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Chanukah and Modern Day Heroes – Middle School and High School


This lesson will introduce two classical rabbinic texts on Chanukah focused on heroism. Each text demonstrates very different types of heroic acts both coming from – in their day from unlikely sources – women. One has a focus on the military struggle against the Greek-Syrians while the other text presents a spiritual/religious stand against the enemy. The student will compare and contrast different types of heroism and consider a broader definition of heroism. Students will ‘meet’ heroes from the Swords of Iron War and reflect on modern day acts of heroism.
Finally, students will consider ways that they may take action in ways that could be considered “ordinary acts of heroism.”

Big Ideas
• Heroism takes on many forms
• Heroism is carried out by ordinary and exceptional people alike

Essential Questions

  • What are the elements that make someone a hero?
  • What turns an ordinary act into a heroic act?
  • In what ways can you be heroic?

Part 1 – Introduction (10 min)
Before discussing the heroism found in the Chanukah story, the teacher should introduce the lesson by showing the following clip of Baruch Cohen who fought to protect his kibbutz Magen located in the Gaza Envelope that was part of the Oct 7th Massacre.


Ask students

  • How does hearing the story of Baruch Cohen make you feel? Explain
  • Would you define Mr. Cohen as a hero? If yes, explain what about what he did, in your opinion, makes him a hero.

After this short discussion explain to students that in this lesson they will be comparing and contrasting two classic rabbinic Chanukah texts that exemplify very different kinds of heroic acts.
The lesson will also consider modern day acts of heroism and ways that they may be able to participate in acts of heroism.

Part 2 – The Story of Yehudit (10 min)

Note to teacher:
Provided are the English and Hebrew versions of the text both for this midrash and the next Talmudic Aggadah as well. Depending on how much time the teacher wants to spend and the students’ ability to decipher rabbinic texts from the original, she can decide to work with the Hebrew text or the translated text.

The teacher should divide the students into study pairs (chavruta) and distribute the Yehudit text (Source 1) to them. Direct them to read the story out loud to each other and together answer the following questions using the Think-Pair-Share technique:

  • Do you think Yehudit is a hero? What made her so, in your opinion?
  • What made Yehudit, in our story, exceptional from other Jews of Jerusalem at the time?
  • Did Yehudit have to compromise herself in this situation? If yes, was it justified in your opinion?


Part 3 – Hana and her Seven Sons [Gittin 57b]  (8 min)

Notes to teacher:
1) This aggada on the women and her seven sons has in Jewish tradition been associated with the Chanukah story even though not all the facts and characters appearing in it historically line up. The historicity of the aggada is not our concern in this lesson but, should students raise this, the teacher can point out that Jewish tradition has connected the story with Chanukah and that there are different versions of the story.

2) The aggada never mentions the name Hana in the story itself but Jewish tradition has identified her by the name Hana. It may be due to the verse quoted from Psalms 113 at the very end “A joyful mother of children” that The Rabbis associated with biblical Hana who was barren much of her life and then had her prayers answered with the blessing of a succession of 7 children.

Continuing in pairs, have students read the story of the women and her seven children. Have them answer the following questions using the Think-Pair-Shar technique:

  • Why did the women in the aggada refuse to follow the directions of the emperor?
  • Why does the women in the aggada always use a different biblical verse to justify her refusal to bow down?
  • Once the women saw that the emperor would execute her children one-by-one, she still refused to bow down to his idol. Why in the face of that did she still refuse to bow down? Are their things, in your opinion, worth giving your life for? What are they?
  • Do you think the women is a hero? What made her so, in your opinion?

Part 4 – Compare and Contrast the Two Stories (10 min)

Bring the students together for a full class discussion.
Assemble all the students to lead a full class discussion comparing and contrasting the two rabbinic stories.

Ask students:

  • Did you note something that was common to both stories that might be considered out of the ordinary for the times that the stories took place? (A. Both stories have women as the hero. In those days men would be the expected heroes of our stories. One must assume, that the writers of these stories intentionally used this technique of irony to better highlight the heroic nature of their actions.)
  • In what ways would you say our two main characters in their respective stories are heroes?
  • Characterize the quality of heroism in each of our two characters. Describe it.


The teacher should try to tease out from students that there are different forms of heroism. Some is through fighting and defeating an enemy (Yehudit). Others may be in standing up for a principle (the women of seven sons). Sometimes heroism results in victory and other times not – yet the act still may be one of heroism.

The teacher may want to point out the similarity between Hana and how many Holocaust victims knowing that their fate was sealed died singing “Ani Maamin” or “Shema Yisrael.”

  • Do you see any parallels between the women of seven sons and some Jewish victims during the Holocaust?
  • In your opinion, were both women heroes? Defend your position.


Part 5 – Modern Day Heroes During the Swords of Iron War (7 min)

Similar to the trigger film that opened this lesson, below is a series of short videos that highlight extraordinary acts of heroism during the Oct 7th Massacre. You can divide students into small groups assigning a different video for each group or select from the films and show the entire class.

Ask students:

  • Describe what is it about these people and their actions that made them heroes.
  • How can these heroes be compared to the heroes of our Chanukah story?
  • How did hearing these modern stories of heroism make you feel?


Playlist: The Spirit of Israeli Heroism


Part 6 – Conclusion (5 min)

The teacher should summaries the main points from the lesson above describing emphasizing lessons learned:

1) Heroism comes in many different forms – physical fighting, standing and sacrificing for principles, etc.

2) Chanukah was a physical war and one based on a fight over ideas and priciples.

3) Heroism is demonstrated often by ordinary people stepping up when the hour requires action.




Internet Connection

Paper Handouts

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