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Yehudit and the Decree

May 9, 2009 | by Shimon Apisdorf

The Chanukah story is filled with the dedication and heroism of Jewish women.

The Greek rulers of Israel instituted a harsh decree:

All brides were required to sleep with a Greek military officer before they could marry their husbands.

This is not a myth or a fairy tale. These were young Jewish women who were as alive, intelligent and talented as any Jewish woman today. They were in love with their soon-to-be husbands and each had to submit herself to the lusts of a Greek soldier before she could marry. Defy the law, and she could be killed.

What would you do in such a circumstance? What would you tell your daughter to do, or your fiancée?

This was particularly insidious, for the Greeks understood that the foundation of Jewish life is a sound and stable family. At the root of this stability is the sanctity of the relationship between husband and wife. In traditional Judaism, even a friendly "kiss-and-hug" is considered inappropriate with friends of the opposite sex. Similarly, the Sages established a cautionary "fence" against being secluded with members of the opposite sex.

The Kabbalists say that the bond between a husband and wife is analogous to the bond between humanity and God. This is why, when it comes to protecting the sanctity of married life, we cannot be too careful. And it is this very point that the Greeks sought to uproot.


A Jewish woman named Yehudit has become an integral part of the psyche of Chanukah. This is her story:

A Greek commander led his army to put down a revolt that was beginning in Jerusalem. The Greek forces encamped around the walls of the city and began a protracted siege. Though Jerusalem was a well-fortified city, the relentless siege by a superior army began to exact a great toll on the citizens of the city. A widow named Yehudit left the city and requested an audience with the commander. Her plan was to seduce him and then to kill him.

Her plan succeeded. The commander gave a feast in honor of Yehudit and he became quite drunk. That night the commander and Yehudit retired to his private tent where he soon fell into a deep sleep. While he was asleep Yehudit took his sword and decapitated him.

Yehudit then brought the commander’s head back to Jerusalem where it was hung on the city walls for everyone to see. The Jews were inspired by the daring heroism of Yehudit, and the Greek forces retreated.

It was a key turning point in the Jewish revolt against the Greeks.

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