Yardaena Osband

On the backs of righteous women

Soldiers are seen monitoring surveillance cameras at a command center at the IDF’s Re’im camp in southern Israel, November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers are seen monitoring surveillance cameras at a command center at the IDF’s Re’im camp in southern Israel, November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

A woman certainly lights, for Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Women are obligated regarding the Hanukkah light, for they, too, were in the miracle (אשה ודאי מדליקה דא”ר יהושע בן לוי נשים חייבות בנר חנוכה שאף הן היו באותו הנס). — Shabbat 23a:2

This week as Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah, I keep thinking about this passage where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi emphasizes  that women are obligated to participate in lighting Hanukkah candles because we were included in the miracle of Hanukkah. We were more than included. We were essential.

Rashi in this passage highlights one woman, Judith, who in some versions of her story was the daughter of the Maccabean Kohen Gadol Yochanan. Judith mobilizes in a critical moment of the miraculous military victory of Hanukkah: 

היו באותו הנס – שגזרו יוונים על כל בתולות הנשואות להיבעל לטפסר תחלה ועל יד אשה נעשה הנס:

“The Greeks decreed upon all the virgins getting married to have relations with an official first.” 

The miracle happened through a woman when Judith assassinated the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes. Rashi makes it clear that the women light the candles not only because they were passively saved and recipients of the miracle, but also because they actually brought the Jewish people’s salvation.

For many of us, this Hanukkah feels different from any Hanukkah we have celebrated before. Israel is at war and antisemitism is surging across the world. It is hard not to think about how this urge to physically and spiritually destroy Jews, in and out of the borders of our ancestral homeland, as the Greeks tried to do still persists today. But this war is also uniquely on the backs and shoulders of Jewish women.

Jewish women are at the forefront of this war fighting with our bodies and minds. IDF’s female surveillance soldiers, the tatzpitaniyot, in the Border Defense Corps warned their male commanders that Hamas was training and preparing for an attack. Yet these women were ignored over and over again. The cost of their grounded warnings led to the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Many of these soldiers  were brutally murdered on October 7th in their army bases. During the attack on October 7th, Hamas committed atrocities specifically targeting Jewish women with rape and genital mutilation. The international community, including prominent women’s rights organizations, have largely ignored these testimonies with some even going as far to say that the events of October 7th were invented. The women who were held hostage in Gaza are now returning with horrific stories of sexual abuse. Deep wounds and scars that cannot be healed with a pill or two. Lifelong wounds that may never fully heal. On the home front, while hundreds of thousands of men are called up in milium, reserve duty, it is their wives who are home trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their families and protecting their communities and homes.  

Given the above, it is baffling and deeply disturbing that the current Israeli war cabinet has no women with members shutting women out of any decisions about this war. There is only one woman, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who has voting rights in the entire security cabinet (there are two additional women who have observer status). We have a seat on the battlefield, but we do not have a seat at the table. 

Will our Jewish women continue to be ignored, dismissed, and belittled by the world and our own? When will our uniquely Jewish stories be heard and honored? Will we find our place in history like the women leaving Egypt, Esther did when she stood up to Haman, and Judith during Hanukkah? Will we be allowed to be part of our people’s salvation? Do we need to remind our own people and not just the world that Af Hen Hayu Boto HaNes includes women and that many times it was because of women that we were saved?

The only way for this cycle of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians to end is through the active and sought after participation of  women. The gender-based violence of this war and the lack of women in the Israeli government’s war cabinet is a combination that undermines and devalues women in our society. If our fellow Jews choose to ignore us, can we expect the rest of the world to stand behind and acknowledge the horrors done to Jewish women on October 7th and the female hostages? If Jews choose to disregard how this war has impacted Jewish women then we will never be able to fully reckon with the consequences of what happened to us and heal. How can we empower our Jewish sisters to share their voices and for their voices to be heard? Maybe it is the voices of women that are the light we so desperately need now to shine and bring an end to this conflict.

About the Author
Yardaena Osband, MD, is a pediatrician and a teacher. She hails from Boston. She studied for two years in Midreshet Lindenbaum, received her BA in Jewish Studies and Music at Stern College for Women, and attended medical school at the Sackler School for Medicine. She has taught in many schools and synagogues and is the co-host of the Daf Yomi podcast, Talking Talmud. Yardaena is currently a student in the International Halakha Scholars Program at Ohr Torah Stone. She serves on the boards of ORA - Organization for the Resolution of Agunot and The Eden Center, and is a founder of the Orthodox Leadership Project.
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