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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
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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.

  • This seems like quite a sophisticated layout. What is this supposition based on (could it be begging the question - that is, could it be an assumption that allows a "safe" interpretation of the Yiftah episode)? Also, if this is (at least somewhat) correct, could a commoner afford this type of home? I seem to recall a theory that the typical homes in that age/region were one or two rooms, not four. – Seth J Jun 29 '15 at 13:19
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"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.

  • +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
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    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 Jul 30 '14 at 3:46
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    So he never intended to kill any one as offering? In fact, if it were his cat that greet him, he wouldn't sacrifice that. How much more he shouldn't if it were human? – user4951 Nov 13 '14 at 5:15
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The implication from the gemarah [Taanit 4a*] and Rashi is that he assumed a kosher animal would come out, and that there was a possibility that a non-kosher animal could have come out as well.

יפתח הגלעדי דכתיב (שופטים יא, לא) והיה היוצא אשר יצא מדלתי ביתי וגו' יכול אפילו דבר טמא

By contrast, there is the case of Jephthah the Gileadite. Upon leaving for battle he issued a statement, as it is written: “Then it shall be that whatever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace…it shall be to the Lord and I will bring it up for a burnt-offering” (Judges 11:31). This might even have been an impure, non-kosher animal, which he had committed himself to sacrifice.

Rashi:

דבר טמא - כלב או חזיר

an impure thing - dog or pig

*translation from Sefaria includes the commentary of R' Steinsaltz

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