The Daughter of Yiftach Phenomenon

In the Haftara of Parshat Chukat, which was read last Shabbat in Israel and which will be read this Shabbat outside of Israel, we read the beginning of the story of Yiftach  (Jephte) the judge and his famous vow (Shoftim 11:30) “If you will indeed deliver B’nai Yisrael into my hand, then it shall be that whatever emerges- what will emerge from the doors of my house- toward me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall belong to God and I shall offer it up as an elevation offering.”

The sad ending to the story is that Yiftach’s daughter is the first to exit the house. Yiftach mistakenly thinks that he can’t annul his vow and believes that he is obligated to sacrifice his daughter.

She requests (11:37) two months to “wail upon the mountains.”

Radak quotes Midrash Tanchuma which explains that the word “mountains” is a euphemism for the Sanhedrin (High Court). She asked her father for permission to ask the court whether the vow could be annulled. He permitted her to do so. Yet we don’t see the Sanhedrin intervening to try to cancel the vow and save her from being sacrificed.

In 11:39 we read: “At the end of two months she returned to her father. He carried out with her the vow that he had vowed and she never knew a man.”

According to Da’at Mikra, the plain meaning of the text would lead us to believe that Yiftach actually sacrificed his daughter. Even though he was a judge, a leader of the generation, Yiftach didn’t understand that human sacrifice is an abomination since it was common for the idol worshipping population which surrounded them to sacrifice their children to their gods.

Where was the Sanhedrin? Where was Pinchas who was both a Prophet and Kohen Gadol (High Priest)? Where was the community? Why didn’t anybody protest?

According to Vayikra Raba, Yiftach felt that Pinchas should have come to him and Pinchas felt that Yiftach should come to him. Due to the stubbornness on both sides, they did not get together to try to annul the vow and because of their pride, a young woman was sacrificed.

Both men were punished for their behavior which resulted in the death of Yiftach’s daughter. Pinchas was deprived of his exalted positions and Yiftach contracted a disease where his limbs fell off of his body one at a time. However, these punishments did not bring back Yiftach’s only daughter.

Rashi states that the “chok”, “practice in Israel” which is mentioned is sentence 39 is that they decreed that no man should ever sacrifice their child again. All Yiftach needed to do was discuss it with Pinchas and the vow would have been annulled.

Today, we unfortunately still have the “Yiftach’s daughter phenomenon” where rabbis allow women to be mistreated and abused even though there is no reason for it within the Halacha. Although some are screaming out, it is not enough to make a change.

Where does this manifest itself? One place is the problem of the agunah, where a woman’s husband refuses to give her a Jewish divorce and the rabbis don’t protest. If the rabbis would take action, many agunot would be freed. Rabbi Simcha Krauss who formed an International Beit Din is working within Halacha to annul marriages where the husband refuses to give a get. We need to insure that both rabbis and the general population stand behind Rabbi Krauss and support him.

When the conversion by Rabbi Lookstein was not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinical court in Petach Tikva, 250 people went out to protest including Natan Sharansky, MK Yehuda Glick, MK Aliza Lavie, MK Elazar Stern and Dov Lipman. But where was everyone else? Why is the community silent?

If we want to make sure that we don’t have more daughters of Yiftach on our hands, women sacrificed due to the negligence of others, then we as a community have to start making some changes.