What is Chag Habanot?
Above: “Libyan Jewish women” from The ‘Or Shalom’ Center for Libyan Jewish Heritage, The National Library of Israel (“In Color: Photos of Libyan Jews Brought to Life“)
If you’re familiar with the story of Hanukkah, you probably think of the Maccabees — the small band of Jewish rebels who stood up to the powerful Syrian-Greek army, thus ensuring the Jews could safely continue to practice their religion. But have you heard of Judith — also known as Yehudit — the Jewish heroine who also saved her people? As the story in the apocryphal Book of Judith goes, she was a beautiful, clever woman who decapitated the Assyrian general Holofernes, thus preventing a siege of her hometown, Bethulia. Luckily for us, there’s a special Mizrahi Hanukkah tradition that honors Judith, as well as subsequent generations of strong Jewish women. It’s a holiday that falls on the new moon of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which is the sixth or seventh night of Hanukkah, called Chag Habanot, the Festival of the Daughters.
Chag Habanot, which is also known as Eid Al-banat in Judeo-Arabic, honors the story of Judith, as well as the special relationships among Jewish women. During this holiday, which was celebrated in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Algeria, among others, women would get together to sing, dance, bake sweet treats, and give gifts to one another. In some communities, women would visit the synagogue to kiss the Torah scrolls and be blessed by the rabbi. They would read or recite? Jewish liturgical poems, known as piyyutim, and pray for the health and wellbeing of the women in their lives.
So this year, if you want to add a piece of Chag Habanot to your Hanukkah celebration, light a candle in honor of a special woman who’s impacted your life, eat some sweets, and dance the night away to some upbeat North African Jewish tunes!
From the Archive
Above: Moroccan Jewish women and child. Photo from JIMENA.org.
Above: “Judith with the Head of Holofernes“, Cristofano Allori (1577-1621). The Royal Collection Trust.
Jackie Barzvi is a professional raqs sharqi (belly dance) performer and instructor.
Judith’s story shows us that just one person's courage has the power to reshape Jewish history. Are there other Jewish figures from the past or present who inspire you to be more courageous?
Connecting to the Shekhinah
The Shekhinah is the presence of God that is within every person (in Jewish mystical tradition, the Shekhinah is depicted as female). What ritual can you add to this year’s Hanukkah celebration that will deepen your connection to the Shekhinah?
Celebrating the Festival of Daughters
How can you show your gratitude towards “daughters” in your life? Is there a Jewish woman, leader, teacher, or anyone that has made an impact on your life that you could honor this year for Chag Habanot?
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