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Judges chapter 11 tells of the vow that Yiftach makes to God -- if he is successful in battle he will offer up to God the first thing that comes out of the door of his house to greet him. As we know, this ends badly for his family.

I assume that people in Yiftach's time did not keep livestock in their homes but in barns or pens (as alluded to in Bamidbar 32 when two and a half tribes want to stay on the other side of the Yarden). I've been told, but don't have a source, that until the last century or so Jews didn't tend to have pets. So what might Yiftach have had in mind when he talked about something coming out of his house? (It says beiti, not a more general word for property.) Or is the point that this was not only a dangerous vow but also one that couldn't end well?

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as for Jews owning pets: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/3044/… –  Shmuel Brin Nov 1 '11 at 5:17
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I was under the impression that "beisi" is a general term that may refer to one's house, one's wife, or one's physical possessions (for example see Shabbos 118b-"Ishti zu beisi"). What more general word should have been used? –  HodofHod Nov 1 '11 at 5:34
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@Hodofhod, Although "beisi" does often mean one's entire estate, "dalsei beisi" seems to be referring to his actual house. –  jake Nov 1 '11 at 19:24
    
@jake. that does make sense, thanks. –  HodofHod Nov 1 '11 at 19:25

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Your question is based on an incorrect supposition. Archaeology has shown that the typical Israelite dwellings during the Iron age were two floors with animals living on the bottom floor.

See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_room_house

Here's a picture of a model of what they think they looked like: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Israelite_pillared_house.jpg

Generally the houses had a fenced off area around them and the animals would be free to run in and out throughout the day. At night all the animals were brought into the house for protection from predators and thieves.

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Thanks. I did not know that. –  Monica Cellio Nov 1 '11 at 14:01
    
See also: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/451/208 –  Monica Cellio Nov 3 '11 at 20:31

"What might Yiftach have had in mind when he talked about something coming out of his house?"

I believe he had in mind that a male member of his family, i.e. one of his sons, would come to greet him. Notice his wording "וְהָיָה לַיהוָה וְהַעֲלִיתִיהוּ עֹלָה", which the commentators translate "It will be for God or I will bring it as an olah offering (if appropriate)". Yiftach's initial statement was that the first greeter from his home would be dedicated to God. If it would be one of his sons, then that son would be dedicated to the service of God, similar to what Chana did with her son Shmuel. He would become like a kohen or levi. This is what Ralbag suggests here.

Only in his second part of the "or statement" does Yiftach acknowledge that what crosses the threshold of his home first may actually not be human, but of his collection of livestock; perhaps not likely, as you suggested, but possible. In this case, he says, he will bring it as an offering to God. [I cannot be sure what he is referring to with "אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִדַּלְתֵי בֵיתִי לִקְרָאתִי", but perhaps he was thinking that he may chance upon one of his animals upon approaching his property (unlikely though it is that it would be "coming to greet" him).]

Yiftach's mistake was that it didn't seem to cross his mind that his daughter might come out to greet him first. Perhaps he was thinking it more in the nature of sons to come out and greet their father, while daughters (at least in those times) tend to stay inside and wait for the father to arrive. But alas, his daughter came to greet him first, and therefore had to be "dedicated to God", which in a woman's case involves celibacy, as a marriage is seen as being "in service" of her husband which would undermine her dedication to the service of God.

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+1. IIRC (I don't have it here now) your last paragraph, also, is from the Ralbag. –  msh210 Nov 1 '11 at 6:42
    
Ralbag reads the vav as "or"? Mechon Mamre reads it as an "and". I understand that a vav can be either; is there something in the text here that pushes torwad "or"? An olah offering is also for God so "and" wouldn't be wrong. –  Monica Cellio Nov 1 '11 at 13:59
    
There is another discussion of Yiftach's daughter and reading the vav as "or" at: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11051/… –  Shemmy Jul 12 '12 at 11:35
    
Yiftach had no sons; his daughter was an only child as you can see in Judges 11:34 mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0711.htm –  Pixel Elephant 23 hours ago

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