Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God
The story of Yiftach and his daughter is one of the most difficult in all of Tanach: One of the leaders of Israel, made a hasty vow that meant her death – or did it? Join Mrs. Sarah Rudolph and explore the life and character of Yiftach, and the life and character of his daughter. What sort of person was he, and what kind of vow did he make? What sort of person was his daughter, and what actually happened to her?
Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God: Yiftach – The Origin Story
For many, the name Yiftach conjures up one story, with a particular tragic outcome: that he made an ill-advised vow that led him to sacrifice his daughter.
However, on closer study, we may find that the vow and the tragedy are not as clear-cut as we may have thought – and certainly, Yiftach’s character, as portrayed by the Prophet, offers more complexity than that one terrible slice reveals.
Who was Yiftach? What sort of person was he, and what sort of people did he lead?
We will begin our exploration of Yiftach and his daughter at the beginning, in two parts: the national background, to understand the scene (or perhaps, the play) into which Yiftach enters; and Yiftach’s family background, certainly a key piece to understanding him as a person, as a leader, and perhaps as a father.
Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God: Yiftach – The Politician?
Last week, we met Yiftach as the disenfranchised son of a man named Gilad, of the territory named Gilad – where the people of Ammon presented a longstanding and growing threat.
This week, we will study three instances of what might be described as Yiftach’s diplomatic efforts (with perhaps varying degrees of success): The negotiations that brought him back to help those who had wronged him; dialogue, and ensuing battle, with Ammon; and, skipping a bit (saving The Vow for next time), a tragic conflict with his Ephraimite brethren.
Through it all, we will engage in close reading of the text, along with insights from commentaries, to explore what sort of person, and what sort of leader, Yiftach may have been. These insights will offer background and depth to our study of The Vow that made Yiftach, and his daughter, tragically famous.
Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God: What sort of person was Yiftach? What sort of leader?
Having explored Yiftach’s origin story and dialogue with Ammon, we will complete our background picture with a careful study of his dispute with the people of Ephraim and go on to begin our study of the most well-known incident of Yiftach’s life: the tragic vow that cost his daughter her future.
As always, our discussions will focus on close readings of the text informed by insights from classical commentaries and midrashic texts.
Through these readings, we may find new appreciation of Yiftach’s contributions as a “Shofet” (leader in the era of the book of Judges), even as we mourn his catastrophic missteps.
Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God: The vow: What did Yiftach mean, and what did he do?
Last week, we began delving into the text of Yiftach’s vow to discover his daughter’s fate. In today’s class, we will continue exploring our own insights as well as a range of perspectives of others: from “Yiftach meant to kill her and he did” to “Yiftach never intended human sacrifice, and he didn’t.”
How can the same text yield so many vastly different possibilities?
Perhaps we will gain insight into that, too.
Yiftach & His Daughter: Gambling with God: The vow, continued
Our focus last week was on exploring both midrashic and modern views about Yiftach’s vow – views that share the premise that he brought her as a literal sacrifice but differ regarding details such as his original intent. In this final class of the series, we will move into the view that Yiftach’s daughter was not literally killed but lived a life of seclusion. How do commentators who take this approach understand the wording of Yiftach’s vow and the text’s description of its fulfillment? What motivates different scholars to this vastly different readings?
We will conclude our study by returning to the midrashic perspective, with a variant (Midrash Tanchuma Bechukotai, 5) that raises different questions and offers different perspecitves on Yiftach, his daughter, and more.
Sarah Rudolph is a freelance Jewish educator, writer, and editor. She has been sharing her passion for Jewish texts of all kinds for over 15 years, with students of all ages. Sarah’s essays have been published in a variety of internet and print media, including Times of Israel, Kveller, Jewish Action, OU Life, The Lehrhaus, TorahMusings, and more. She is Editor-At-Large, Deracheha: womenandmitzvot.org. Sarah lives in Cleveland with her husband and four children, but is privileged to learn online with students all over the world.