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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 19
The Concubine of Giv'ah

This final story of Sefer Shofetim is one of the most difficult and shocking in Tanach.


A Levite man, who lived in Ephraim, took a concubine from Bet-Lechem in Yehuda, as his wife. A concubine signifies a marriage arrangement without a formal agreement, allowing the agreement to be ended without a get (divorce contract). It is possible that this happened not because she was immoral but due to her father’s inability to financially provide a formal marriage for her.


The concubine left him and returned to her father’s house. Our Sages explain she left because the man dealt with her harshly, for example he was overly angry when he found a fly in a dish she cooked for him (Talmud Tractate Gittin 6b). The Levite man followed her to try and bring her back. Her father was pleased to see him and allowed him to stay as a guest in his house. Every time the man rose to return to his home, the father persuaded him to stay a bit longer. Possibly, the father tried to keep him there to solidify the relationship and encourage his daughter to return to her husband. When the man rises to leave for the final time, the text tells us that his wife went with him (19:9).


Eventually, they travelled home and sought refuge in a city along the way. The man refused to stay overnight in a non-Jewish settlement, and instead they went to Giv’ah, in the territory of Binyamin. They came to the town square, but no one offered them hospitality (19:15). An old man, who was not a local, offered them to come to his home for the night. This is the first criticism of the town that only a stranger, who happens to be living there for work, offered them hospitality.


The next stage is perhaps the most shocking part of this episode, culminating in the death of the concubine. Rather than describe these events here, we suggest it is best read in the Tanach itself.


Distraught, the Levite man carved her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each of the different tribes of Israel. This was yet another crime, as desecration of a body is forbidden within Jewish law. The 19th century biblical commentator Malbim (1809-1879) explains that he was sending a message that the Jewish people cannot work without unity. A healthy body needs all its parts in tandem to work properly. The same is true with the Jewish people. If a body part is sick, the rest of body is needed to help it heal. If it cannot heal it then needs to be removed to save the rest of the body. We will see in the next chapter how this message is tragically translated into action by the Jewish people.

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