Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Judith's story


We are taught that Judith was a heroine of Chanukah; her actions are cited by many traditional Jewish sources as a central part of the Chanukah miracles we celebrate.

The story of Judith is apocryphal, meaning that it does not appear in Tanach [it could not possibly appear in Tanach, since it would have occurred after the conclusion of Tanach]. Instead, it has its own book, the Book of Judith.

Here is a key part of the story, from the Book of Judith:

"When evening came, his slaves quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from outside and shut out the attendants from his master's presence. They went to bed, for they all were weary because the banquet had lasted so long. But Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was dead drunk.

"Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber and to wait for her to come out, as she did on the other days; for she said she would be going out for her prayers. She had said the same thing to Bagoas. So everyone went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, "O Lord Gd of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. Now indeed is the time to help Your heritage and to carry out my design to destroy the enemies who have risen up against us." She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, "Give me strength today, O Lord Gd of Israel!" Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out and gave Holofernes' head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.

"Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to do for prayer. They passed through the camp, circled around the valley, and went up the mountain to Bethulia, and came to its gates. From a distance Judith called out to the sentries at the gates, "Open, open the gate! Gd, our Gd, is with us, still showing His power in Israel and his strength against our enemies, as He has done today!"

"When the people of her town heard her voice, they hurried down to the town gate and summoned the elders of the town. 1They all ran together, both small and great, for it seemed unbelievable that she had returned. They opened the gate and welcomed them. Then they lit a fire to give light, and gathered around them. 1Then she said to them with a loud voice, "Praise Gd, O praise Him! Praise Gd, who has not withdrawn His mercy from the house of Israel, but has destroyed our enemies by my hand this very night!"

"Then she pulled the head out of the bag and showed it to them, and said, "See here, the head of Holofernes, the commander of the Assyrian army, and here is the canopy beneath which he lay in his drunken stupor. The Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman. As the Lord lives, who has protected me in the way I went, I swear that it was my face that seduced him to his destruction, and that he committed no sin with me, to defile and shame me."

"All the people were greatly astonished. They bowed down and worshiped Gd, and said with one accord, 'Blessed are you our Gd, who have this day humiliated the enemies of your people.'"

(Book of Judith, Revised Standard Translation, Chapter 13)

Have a great day,

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