Thursday, December 02, 2004

BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS: The Forward has an article, "When the Hero Is Judith, and the Latkes Are Cheese," on cheese and Judaism, with special attention to Hanukkah. Excerpt:
For cheese, the hero of this particular Hanukkah story is not Judah but Judith. The Book of Judith, like The Book of the Maccabees, is to be found in the Apocrypha. According to the story recounted there, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, Assyrian armies were laying siege to the small but militarily significant town of Bethulia, near Jerusalem. One of its residents, the beautiful widow Judith, was determined to save her townspeople. She managed to gain entrance to the Assyrian camp, whereupon the enemy General Holofernes espied her. Intending to seduce the beautiful widow, Holofernes invited her into his tent for a banquet. There Judith fed the general salty cheeses so that she might then ply him with goblets of wine to slake his thirst. Eventually Holofernes fell drunkenly asleep, at which point Judith seized her opportunity and lopped off his head with his own sword; the hea, she carried back to her comrades in a sack. When the Assyrian armies discovered their leader dead, his head carried aloft by Jewish fighters, they fled in panic and the town was saved.

Since that time, Judith has been a name of honor for Jewish girls � think of 20th-century Jewish artists such as Judy Holliday (n�e Judith Tuvim), Judy Chicago (n�e Cohen) and Judy Blume (n�e Sussman) � and dishes made with cheese have been a tradition at Hanukkah celebrations, to remind us of Judith's heroism.

The Judith story doesn't involve the Maccabean revolt, which is the basis for Hanukkah, but it does involve defeating an evil pagan ruler.

The article also has some recipes for cheese dishes. Enjoy.

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