I have always had a particular fascination with women warriors—particularly ancient and medieval ones. Joan of Arc was a favorite, as was Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt. My father had a sword from Spain hanging on his wall in his study and I used to stare at it with curiosity and longing—and once even took it off the wall when a babysitter’s boyfriend scared me. Later on, I learned about the women warriors of Dahomey in West Africa, Mu Lan Hua of China, and the Scythian women who were the real-life inspiration for the legend of the Amazon. The story of Durga, the warrior goddess of India who combats demonic forces and destroys illusion, also compelled me. I think, having felt under siege from relatives and schoolmates early in my life, the image of the woman warrior made me feel safer, even if in real life, my college karate class made me feel uncomfortable.
In my own tradition, I explored the biblical character of Devorah, the prophetess and tribal leader who directed the Israelites in battle. Then I discovered the apocryphal Judith, who defended her city of Bethulia by cutting off the enemy general’s head–Judith is celebrated in art in a variety of European paintings and on Chanukah menorahs. Judith is also celebrated during the North African Jewish holiday ritual of Chag haBanot or Eid Al-Banat—the Festival of the Daughters, a day that honors women and girls. In addition to these legendary women, I was moved by other, non-legendary women who fought for justice and their people in a variety of ways. Continue reading “The Kreismesser: Women and Magic Swords in Jewish Tradition by Jill Hammer”