In Judges 11, the overzealous (or prideful) short-reigned judge of Israel, Jephthah, makes the rash vow to G-d that if he is victorious against the Ammorites and safely returns home, then he will sacrifice the first thing he sees in the doorway in Judges 11:30-31:
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, 31 then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.'
Unfortunately, that "whatsoever" is "whomever" because his daughter is the first that comes forth to meet him. (You can almost imagine an excited, eager girl anxiously waiting her father's return, running to embrace him). Sad, indeed.
Now there is somewhat a debate of whether he carried out this vow, but I think the general consensus is that he did in order to stay true to his vow (and his daughter did so knowingly and willingly). Rashi, quoting from the Medrash Rabbah, denotes a graphic scene wherein Jephthah was inflicted with a deadly diseases that deteriorated all his limbs until they became detached (as punishment for not consulting with the high priest to annul this thoughtless vow). But this isn't the thrust of my question.
Anyway, as we continue reading, his daughter is unbelievably obedient. Judges 11:37-40 describes:
37 And she said unto her father: 'Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may depart and go down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.' 38 And he said: 'Go.' And he sent her away for two months; and she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed; and she had not known man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Now in regards to my questions:
- Anyone can understand why she would need a moment to "compose" (definitely an understatement) herself, and needing a few days to living out her last few days. But why two months? Is that arbitrary or was that a customary mourning period?
- I can certainly understand why she would want to say her final goodbyes to her friends, but was it customary for women to mourn their virginity before they lost their virginity? Like before they got married? Also, she wasn't losing her virginity... but she was going to be sacrificed Clarification?
- Why the mountains? I'm assuming: a) practicality -- it's nearby; b) remoteness -- it gives an atmosphere to contemplate/reflect/mourn; c) sacred ground -- mountains often were a place to communicate with G-d. Do you think any of these were the reasons?
- Why did this become an annual event for the local Gilead young women? What did they do exactly? Do we know how long this continued? Do we have any evidence of this event?
I recognize that most of these answers are lost to history, but just in case, I thought I'd throw it out there, and if there are any rabbinical/scholarly commentary that address any of these questions.