The Moroccan Jewish festival of Mimouna is a 24-hour food-centered celebration, which begins right after the week long celebration of Passover ends. Moroccan Jewish homes were emptied of all leavened bread and flour during the week of Passover. At the end of the week of Passover, Jews could eat leavened bread and pastry again, but they actually couldn’t because there was nothing to bake with. And that is when their Muslim neighbors came by.
Moroccan Arab neighbors brought back the same flour that Jews had given to their Muslim neighbors a day prior to the start of Passover, so Jews could rid their homes of leavened flour, prior to Passover. When, after the end of Passover, Muslims came to Jewish homes to return the flour, they were always invited to stay for a few hours and enjoy the soon to be baked goodies.
Thus, Jewish homes were filled with Arab neighbors, friends and family exchanging traditional Arabic blessings of good luck and success while awaiting the laden trays of delicious Mimouna baked goods. The celebration often was repeated the next day with even more pastry and joy.
This festival of Mimouna is now celebrated throughout the Land of Israel by both descendants of North African, European, and Eastern Jews. Now another North African Eid is beginning to spread.
The 7th night of the 8 day festival of Chanukah is Eid Al-Banat in Arabic, Chag HaBanot in Hebrew- a Jewish festival honoring women that began in Tunisia, and was subsequently adopted by Jewish communities across North Africa; that is marked by lighting a special candle in celebration of women.
Although women are exempt from some Jewish duties, they are obligated to light the Chanukah candles and have a tradition not to work while they are lit because, according to the Talmud, “they too were involved in the miracle” (Shabbat 23a).
The well known 11th century French commentator Rashi alludes to Channah, the sister of five brothers (the Maccabees) in explaining the phrase: “‘They too were involved in the miracle’ saying this refers to a time when the Syrian Greeks decreed that a bride should be given over to the magistrate on her wedding night and a miracle was enacted at the hands of a women. (Rashi on Shabbat 23a)
In 200 BCE, King Antiochus III of Syria defeated Egypt and made the Land of Israel a part of the Seleucid Empire. King Antiochus III wanting to conciliate his new Jewish subjects guaranteed their right to “live according to their ancestral customs” and to continue to practice their religion in the Temple of Jerusalem.
However in 175 BCE, his son Antiochus IV invaded Judea to put in power a pro Syrian high Priest. As the ancient Jewish historian Josephus relates: “The king came upon the Jews with a great army, took their city by force, slew a great multitude of those that favored Egypt, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple (erecting an idol in it that looked like himself, and thus) put a stop to the daily offerings (to God) for three years and six months.”
In order to destroy Jewish self-respect, the Syrian Greeks practiced what was known as jus primae noctis on the daughters of the priestly class. Every priest’s daughter on her wedding night was first brought to the local Syrian Greek ruler to be raped before being returned to her future husband.
According to Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll; At her wedding feast, the daughter of Matityahu stood up and tore her dress, exposing herself to her family and their guests. Her brothers, outraged at her behavior, rose up against her, but she yelled:
“I stand before you righteous; and yet you are angry with me? Where is your anger at the Greeks to whom you will deliver me tonight? Learn from Shimon and Levi who were outraged for their sister. They were only two and you are five!”
That night her five brothers, the Maccabees, dressed her up in finery and brought her to the magistrate’s bed chamber. Then they slew him and his henchman and the battle against the Syrian Greek empire began; which led to the victory that is still celebrated by the holiday of Chanukah.
Today, the festival of Eid Al-Banat in Arabic, Chag HaBanot in Hebrew urges Jewish and non-Jewish women to join both political and religious conversations on education, health, security, community leadership, economy and all areas of society.
When we all work together for the good of the nation, and acknowledge the place of women in leadership roles, we will merit to see the victories that we did in ages past and in present times.