The sorry tale of PILEGESH BE-GIV'AH, "the Concubine in Giv'ah" and the civil war to which it gave rise is one of the most shocking and gruesome in the whole Bible.


A careful reading of our narrative makes it clear that the Children of Israel were considered justified in wreaking a terrible vengeance on the "left-handed" Benaminites - almost wiping out the entire tribe -- for refusing to hand over the perpetrators of a barbaric gang-rape for punishment. Gevurah (force) was requited with Gevurah. However the rabbis indicate that the entire affair came about only through an excess of Gevurah on the part of the mysterious Levite man that lived on the edge of Mt. Ephraim . In Talmud Gittin (6b) there is a discussion about the cause of the domestic altercation that led to his concubine walking out on him. One opinion is that he chastised her when he found a fly in his soup; another is that he found a hair in "that place", and "these and these are the words of the Living God". When he found the fly, which is merely disgusting, he was not that upset because it was not necessarily her fault, but a hair in "that place" could cause him injury and this was clear negligence on her part. Nevertheless, the Talmud concludes, "A man should never make the members of his household excessively afraid of him, because the husband of the Concubine in Giv'ah made her excessively afraid and caused the death of tens of thousands of Israel ".


In the previous story about Michah and his idol, we see that Michah was saved from complete obliteration from the world to come because of his trait of hospitality. Hospitality like that which Abraham showed to the three angels that he took for idolatrous Arabs (Genesis ch 18) was intended to be one of the distinguishing traits of his progeny: bringing strangers under the shelter of one's home is tantamount to bringing them under the wings of the Shechinah! However, the horrible tragedy of PILEGESH BE-GIV'AH came about through the very opposite of hospitality. The Levite's Judean father-in-law from Beth Lehem - presumably anxious to re-endear his daughter to the Levite - detained him more than necessary to the point that he felt the need to break away and leave hurriedly even though it was too late in the day for him to complete the journey before him.

The Levite refused to seek lodging for the night by turning into Jebus (=Jerusalem, then occupied by the Canaanite Jebusites), because, as he said to his attendant, "We shall not turn aside to a city of an alien people that are not from the Children of Israel" (ch 19 v 12). Yet it was precisely the kind of abominable behavior he EXPECTED from the Canaanites that he ACTUALLY ENCOUNTERED among the Benjaminite-Israelite inhabitants of Giv'ah, despite the fact that he was a PILGRIM, no less, on his way to Shilo (see RaDaK on ch 19 v 18)! He was not even asking for full hospitality, i.e. food and drink, since he had plenty of bread, wine and animal feed with him (v. 19). The one old man from Giv'ah who was willing to open the doors of his home to this party of wayfarers knew all too well the actual nature of his Benjaminite fellow-townsmen. The conversation between the Levite and the old man (vv. 16-20) is reminiscent of the conversation between Lot and the angels who came to visit him in Sodom (Genesis vv. 19:1-3). The old man knew that the men of Giv'ah were already suffering from the Israelite vice of mingling with and imitating the Canaanites. The threatening demand of the Giv'ites that he hand over his guest for them to use for their perverse pleasure is exactly parallel to the Sodomites' demand for Lot to hand over his guests (Genesis 19:4).


The men of Giv'ah are called BAALEY GIV'AH (ch 20 v 5) - the Mafiosi BOSSES of the town. This appellation is reminiscent of the BAALEY SHECHEM in the time of Avimelech the Judge (Judges ch 9 v 2), but whereas the Bosses of Shechem were primarily interested in political power, those of Giv'ah were after perverse sexual gratification of the kind that is the very opposite of the Covenant of Sinai. ".And according to the deeds of the Land of Canaan to which I am bringing you, you shall not do and you shall not go in their statutes" (Lev. 18:3).

That the Levite man could have thrown his PILEGESH "to the dogs" to save himself and his host is in its way quite as repugnant as the Giv'ites' treatment of her as nothing but a sex object to be tossed aside and abandoned after brutal abuse. (Repugnant as all this is, the fact is that today, with very little ingenuity, anyone can use the Internet underbelly to gain instant access to literally thousands of websites devoted to gang rape fantasies and worse: all this obviously continues to fascinate and excite a significant portion of the population until today.)

The horrible fate of the PILEGESH BE-GIVAH alludes perhaps to the "rape" of the Shechinah by the forces of evil. The Levite man saw that it was fit to cut her body into twelve parts and send them to each of the tribes to SHOCK them into action. Indeed, the gang-rape murder in Giv'ah was a national scandal for the Israelites, who immediately gathered in Mitzpah to take counsel. The Torah itself provides that if a city of Israel turns aside to idolatry (as an IR HANIDACHAS, the "cast-aside city"), the people are to make a careful enquiry into the affair and kill all the guilty inhabitants, destroy their property and burn the entire city (Deut. 13-19). The national gathering at Mitzpah was a most solemn affair judging a case that was quite as serious for the people as IR HANIDACHAS.


The site of GIV'AH itself is on a TEL (mound) north of Jerusalem between present-day French Hill and Nevey Yaakov. The site of Mitzpah is somewhat further north, just a little south of present day Ramallah. Mitzpah was an appropriate place for a national gathering as this was there Joshua was victorious over the northern kings of Canaan (Joshua 11:3) and, as RaDaK explains (ad loc.), Joshua probably set up an altar there and inaugurated it as a place of national assembly and prayer (Judges 11:11; 20:1; I Samuel 7:5).

So great was the unity of the tribes that the verse describing their armed forces' advance on Giv'ah "AS ONE MAN, FRIENDS" (ch 20 v 11) was taken by the sages as the foundation for their teaching that on the pilgrim festivals in Jerusalem the usual stringencies of those who strictly observed all the laws of tithing were somewhat relaxed to allow them to give credibility even to an AM HAARETZ ("ignoramus") who claimed to have separated Terumah, because KOL YISRAEL CHAVERIM, "all Israel are friends" (Chagigah 26a).

The founder of the tribe of Benjamin had ten sons all of whom had families. Benjamin's ten sons together with Joseph's two (Ephraim and Menasheh) made up a total of twelve, giving their mother Rachel twelve "tribes" corresponding to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Levites did not take part in the Israelite assault on the tribe of Benjamin, and of course the latter were on the other side. Thus there were Ten Tribes of Israel against ten "tribes" of Benjamin (see Rashi on ch 20 v 12).

Unlike Michah, who made a fake EPHOD and fake TERAPHIM which were used by the BNEY DAN for divination, the Tribes of Israel in their campaign against Benjamin turned to the legitimate High Priest wearing the authentic priestly Breastplate for true divine guidance from the URIM VE-THUMIM. (That Pinchas the High Priest was still alive at the time of PILEGESH BE-GIV'AH is proof that this episode took place before the time of Shimshon.) There is a deep irony in the fact that Judah was told to lead the campaign against Benjamin since in Egypt in the time of Joseph Judah had taken personal responsibility for Benjamin's welfare (Genesis 43:9, 44:32-3).

We see from our present narrative that the Children of Israel were indeed in anguish about whether to make war against "the children of Benjamin my brother" (ch 20 v 23) for refusing to hand over the perpetrators of the crime for appropriate punishment. The Children of Israel did not go to war lightly and repeatedly consulted the URIM VE-THUMIM to make sure that God approved of their path.

If God was with them, why did they lose so many of their own in abortive battles before finally overcoming Benjamin? "God said to them: You have shown zealousness against immorality but you did not show zealousness when it came to Michah's idol (an affront to the glory of God)! It was because they did not show zealousness with respect to Michah's idol, which they made no effort to uproot, that the Benaminites succeeded in killing so many of them in their first, second and third assaults, until the Israelites fell before the Ark of the Covenant of HaShem seeking to repent and begging for an answer, and then He was reconciled with them" (Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer).


The commentators discuss the apparent discrepancy between the numbers of male Benjaminites who went out to battle (=26,700, verses 16-17), the number of men they lost (25,000, v 46) and the number that fled to Sela Rimon and survived (600, v. 47. N.B. ALL the Benjaminite women were killed v. 48, leaving only these 600 men alive). RaDaK (on ch 20 v 15) suggests that of the missing 1,100 about a thousand may have fallen in the earlier battles, but also refers to a most fascinating Midrash that appears in some editions of Rashi (on v. 45): "Elijah revealed to the author of MEGALEH AMUKOS that the other one hundred went and settled in Rome and Ashkenaz (=Germany), and this is why Elijah (said by some to be from Benjamin) was from among the inhabitants of Gil'ad (as in Eliyahu HA-GIL'ADI), because they alone did not leave their land but stayed in their place." This Midrash would tend to support the theories of those who maintain that from the earliest times and afterwards some Israelites mingled with the populations of Europe , creating a pool of Israelite souls exiled among the other peoples of the world.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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