The fallout with the Tribe of Benjamin

Summary: After receiving the dismembered parts of the concubine in Gibeah, the tribes gather to find out what happened. When the Levite man related the incident, the rest of the tribes responded by demanding that the culprits be punished. The tribe of Benjamin refused to cooperate, sparking civil war which caused tens of thousands of deaths on both sides. In the aftermath, the other tribes swore not to marry their daughters into the tribe of Benjamin making their tribe the pariah among Israel.

A deeper look: The effects of the people’s zealous action against the tribe of Benjamin were beginning to show. Not only had the Benjamite tribe been devastated by war, but the survivors had become ostracised. The remaining tribes realised that they could not allow one of their brothers to face extinction (Judges 21:17). The people relented and resolved to allow their daughters to marry into Benjamin once again.

They directed the surviving Benjamite men to Shiloh and told them to wait in the vineyards. An annual festival was approaching so they instructed the men that if the young maidens of Shiloh came out to dance, they could each choose a wife from the maidens.

The 16th century Rabbi Shmuel Laniado notes that since these women had grown up near the site of the tabernacle they would have been inspired to righteousness. In turn, their positive influence would turn these Benjamite men back to God. Yet the men are instructed to ‘grab’ their wives from the group of dancing girls (ibid. 21:21). Aside from this rather unchivalrous behaviour, it is forbidden to force someone into marriage unwillingly.

In Jacob’s blessings to his sons, he blesses Benjamin as a זאב יטרף, ‘a wolf that grabs’ (Genesis 49:27). Rashi links that phrase to this incident implying that it describes the positive change made in the tribe of Benjamin. They ‘grabbed’ the opportunity to marry righteous women and begin their journey of repentance.

 

The Book of Judges therefore ends on a positive note reminding us of the virtues of righteous Jewish women, an apt introduction to the Book of Samuel and his righteous mother, Hannah.