The eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah commemorates ancient Jews’ victory over the powerful Seleucid empire, which ruled much of the Middle East from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.On the surface, it’s a story of male heroism. A ragtag rebel force led by a rural priest and his five sons, called the Maccabees, freed the Jews from oppressive rulers. Hanukkah, which means “rededication” in Hebrew, celebrates the Maccabees’ victory, which allowed the Jews to rededicate their temple in Jerusalem, the center of ancient Jewish worship.But as a professor of Jewish history, I believe that seeing Hanukkah this way misses the inspiring women who were prominent in the earliest tellings of the story.The bravery of a young widow named Judith is at the heart of an ancient book that bears her name. The heroism of a second woman, an unnamed mother of seven sons, appears in a book known as 2 Maccabees.
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