Monday, June 18, 2007

Rebuilding the tribe of Benjamin

Sir John puts this to The Round Table...

Judges chapters 19 tells of a horrible crime that happened in the tribe of Benjamin and of the battle that followed. The result was that all of Benjamin had been wiped out except for 600 men who had escaped to some rock out in the wilderness, apparently.

The other tribes then began to mourn the loss of one of the tribes and so they decided to find wives for the 600 Benjaminites.The problem was that, in their anger, they had all taken vows to not allow their daughters to marry men from Benjamin.

One way was to wipe out a village that had not helped in the war with Benjamin and keep all the virgin girls. Awful as this was, this supplied 400 wives and left 200 men without wives.

Then they had another plan. There was a kind of girl's retreat in Shiloh where the girls would come out to dance. The 200 men were told by the elders to wait until then and come out and grab a wife for themselves. That way, those men who had vowed not to allow their daughter to marry a Benjaminite would not be guilty of breaking the vow and the elders would talk to the angry fathers and brothers of the girls.

Judges 21:20 They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, "Go and hide in the vineyards. 21 When the women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife! 22 And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, `Please be understanding. Let them have your daughters, for we didn't find enough wives for them when we destroyed Jabesh-gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not give your daughters in marriage to them.' " (New Living Translation)

This actually happened...

Judges 21:23 So the men of Benjamin did as they were told. They kidnapped the women who took part in the celebration and carried them off to the land of their own inheritance. Then they rebuilt their towns and lived in them.

My questions is this. Did any of these marriages eventually become happy marriages, given the violent beginnings? Or did all of these men and women live out their lives in misery due to the conditions forced upon them?

I have heard "no, no woman could ever become happy under such a circumstance." If that is the case it would be hard for the marriage to be a happy one. What man wants a miserable wife? I am not so sure. I think that if the husbands and wives were godly they would learn to love each other, even with such adverse beginnings.

What do the great minds of the Round Table think? Feel free to consult others.

Sir John, musing over things.


  1. Modern Westerners have higher expectations of marriage then most people in most times and places. I remember reading one story of a Czarist refugee fleeing through the Moslem part of Russia. He commented on how remarkable it was that they advertised for wives in the newspaper as if they were advertising for any other job. Of course that is not so remarkable considering On the other hand even the name of "E-harmony" implies that the customers have high expectation.
    In most cultures marriage was a way to seal an economic or political alliance. Remember how suprised Tevye the Dairyman and his wife were to find that they did have a good marriage("Then you love me...""I suppose I do".)and people would fatalistically accept whomever their sheik told them to marry. Especially when one considers that in many cultures there is no other respecctable job for a woman. Having a good marriage was considered a bonus to having a pragmatic marriage.
    Furthermore there may be more to it. It was obviously a ritual and indeed if it wasn't, it could have caused a blood feud-what better way to do so then abducting another clan's daughters. Therefore it was reasonably likly that the women knew ahead of time and thought of it as a variation of an arranged marriage. For that matter I believe that it was the custom for Spartans to pick their wifes in a roughly comparable manner.
    All of this sounds like I am apoligizing for customs which are at least sometimes dehumanizing. I am not necessarily doing so, though it can be hard to separate accurate moral judgement from cultural prejudice. I am pointing out that in the context of the time it was not abnormal. Of course the exact method was odd enough to be recorded and probably caused many a joke in Israelite wineshops at the time.
    As for whether a happy marriage could result, well it is reasonably often the case that arranged marriages of a more conventional type turn out happily even today, and the "Chick flick" method isn't always as successful as Hallmark implies. Of course Hassidics and Sikhs don't ritually kidnap the bride...

    Sir Jason the speculative

  2. I remember reading one story of a Czarist refugee fleeing through the Moslem part of Russia.

    By the way that was Paul Nazaroff back during the Revolution. He got away long enough to publish his memoirs. Then he prudently disappeared.

    Sir Jason

  3. Modern Holidays
    TU B'AV

    Overview: Tu B'Av, A Day of Love

    Tu B'Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B'Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation it is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, slightly resembling Valentine's Day in English-speaking countries.

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    There is no way to know exactly how early Tu B'Av began. The first mention of this date is in the Mishnah (compiled and edited in the end of the second century), where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted saying, "There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)…"( Taanit, Chapter 4).

    The Gemara (the later, interpretive layer of the Talmud) attempts to find the origin of this date as a special joyous day, and offers several explanations. One of them is that on this day the Biblical "tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other," namely: to marry women from other tribes (Talmud, Taanit 30b). This explanation is somewhat surprising, since nowhere in the Bible is there a prohibition on "intermarriage" among the 12 tribes of Israel. This Talmudic source probably is alluding to a story in the book of Judges (chapter 21): After a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and other Israelite tribes, the tribes vowed not to intermarry with men of the tribe of Benjamin.

    It should be noted that Tu B'Av, like several Jewish holidays (Passover, Sukkot, Tu Bishvat) begins on the night between the 14th and 15th day of the Hebrew month, since this is the night of a full moon in our lunar calendar. Linking the night of a full moon with romance, love, and fertility is not uncommon in ancient cultures.

    For almost 19 centuries--between the destruction of Jerusalem and the re-establishment of Jewish independence in the state of Israel in 1948--the only commemoration of Tu B'Av was that the morning prayer service did not include the penitence prayer (Tahanun).

    In recent decades Israeli civil culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu B'Av. The entertainment and beauty industries work overtime on this date. It has no formal legal status as a holiday-- it is a regular workday--nor has the Israeli rabbinate initiated any addition to the liturgy or called for the introduction of any ancient religious practices. The cultural gap between Israeli secular society and the Orthodox rabbinate makes it unlikely that these two will find a common denominator in the celebration of this ancient/modern holiday in the foreseeable future.

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    Sir Jason

  4. Interesting points raised by Sir Jason. Certainly, the event sounds pretty barbaric in this day and age. I assume it was not so unusual back then...but the fact that it was done specifically to re-populate one of the twelve tribes makes it biblically interesting.

    On consideration, I thought of expectations. With our current love-then-marriage customs, we have extremely high expectations at the beginning of our lives together. For a lucky few, those expectations are met or exceeded. For the rest, the realities of life force us to adjust to a little less rosy marriage than we had hoped for. This is supported by the high divorce rates in our culture; people just aren't getting what they expected.

    On the other hand, these Benjamite couples had no such high expectations starting out...indeed, the men probably considered themselves lucky if their new wives didn't run away within the first year. I guess their "marriages" had no where to go but up. And like you, Sir John, I assume that the best of them became blessed by the marriage, and grew into love.

    It would be interesting to do a study of the offspring of these couples. Did they generally turn out to be good people, or were they cursed through more generations?

    Sir Chuck, looking for the fruit

  5. One way was to wipe out a village that had not helped in the war with Benjamin and keep all the virgin girls. Awful as this was, this supplied 400 wives and left 200 men without wives.
    I missed that part. That was obviously not merely a ritual abduction and was therefore a different circumstance. It was certainly barbaric and does not appear to have been commanded by God.

    Remember "In those days there was no King in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes."

    Sir Jason

  6. Interesting comments Sir Jason and Sir Chuck.

    One other point. If money helps, and it often does, remember than these 600 couples had the entire lands and estates of Benjamine to share. So, in that respect, they were better off than some of their sisters who has small estates to inherit.

    Also, God is a great healer. Look at the families who have been delivered from alchohol and drugs and all the past misery of that. Wouldn't that be just as bad?

    I am of the opinion that marriage is largely a reflection of the godliness of the couples involved. Godly people generally have good marriages, regardless of the beginnings.

    Sir John, ever the optimist, at least for God's children