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Jephtah (Yiftah)

by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales


Library » History » Joshua, The Judges | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Jair the Gileadite, who had judged Israel for twenty-two years, died in the year 2764, and gradually the Jews again reverted to the worship of idols and the neglect of the commandments of the Torah. The inevitable punishment came swiftly. The Ammonites, who lived across the Jordan, began to oppress the Jews. They crossed the Jordan and prepared to invade and conquer the whole Land of Israel.

In despair the Jews repented of their sins and turned to G-d. Under the influence of the older and wiser people, the Jews destroyed their idols and lifted their eyes in prayer to G-d alone. Relief came almost at once, for the Ammonites withdrew to Gilead and encamped there. This gave the Jews a chance to assemble their forces in Mitzpah. The people were eager to defend their land, but they had no leader.

Then they remembered Jephtah.

Jephtah who had been expelled from home by his half-brothers, had gone to live in the land of Tob. He was a man of valor, and soon became the leader of a band of brave and fearless men.

Jephtah who had been expelled from home by his half-brothers
The elders of Gilead sent for him and asked him to become their leader. Jephtah refused at first, reminding them of the injustice that they permitted to be done to him. But afterward he agreed to take over the leadership, provided he was acknowledged by the elders of Gilead as their chief.

Jephtah first tried to settle the dispute with the Ammonites through 'diplomatic channels'. He sent a note to the Ammonites that they should state their grievances. In reply the Ammonites demanded the province in Transjordan between the rivers Arnon and Jabok which the children of Israel had conquered from the two mighty Kings, Sihon and Og, because that province had belonged to the Ammonites first.

In a second note to the Ammonites, Jephtah told them that the children of Israel always tried to avoid war with them. As to the said province, Israel had conquered it from Sihon and Og and not from the Ammonites, and it was clear that G-d had given it to the children of Israel from the miraculous way in which they defeated those mighty kings. Finally, Jephtah warned them that a similar fate awaited the Ammonites unless they withdrew from the Land of Israel peacefully.

When Jephtah saw that his notes failed, he was ready for war. He used a successful 'outflanking maneuver', moving his men through narrow passes in the hills, until he reached the land of the Ammonites. Meeting with little opposition there, since the main army of the Ammonites was in Gilead, Jephtah quickly captured all the strong and fortified cities of Ammon. The Ammonites were forced to withdraw to their own land, but the fate of the battle had been sealed. Jephtah's victory was complete and overwhelming.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.