You've probably heard the PBS version of the Hanuka story, but what if HBO or Netflix got its hands on it? It might sound a little like this (Otzar Hamidrashim, Eisenstein, p. 192):
taught: In the days of the wicked Hellenic empire, they decreed that any
woman who marries must first be deflowered by the hegemon, and only
then return to her husband. So they did for 3 years and 8 months until
the daughter of High Priest Johanan was to be married. [Her family]
sought to bring her to the hegemon, so she undid her hair, tore her
garments and stood naked before all the people. Judah and his brothers
were enraged and said: "Take her out and burn her, lest the king hear of
this and endanger our lives, for she has been so brazen to stand naked
before this entire people."
Said she to him: "Shall I be
humiliated before my brothers and comrades and not be humiliated before
an uncircumcised heathen, to whom you wish to betray me, to bring me to
him that he may sleep with me?"
When Judah and his
comrades heard this, they resolved to kill the hegemon. They immediately
dressed her in royal finery and made her a bridal canopy of myrtle,
from the house of the Hasmoneans to the house of the hegemon. All the
harpists and lyrists and musicians accompanied her, singing and dancing
all their way to the hegemon's house.
The hegemon heard
this and said to his lords and servants: "Look, these are the great ones
of Israel, offspring of Aaron the Priest--how they rejoice to do my
bidding!" He ordered them all to go out.
Judah and his
comrades then entered, with his sister, and they chopped off [the
hegemon's] head and looted all that was his. Then they killed the lords
and servants and trampled the Hellenes until they were at an end.
before there was a Red Wedding, there was a Myrtle Wedding. But that's
only half the story. The Midrash goes on to state that the news made it
back to "the king of the Hellenes," who was outraged and immediately
marched his legions to the gates of Jerusalem. The Jews had no idea what
to do, until "a widow woman, by the name of Judith" stepped forward.
took her maidservant and went to the gates of Jerusalem, saying: "Let
me out! God may work a miracle through my hands." They acceded and she
went to the king, who asked her what she wanted. Said she: "My lord! I
am the daughter of great ones in Israel, and my brothers are prophets.
They prophesy that tomorrow Jerusalem will fall to you!"
he heard this, the king was very happy... He believed this Judith and
fell in love with her, asking: "Do you wish to marry me?"
she: "My lord the king, I am not fit for even one of your servants!
However, since this is your heart's desire, let it be known in the camp
that whoever sees two women going to the spring shall not detain them,
as I must go there to wash and immerse myself."
immediately did so. The king then made a great feast and they all became
intoxicated, and then each went to his tent. The king fell asleep in
her bosom, and this Judith took a sword, chopped his head off and
wrapped it in a sheet.
She carried it all the way to the
gates of Jerusalem and said: "Open the gates, for the Holy One has
already wrought a miracle by my hands!"
They replied: "Haven't you done enough to whore and corrupt yourself, that now you come against us in a conspiracy?"
She immediately showed them the king's head.
Upon seeing this, they opened the gates, pouring out and shouting: "Hear, Israel, Lord our God, Lord is one!"
two women use their sexuality in a powerful way, exposing not only the
evil of the enemy, but the hypocrisy of their own brethren. These Jewish
men make their peace with rape and sexual assault -- of their own
sisters! (not that that should make a difference) -- as long as they
don't have to witness it. Only by challenging the men's concepts of
modesty -- specifically in the context of dress and ritual immersion,
two of the most explicit ways in which males exercise power over females
in the traditional context -- do these women manage to save the entire
nation. And the salvation is twofold: from the armies of the enemy and
from the mindset of their own brothers, fathers and husbands.
know this past week the men of Israel have not lived up to the example
of these two heroic women. But hey, Hanuka is still a week away...