While studying the halachot of Chanuka with my daughter last week, we learned that women are also required to light Chanuka candles. I remembered the story of Yehudit, but totally forgot about the "other" part.
I'm not sure why it slipped my mind, but I looked it up in the Gemara to make sure....and Rashi says it very clearly.
The Gemara (Shabbat; 23A) states; Rav Yehoshua ben Levy says: Women are required [in the lighting] of Chanuka lights, for even they were part of the miracle [of being saved]
According to ancient Jewish sources, during the period of Syrian rule, Syrian officers in Israel had the authority to rape all Jewish brides. The bride would be allowed to marry her husband only after submitting to the Syrian officer.
During the years of Syrian tyranny, Syrian officers enjoyed the "droit du seigneur" -- the authority to deflower virgin Jewish brides on their wedding nights, before they could join their husbands. So some stories which Jewish families retell at Hanukkah, such as the Book of Judith, extol brave Jewish women who went to the tent of enemy officers who were expecting sex, but who instead met their deaths as the hands of lone Jewish women.
Was every Jewish wedding a cause for sadness and despair? Did Jews get married in secret? How did young Jewish husbands receive their brides after being molested? How many of those brides were impregnated that first time by Greek soldiers?
With these questions burning in my head, I recall a newly published book I read on my recent trip to the US a few weeks ago. "The Immortal" by Sy Polsky details the life of Joseph, a fictional Jewish physician/warrior at Beitar on the 8th of Av, the day before the final defeat of the Bar-Kochba rebellion by the Roman empire. Abandoning his comrades at arms, he deserts the city only to find himself attacked by Romans. Hanging between life and death, a mythical kabbalist offers Joseph the option of immortality -- with a catch. He must accompany the Jewish people into exile and in addition to bearing witness to the 9th of Av tragedies which would afflict the Jewish people for generations, the same day would mark personal calamities in his private life as well.
This 800 page book of historical fiction is a fascinating journey through Jewish life in the Middle East, Arabia, Spain, France, England, Germany and many parts of Europe from 135 c.e. at the fall of Beitar in Israel through the 1600's in the Netherlands. Joseph's travels take him through the ancient library of Alexandria, to the Parthian empire and the city of Nehardea where the Gemara was authored. Joseph meets and debates with the Amoraim; Shmuel, Rava, Rabba, Rav Ashi and Rabina.
It's far from easy for Joseph the Jew -- he doesn't age externally and survives terrible tragedies while witnessing the murder and abuse of his family, generation after generation. He goes off and on "the path" of religious Judaism throughout the entire book.
The historical stories are accurate and colorful, yet the book painfully recounts how many times the world has tried to eliminate the Jewish people. One amazing story that stood out in my mind was Joseph's leading one town's Jewish uprising during the Crusades -- one of the only Jewish revolts (if not the only one) recorded in the historical period of the Crusades. While there was no "Joseph" leading the actual revolt, it's historical fact that in 1349 the Jews in Regensburg revolted.
This is not a book for younger readers, and while there is quite a bit of violence and sex, it's definitely non-gratuitous and an important part of the story.
The Immortal is only the first book of a trilogy, and I was rather disappointed that I'll have to wait for parts 2 and 3 to be published.
While the specific questions I posed before about Chanuka and women aren't addressed by this book, the human element of tragedy is very clear and is profoundly and painfully described.
If you want a book to rekindle your fascination with Jewish history, this is it.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael