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The Maccabees/Hasmoneans: Hasmonean/Maccabean Women

Every year Jews around the world celebrate the miracle of Chanukah. The story of Chanukkah and the Macabbean revolt is told in synagogues and in homes. Mattathias and Judah Maccabee as well as the Maccabean army are always mentioned. Missing from the well-known story of Chanukkah, however, are the women. Texts rarely speak of the crucial role that women played during this time of Greek imperialism and persecution.

Rashi, however, refers to the story of a woman who protests against the Greek army's right to take the virginity of a Jewish bride. Rather than giving herself to the Greek generals on her wedding night, this unnamed woman chose to strip herself naked in front of her community. Her statement symbolized the humiliation and shame of the Jewish brides under Greek rule. This act inspired the Jews to take up arms in defense of their women, leading to other revolts against the Greek empire.

Talmudic texts also refer to the story of a Hasmonean woman who refused to bow before a Greek idol. Greek soldiers killed her seven sons one-by-one, and still this heroic woman refused to surrender her faith in God.

After Hasmonean rule was established over the Greeks, women continued to possess power. John Hyrcanus, a ruler in the Hasmonean dynasty, willed control of the entire government to his unnamed wife. Hyrcanus's son, Aristobulus, was named High Priest, but he imprisoned his mother so as to steal her title of ruler.

Source: University of Calgary; Taitz, Emily, Sondra Henry, Cheryl Tallan. TheJPS Guide to Jewish Women. PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2003.