The Concubine and the Tribe of Benjamin
By Avi Lazerson
One of the most amazing stories that is to be found in the entire Book of the Judges is found at the end of the book even though in chronological order it happen in the earlier stages of the conquest of the Land of Israel. It begins at chapter 19 and finishes the Book of Judges in chapter 21. What I am referring to is the horrible story of the concubine and the tribe of Benjamin.
There are many questions in this story, but let us focus only on the question (and it is the main question) of why the tribe of Benjamin was almost entirely wiped out and not by a foreign enemy but by the other eleven tribes. What was it that the tribe of Benjamin did (or did not do) that should have created an internal war that bordered on genocide?
Before we can answer this question we need some background information in order to properly analyze the main issue.
The story starts out about a man who lived in the region of Ephraim. He had a concubine who for a certain reason went back to her home in Beit Lechem, in the area of the tribe of Yehuda. In Jewish life, a concubine is (or in reality was) a woman who is not a full wife as will be explained. In those days men could marry or take a concubine; a wife was a woman who not only was consecrated to him by marriage but also had a ketuba (a marriage contract granting her certain rights to her husband's property and protection in case of divorce). A concubine was consecrated to the man, meaning that she was his wife in all manners, but did not have a ketuba.
When this man's concubine left him to return to her father's house, the man, together with his aide or valet went to urge her to return to him. He stayed several days by the father-in-law and left taking his concubine with him to return to his home in the mountains of Ephraim. As they came by Jerusalem, the sun began to set and since Jerusalem was at that time a Jebusite city and not a Jewish city, the man decided to seek lodging in a nearby Jewish town. They pushed on to the city of Gevah which was in the district belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. Unfortunately they waited in the town square for some one to offer lodgings but no one seemed interested in the strangers until finally an elderly man who was returning from his work in the fields came across them. He offered to take them to his house for a meal and lodging and they accepted with gratitude.
As they were sitting down to eat their evening meal, the house was surrounded by a group of hoodlums and thugs who demanded that the elderly man give up his guest to them that they could use him to fulfill their homosexual fantasies. The elderly man tried to appease them by offering them his daughter but is was to no avail. They finally took the concubine and pushed her outside of the door so that this gang of hoodlums could appease their perverted sexual appetites with her.
The group of thugs then took this poor woman and repeatedly raped her until she was so weakened by the horrid experience that when they let her loose at the end of the night she could just barely crawl back to the elderly man's house where she was found the next morning dead. The husband being so infuriated and shocked with the treatment that he received by the inhabitants of the city that he took a knife and cut his concubine's body into twelve pieces which he send around the Land of Israel to the twelve tribes to tell them the horrendous story in explicit detail of exactly what happened to him in Givah.
When the other tribes received the body part and heard the story of the gang rape that caused the woman's death and that the gang really demanded the male, they were incensed and they called a meeting nearby to the tribe of Benjamin to demand justice for such an outrage. Some four hundred thousand armed men assembled together willing to wage war that the perpetrators be brought to justice and they sent a message to the tribe of Benjamin demanding that the perpetrators of such a crime be properly punished, meaning put to death. When the tribe of Benjamin heard that almost all of Israel had assembled at their borders, they showed that they were not interested in fulfilling the demands of the other tribes. Instead, all of the tribe of Benjamin came together and assembled in the town of Gevah in order to wage war against the rest of the tribes. Twenty-six thousand men of Benjamin pitted themselves against four hundred thousand Jews from the other tribes.
In the first day of battle, Benjamin slew twelve thousand Jews from the other eleven tribes with no noticeable damage inflicted on the tribe of Benjamin. The eleven tribes were shocked at their rout and defeat but decided to enter into battle another time. This time Benjamin killed eighteen thousand from the other tribes. Licking their wounds, they went again to ask if they should give up or continue. Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron, was the high priest at that time. He told them that they should press on and that this time they would be successful.
This time as they approached the tribe of Benjamin to do battle, Benjamin being over confident after the two successes, came out to battle as before. As they chased after the other tribes, part of the large Jewish contingent slipped behind them into the city of Gevah and began to destroy it. Another group came from behind and began to surround the army of Benjamin. As Benjamin began to fight with the other tribes, they suddenly realized that their fortified city was being burnt down and destroyed. They were surrounded and suddenly the tide of battle changed. That day, eighteen thousand of the tribe of Benjamin were killed. The remnants of Benjamin scattered since their city was destroyed and they had no place of refuge. The other tribes chased them and smote them left and right. Only six hundred of the original twenty-six thousand men from the tribe of Benjamin managed to escape.
Then the tribes turned their wrath on the remaining cities of Benjamin. They killed all the remaining inhabitants, women, children and animals. Then they totally destroyed all of their cities razing them to the ground. Still full of anger and fury over the behavior of the tribe of Benjamin they all took an oath that no man should give from his daughters to those few remaining men of Benjamin. Finally their anger was assuaged.
Later they began to feel sad that they had caused one of the tribes of Israel to become non-existent. A pang of sadness came into their hearts and they fell remorseful that a tribe be lost. So they inquired as to any city that did not send men to join in the military expedition against Benjamin and they found one city called Yovesh Gilad that did not participate with them. They sent a military force to them with orders that all residents of that town be killed with the exception of the virgins. (How they knew who was a virgin is a lively topic of discussion which we shall skip.) After killing all the inhabitants of Yovesh Gilad, they had four hundred virgins and they sent these girls to the remaining six hundred men from Benjamin to be their wives. Still it was not enough girls for the remaining men from the tribe of Benjamin so they told them that when the Jews bring up to Shiloh sacrifices (Shiloh was the location where the Ark of G-d resided at that time) and the girls who came would go down in the vineyards to dance that they could take these girls as wives. By doing this they would not be voiding their oath because they were not 'giving' these girls to them, rather the girls knew that if they went there that they may be taken as wives. In this manner the story of the concubine and the tribe of Benjamin ended together with the Book of Judges.
Now that we have briefly gone over the highlights of the story of the concubine and the war with Benjamin let us go back to our basic question: Why was it so imperative that a massive war be fought? A war that left over fifty thousand dead and almost erased a tribe of Israel.
It does not require much research or analyzation to understand that the main problem was the demented inhabitants of Gevah who lusted to have perverted homosexual relations with a stranger who happened by chance into their city. So great was their lust that murder and homosexuality meant nothing to them. (Remember that a similar event happened in Sodom and Gemorrah in the time of Abraham.) What the tribes wanted from Benjamin was not a war, but justice for the poor woman who was so wicked used by these demented perverts that she died from the deviated sexual abuse. They wanted a change in the social climate that tolerated and allowed these perverts to be allowed to propagate and form a large group. But far from acquiescing and realizing that perversion and homosexuality was a serious crime, the tribe of Benjamin showed no desire to bring them to justice, rather they were willing to fight to protect these despicable perverts. A homosexual is called by G-d an abomination; the other tribes were G-d fearing and knew that allowing this behavior to continue would bring destruction on their holy land therefore it was necessary to eradicate not only this disease but also the social environment that enabled it to come into being before it ruined the land of Israel also.
Today this form of thought is totally and absolutely politically incorrect, but then, much of our Torah has fallen from respect into a thing of disrespect. History, however, has shown that all countries that have encouraged homosexuality have lost their greatness and fallen to their enemies. Will anyone take the lesson from the book of Judges?
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from the July 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine