The origins of sibling rivalry, brother against brother violence and even, God forbid, fratricide, can be traced back to the first family in human history, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Generations later, the Torah describes, in detail, the tension between Joseph and his brothers, and how the brothers almost murdered Joseph, but instead cast him into a pit instead, and then sold him into slavery. Additionally, while the Children of Israel were in the Sinai wilderness, Korach led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, his first cousins.

The first, and perhaps worst, actual civil war among the Jewish people, took place during the period of the Judges (1200-1000 BCE) and was waged against the Tribe of Benjamin. This tragic incident, told in Judges chapters 19 and 20, occurred before there was any unified governance of the Jewish people, prior to the establishment of a Jewish monarchy, when each tribe governed itself.

A man from the mountains of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah. The woman was unfaithful and returned to the home of her parents. After four months, the husband traveled to the home of his concubine to attempt to convince her to return to him. After several days, the man succeeded and began his trek home with his concubine. They stopped over in Giv’ah, a city that was in the tribal jurisdiction of Benjamin, where an elderly man was the only one to invite the man and his concubine in. The citizens surrounded the elderly man’s home, and to save the guest, the concubine was offered to the crowd. She was violated all night by the local Benjaminites and, despite being left for dead in the morning, she was able to make her way to the doorstep of the host, where she died. The husband returned home with the deceased concubine and to demonstrate the evil done to his concubine, chopped up her body and sent a portion to each of the tribes of Israel. Those who received the remains understood how egregious and heinous the act of the Benjaminites had been.

An army of 400,000 men was assembled from all the tribes of Israel on the 23rd of Shevat and a demand was issued that the tribe of Benjamin arrest the perpetrators. The Benjaminites refused and gathered its own army of 26,700 men. While Benjamin won the first two days of battle, the tribe of Benjamin was entirely vanquished on the third day, with only 600 soldiers surviving. The victorious tribes were so aggrieved that they took an oath not to allow their daughters to marry into the tribe of Benjamin. Eventually this edict was lifted many years later on the 15th of Av, which is one of the reasons that the 15th of Av, known as Tu b’av, is known as the “happiest of days” on the Jewish calendar (Talmud Ta’anit 30b).

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