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At the culinary heart of Hanukkah (which begins at sundown on Thursday, December 10) are foods fried in oil to commemorate the triumph of the Maccabees, who reclaimed their sacred temple, and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.

But there’s another, lesser-known Hanukkah story that shifts the food narrative to a brave woman and her killer cheese. This story from the Book of Judith explains why dairy products are making their way to the holiday table.

According to the “Bible Interpreter’s Dictionary,” the Assyrian leader Nebuchadnezzar sent one of his generals, Holofernes, to destroy the Jews of Bethulia, a city that commanded the road to Jerusalem. The plan was to seize the spring at the foot of the mountain, so that the Jews would be deprived of their water supply.

When the cisterns in the city emptied, people began to lose heart. It seemed better to live as slaves than to die in vain. A woman in town, a beautiful widow named Judith, had another plan.

She left Bethulia, dressed in festive clothes to attract any man she might meet, and equipped with wine and food. The Assyrian guards – mesmerized by Judith’s looks – opened the city gates and escorted her up the hill to the enemy camp.

Pleased with her appearance, beauty, and wit, Holofernes invited Judith to a banquet in her tent. When his officers left him alone with her, the general was so charmed by her that he ate the savory cheesecakes she had made, then quenched his thirst with his wine. More cheesecakes, a lot more wine. Until he fell asleep drunk.