Avid Editor's Insights

Midrash on Chanukah

Posted by Glezele Vayne on December 14, 2009


From Madrichim.org.

Hat tip: Tamar Yonah blog

Chanukah and Heroines


Midrash on the breakout of the rebellion: The Marriage of Hannah, Daughter of Mattathias

As part of their campaign to break the spirit of the Jews, the Greeks decreed that every maiden must spend her wedding night in the bed of the regional governor, and that only afterward would she be permitted to her husband. As a result of this decree, the Jews stopped marrying. For three years and three months, no wedding was held in Judea. Then it came time for Hannah, daughter of Mattityahu the Hasmonean to marry. In spite of the decree, Mattityahu held a great celebration, inviting the leaders of the nation, for Mattathias’ family was extremely prominent. The bride sat, as was customary, at the head table, but suddenly stood up, clapped her hands together, and tore her expensive wedding dress, exposing herself. Everyone looked away in embarrassment, and her brothers ran to fall upon her and kill her for shaming herself and her family.

But Hannah said to them, “Why, when I shame myself before my relatives and friends are you so filled with embarrassment and anger that you wish to kill me, but you agree to surrender me this night so the heathen governor can lie with me? Why do you not learn from Simon and Levy, sons of our forefather Jacob, who avenged the rape of their sister Dinah (in Genesis, chapter 34)?”

Everyone realized that Hannah was right; her brothers discussed the matter and came to a decision. They dressed their sister in the finest garments and brought her with great ceremony, at the head of a large procession, to the King. Hannah’s brother’s declared, “We are the sons of the High Priest, and it is not fitting that our sister be given to the governor. Our sister is fit only for the King himself!” The brothers’ words found favor in the King’s eyes.

The brothers accompanied Hannah to the royal bed chamber, and thereupon, seized the King and killed him. Afterward, they stormed out killing ministers, guards, and servants, who were in the palace. So began the Hasmonean revolt.

(M. Y. Ben Gurion, miMekor Yisrael 1; Y. D. Eisenstein, Otzar Midrashim: Hannukah)


It is not entirely clear how the story of Judith became linked to the story of Chanukah. She apparently lived centuries earlier during the reign of Nebuchadnezzer. It may have been written down and used to inspire the Maccabees.

Lesson: Mel Gibson gets his movie ideas from the Maccabees. Wow. — Ellie Katz

Judith and Holofernes

Judith was a beautiful woman who single-handedly saved the Jewish town of Bethulia during the Hasmonean revolt. Holofernes was an evil Syrian general who laid siege to the town.

All seems lost until the widow, Judith, tells the town’s elders that she has a plan to defeat the enemy. At first, the elders scoff at her, but as the situation becomes increasingly desperate, they finally allow her to leave the camp for one day.

She dresses provocatively and prepares a sack of food and wine. She approaches the enemy camp and is immediately captured and brought before Holofernes. Impressed with her beauty and her prediction of his defeat of the Jews, he invites her to celebrate with him alone.

When alone with Holofernes, Judith feeds him with salty cheese, which induces the general to drink and finally sleep. She then takes his sword, cuts off his head, and returns from the slumbering enemy camp to Bethulia. When the Greek troops see the head of their leader hanging from the town’s walls, they lose heart and retreat. The siege was over.

Lesson: We need to learn our lessons from our Torah, from the Tanach, from our own history. We need to realize that the past has been recorded for the sake of our future. History does repeat itself. — Ellie Katz

From Glezele Vayne – Formerly “Schmoozing with Elya & Ellie Katz”

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