Jewish heroine of Hanukkah

Aside from the story of Judah Maccabees, the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the oil, a lesser known story tell of charming and beautiful widow, Judith. She was the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, father of the Hasmonean family who saved her village town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea when it was under siege by the Syrians and their mighty Syrian-Greek general Holofernes. Holofernes was notorious for his cruelty and in crushing rebellions, showing no mercy to men, women and children alike.

When the town and all its inhabitants refused to give in to tyranny and the oppressive rule of the Syrians, Holofernes ordered to sever the supply of both water and food to starve them into submission. The villagers fought bravely and desperately, tried to push back their assailants, but it didn’t take too long until they are in the brink of surrender.

Scampering at the doors of death, the people of the town pleaded for their life and asks the elders to surrender, rather than die of hunger and thirst. In utter despair themselves, the elders asks the villagers to give them five more days, if no rain or any act of salvation comes, they will surrender.

With not much of a choice, the people agreed and return to their posts. Present at that time was Judith, motionless, filled with grief in heart. She spoke..

“Why do you test God, giving Him only five days in which to send us His help? If you truly have faith in God, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, don’t you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death?!”

Aside from her beauty, Judith was particularly respected and admired for her devoutness, modesty, and loving kindness. The words she spoke, placed them (the elders) into a deep realization, but sadly they have limited options left.

Judith made a suggestion, which took the elders by surprised. She asked them for permission to leave town together with her maid and go to Holofernes. Reluctantly they gave their blessings.

Dressed in her best clothes, she made her way to the enemy camp. Wrapped in a delicate veil all but hid her beautiful face. She was accompanied by her faithful maid, who carried on her head a basket filled with rolls, cheese, and several bottles of old wine. When she met face to face with the commander, he was awed and captivated by her beauty. At this point, anything she says will be truth to his ears. She told him that she will reveal the secrets to capture the town, in the hope that he will deal mercifully with its inhabitants.

“If you are telling me the truth, and will indeed help me capture the city, you will be my wife!” Holofernes promised.

Earning the trust of the commander with her bewitching beauty, she and her maid walks in their camp as one of them, and any attempt on them will be punishable by death.

Confident and complaisant of her new found ally, Holoferness spent most of his time drinking and dreaming about Judith. A couple of days passed, Holofernes became impatient and sends for Judith.

“Well, gracious Judith, what intelligence do you bring me today? My men are getting impatient and demoralized doing nothing; they cannot wait to capture the city and have their fun…”

Judith shares with him information that truly made him very happy. He was pleased, that the town and all its inhabitants will soon be delivered into his hands. Holoferness calls for a celebration and demanded that Judith be his honored guest.

That very evening, a great feast with various delicacies was prepared inside the tent of the general, but Judith told him she brought her own food and wine that she had prepared especially for that occasion.

“My goat cheese is famous in all of Bethulia,” Judith said. “I’m sure you’ll like it, General.”

Judith gave the general salty cheese to make him thirsty, and then she got him drunk by letting him drink plenty of wine to quench his thirst. Before long he was sprawled on the ground, dead drunk.

Judith got a pillow and laid the generals head on it. Silently she said her prayers before doing the deed.

“Answer me, O Lord, as you answered Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, when you delivered the wicked general Sissera into her hands. Strengthen me this once that I may bring your deliverance to my people whom this cruel man vowed to destroy, and let the nations know that you have not forsaken us…”

Slowly, Judith draws Holofernes heavy sword, take aim at his neck and beheaded him. She wrapped up the commanders head in garments, and concealed it under her clothing. She walked as calm as she can be and went into her tent.

She made known the success of her mission to the elders and asked them to launch an attack. Overwhelmed by the surprise attack of the villagers, the Syrian soldiers panicked, and more so when they found their mighty commander in his tent lifeless and his head severed from his body.

This is the story of Judith, whose unbendable faith in God and courage changed the course of history.An unlikely heroine that saved the city of Bethulia and all its inhabitants.

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