Chag Ha’Banot: Bringing women’s leadership to the community

Chanukah Sameach from Rabbi Gila Caine and family

By Rabbi Gila Caine

(EJNews) – Egalitarian Jewish practice usually means, women take part in spheres of our culture which traditionally belonged mostly to men. But we have now come far enough in re-imagining what Judaism can be, for us to open the doors and invite our men to join in with practices developed in women’s spaces and find out how this informs and enriches all our lives.

I would like to take one example and explore it here with you.

The seventh night of Chanukah falls on Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the new month of Tevet), and brings with it a special celebration. For generations, Jewish women in North Africa named this night Eid el Bannat – the festival of the daughters and made it a holy celebration for their community of women. In some communities’ women would go to the synagogue and touch the Torah – praying for their daughter’s well-being. Women would gather to light candles together, feast and tell the story of Judith/Yehudit. Some would make this a night of singing, dancing and giving gifts to daughters and brides. It was supposed to be a night of reconciliation and peace, and honoring women’s strength.

In the past generation, many women’s groups and communities have revived this tradition and made it their own. You can read one article about this unique night if you go to and search for: Chag HaBanot: The Festival of the Daughters by Rabbi Jill Hammer. You will find more history and some interesting suggestions for celebrating with your female friends and family on that evening.

I want us to go one step further and ask ourselves how we incorporate our male family and friends in this night. This is important since not only our daughters should learn about the different sort of power women bring into the world, and not only they should remember and honor our female ancestors.  Making women and feminine values a central part of our public life, means we must share these ideals with the whole community – regardless of sex or gender.

Our tradition is great at remembering mostly male heroes, teachers and prophets, and we usually remember our female ancestors in women-centered events. The seventh night of Chanukah could be the night when our community brings forward and respects the richness and variety of our female heroes. This is a great opportunity to teach our sons and not only our daughters, about appreciating their fore-mothers, and realizing all they can learn from them.

In the article I referred to, Rabbi Hammer suggests some interesting Kavanot/Intentions for each of the candles lit on that night. You might want to incorporate some of them when you light your Chanukkiah – maybe one every night (what will you say on the eighth?) or all of them on the seventh night. Or find some other way which speaks to you and your beloved ones – through games, or songs or gift giving.

Here are the Kavanot written by Rabbi Hammer, and may this Chanukah be a time of Joy and renewed power to all who are bringing light to our world.

Light the first candle in honor of Judith and all Jewish women heroes throughout history.

Light the second candle in honor of women heroes that you admire (name names).

Light the third candle in honor of women teachers and spiritual leaders whom you know (again, name names, including relatives and friends).

Light the fourth candle in honor of Jewish mothers and grandmothers, including your own.

Light the fifth candle in honor of all Jewish girls.

Light the sixth candle in honor of your family. (This candle can be special for daughters, or you can have the candle represent the whole family, men and women, boys and girls.)

Light the seventh candle in honor of the Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of G-d that is in every person (in Jewish mystical tradition, the Shekhinah is depicted as female).

Gila Caine is the Rabbi at Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform congregation.


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