Judith the Jewess

Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz

The Book of Judith is associated with Chanukah. And yet, the book is not canonized as part of Tanach, and therefore, is not studied with any frequency.  There are several reasons given for why the book was not canonized.  The main one is that the dates, names and places are unrecognizable.  This could mean that either names are disguises or, more likely, they were chosen to alert the reader that the Book of Judith is a literary tale of fiction.  The story begins “In the twelfth year if the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh.” The date, time and place are illogical, giving the impression of beginning a literary story.

I would like to suggest that whether the story occurred or not is irrelevant.  Despite the fact the book of Judith was not canonized, I believe that there is still much to learn from her. You see, Judith in Hebrew is Yehudit, or “the Jewess”, implying that Judith embodies many of the women of Tanach. She is no one and everyone. Indeed, the story is ripe with textual references to the other woman of Tancha. Judith is called Yifath To’ar and Yifat mareh, beautiful and well favored, just like Rachel (Genesis 29:16). She is considered a person of “good understanding” as is Avigail (I Samuel 25:3).  Judith takes off her sackcloth of mourning, and dons feminine sensual attire, as did Tamar (Genesis 38:14).  She summons the leaders of the community, just like Devorah summons Barak to her (Judges 4: 6).  She insists on eating her own food for kashruth reasons, just like Esther, who also only ate her own food (Yalkut Shimnoi, Esther 1053). She prays like Channa (I Samuel 2:1).  She kills Holofernes, in a similar way to Yael (Judges 4:21).  And she sings and praises God with instruments, just like Miriam (Exodus 15:20).

So Judith is a composite of many of the women of Tanach.  The story draws upon the very best characteristic traits of the Biblical women. And so, we study her because she is the Jewess, breaking the mold of any one women while at the same time willing us to aspire, on Chanukah, to combine all the elements of traditional women into one unified whole.  A composite of who we can be.

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