is standing under the chuppah like a naked prostitute [קדשה].
She cut off his head like the top of a stalk of wheat.
I.e. it's explicitly here Ius primus noctis.
Historically we have no certainty that Judith is connected to the Chanukah story, but there is circumstantial evidence, and it looms large in the halachic mind. That said, the ArtScroll book on Chanukah features a large footnote which describes all of the problems of the association of Judith with the Chanukah story.
"Fiction is lies that tell truth," to paraphrase Picasso. For the speaker, 100% historic certainty is not needed.