I recently learned that it is a tradition to eat dairy on Chanukah. And here I was thinking dairy was just for Shavuot. I have been an observant Jew all of my life, and I never heard of this before. Upon further googling, I found out that this tradition is based on a story about a beautiful widow (perhaps the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, father of the Hasmoneans) called Yehudit (Judith) who bribed a Syrian-Greek general called Holofernes with cheese, got him drunk and chopped off his head, and saved her village. (That is totally the abridged version of the story. For a lengthier explanation click here).
This story is not part of our Tanach (abbreviation for the books of Torah, Prophets and Writings) which probably explains why I never heard of it before. Our school was very big on learning approved texts, and the story of Yehudit is from the Apocrypha (written in Greek) and its authenticity is in question. Perhaps it is an allegory, perhaps not. True or not, it is yet another example of how a brave woman put herself in harm’s way and used her feminine wiles to save her people.
Now that I have heard of this custom, I wonder how many people out there know of it. I also wonder how many of us (male and female alike) would be able to just chop off someone’s head like that. The story makes it sound like it was no big deal, that it took only two strikes of the sword, but I am so sure it was awful for her to do.
Could you have been a Yehudit? Do you make a point to eat dairy on Chanukah?