Sharona Margolin Halickman

We cannot tolerate abuse!

In the Haftara for Parshat Chukat we read the story of Yiftach (Jephte), Shoftim Chapter 11.  In sentences 30-31 Yiftach makes a vow: Yiftach declared a vow to God and said, “If you will indeed deliver the Children of Amon into my hand then it shall be whatever emerges- what will emerge from the doors of my house- toward me when I return in peace from the Children of Amon, it shall belong to God and I shall off it up as an elevation offering.”

The story continues through the end of Chapter 31, beyond what we read in the Haftara. Yiftach returns from the war victorious, his daughter is the first one out of the house to greet him, he tears his clothing in a sign of mourning and says that he can’t go back on his vow. She asks him for two months to go out with her friends to the mountains to cry over her virginity. Yiftach allows her to go away for two months and when she returns (11:39-40) Yiftach “carried out with her the vow that he vowed and she never knew a man. This became the practice in Israel: From year to year the daughters of Israel would go to lament with the daughter of Yiftach the Gileadite, four days of the year.”

It is not clear from the text how Yiftach sacrificed his daughter. Midrash Tanchuma Bechukotai 7 as well as the Ramban say that Yiftach mistakenly sacrificed (killed) his daughter due to the fact that he did not learn enough Torah to know that there are ways to be released from a vow especially if the first one to exit his house was not a kosher animal.

According to Radak, Yiftach didn’t kill his daughter. Rather, the sacrifice was that he forced her to remain celibate for the rest of her life. He placed her in a house to be separated from people and divorced from society. The whole year she lived in complete seclusion like a hermit aside from the four days that the daughters of Israel were allowed to make a pilgrimage to see her and comfort her. This custom was kept during her whole life.

Abravanel adds that the Christians may have learnt from this to make convents in which women enter and never leave and see no man.

How was Yiftach able to get away with such abuse (actually killing her or secluding her for the rest of her life)?

Why didn’t Pinchas the prophet and Kohen Gadol tell Yiftach who was unlearned that he was mistaken for trying to carry out the vow?

Vayikra Raba 37:4 states that God punished both Pinchas and Yiftach. Pinchas was deprived of his exalted opinions and Yiftach contracted a disease.

Unfortunately today as well there are children who are being abused yet the rabbis are not standing up to help them.

Maybe the reason that we don’t know the name of Yiftach’s daughter is because abuse can happen to anyone and we must learn from the story of Yiftach that abuse of any kind is unacceptable and our leaders must do everything that they can to prevent it.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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