Sometimes Chazal make drashot on a word that you just find totally implausible. Like on daf 10b of Ketuboth they say that the term Almana- Widow- is based on the word Maneh- the amount of money an widow receives in her Ketubah if she remarries (as opposed to the double portion – maataim- that the virgin receives).

Are they for real or is it just a cute mnemonic device that happens to linguistically work out?

Thankfully the gemarah expresses the same consternation. When the word Alamana appears in the  Torah, it wasn’t known that the Rabbis would later institute this kind of Ketubah, with this specific amount. To me this is another way of saying that creative linguistics shouldn’t work backwards; you can’t assume origin from the current usage or the current value assigned. Other voices in the gemarah quiet the question by citing additional locations where the language employed by the Tanach seems to reflect a reality much later than its period of composition.

Now I’m getting into Biblical Criticism and that’s not a place I feel comfortable going….. Just want to say that while the Rabbis play with language, and imbue words with multiple meanings from multiple periods of history- granting the word  a timeless power- I also think they are winking at us, aware of the elegant word games they are playing.


When was the last time you read through the end of Shoftim.  I remember being individually upset by the stories of Pilegesh bagivah and the celebration of tu beaav as both these stories demand a female sacrifice. But I forgot how intertwined they are.

In Pilegesh bagivah a man sets out to return his wayward concubine, who has returned to her father’s house. Her father is so happy to greet her liaison and to send her away again as a concubine with this man. She doesn’t talk or express her feelings, but all we know is that her initial attempt to get away fails because of the collusion of her father and the man she serves.

On the way home this man chooses not to stop at the non Jewish village along the way but to continue to the S’dom- like town of Givah. His choice strikes me as some strange hypocritical act, choosing the evil Jews over the seemingly neutral non Jews. Here ensues a story dramatically similar to the Story of Lot in S’dom (from this past weeks parsha). When the people demand the male guests, the host and guest decide to toss out the concubine – the one he cared so much about as to retrieve from her father’s house- to the wolves, where she is brutally gang raped till morning.

He goes to sleep, he forgets about her, he finds her only because he stumbles over her limp hand as he leaves the house in the morning. Yet he is inflamed with self righteous anger about how his concubine was treated by this den of Jewish wolves- what did he expect when he locked the door behind himself. It is not even clear that she is dead, but he chops her up into 12 pieces and sends them to all the tribes as a proof that the tribe of Binyamin is corrupt and deserves to be eradicated.  Indeed Israel comes to his aid and there is a bloody civil war as a result.

The Binyaminites perhaps did deserve what they got, though a lot of blood was shed on both sides. Still the sacrifice is the woman, whose name we don’t know, who isn’t even a proper wife, who may not have even been dead when her uncaring proprietor chopped her into pieces to get revenge. Do the Binyaminites learn anything? For that matter do any of the Jews learn anything?

After the war the Jews swear not to marry any of their daughters to the tribe of Binyamin, but still are concerned with the identity of the tribe which is about to be extinct because apparently all the women have been killed- though some men remain. So what do they do they find another city that deserves punishment (people who didn’t show up to fight the civil war to begin with) they kill all the men and women accept those women who are virgins. (Because in this pure world of theirs I suppose it is important that the Binyaminites marry virgins!) Then these women are forcefully given to the Binyaminites who survived. And when there are not enough women to satisfy their needs, women are sent to the fields to dance while the Binyamin men are allowed to kidnap them avoiding the problem of breaking their oath not to marry their daughters to this morally decrepit tribe.

No one will claim that this is a story of a model society. In fact it seems to suggest that in morally decayed societies the powerless women are those who feel the brunt of the depravity. They are used as pawns: to satisfy sexual and financial needs of husbands and fathers, to protect individual men from the ravages of the street, to prove a national point, and then to rehabilitate the very corrupt tribe that abused the concubine to begin with.