The Concubine in Gibeah

Summary: The last two sections of the Book of Judges describe the profoundly shocking events relating to the Pilegesh b’Givah, the Concubine of Gibeah. A concubine from Bethlehem who was married to Levite man fled back to her father’s house. After winning her back, the Levite man journeyed home together with his servant and stayed in the town of Gibeah with a visiting Ephraimite. A rabble of local Benjamites surrounded the house and demanded that the owner surrender the Levite man so they could sodomise him. The Levite man thrust his concubine at the baying crowd who repeatedly raped her. By morning she had collapsed and died from her ordeal.

A deeper look: The chapter begins by repeating a theme at the end of the Book of Judges which begins to explain the lawlessness that had gripped the Jewish people; ‘in those days there was no king in Israel (Judges 19:1).’ The 17th century Galacian rabbi David Altschuler notes that had the people lived under the authority of a king, prospective perpetrators would never have dared carrying out such debased acts for fear of punishment.

Following the tragic death of his concubine, the Levite man sliced her body into twelve pieces and sent one to each of the tribes. This gruesome act was a cri de coeur designed to elicit outrage and horror among the other tribes at the behaviour of these Benjamite men. Rabbi Yaakov Culi (d. 1732) notes the additional significance to the concubine’s dismemberment. The Jewish people are like one body with each tribe representing a separate limb. The immoral, perverted conduct of the Benjamintes indicated grave division among the tribes. Since a human body requires all its parts to function properly, so too each tribe must conduct itself in accordance with Torah law.

The Midrash comments that God is only King over the Tribes of Israel when they are unified in peace (Sifrei 33:5). Highlighting the lack of a Jewish monarch at the beginning of the chapter was true in a historical sense but the Sifrei points to a deeper meaning. Through disunity the Jewish people had lost their connection to the Ultimate King of kings resulting in anarchy and carnage.