Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Ki Teitzei- the spoils of war…

Ths weeks parsha opens up with the law regarding a woman that a soldier takes captive during a war.  Lets think back to the time in which it was written- rape, pillage and plunder were common occurrences.  There are  more than enough descriptions in the writings throughout history- from then until the modern day, for that to be an accurate description.  Yet the Torah does not approve of such action and gives us this law.

How does this law counteract the “rape, pillage and murder” syndrome common to war? There was no battlefield rape- the soldier couldn’t just see a woman and decide he wanted to sleep with her:

וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת תֹּאַר וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה  And you see a beautiful woman woman and desire her, and you want to take her as a WIFE.

So, the first thing the Torah is saying- you don’t get to just rape this captive woman- you have to make her a wife before anything happens.  However, it continues to say what he has to do BEFORE he can make her his wife.  He has to take her home, shave her head, not let her cut her fingernails, dress her in the clothes of mourning and give her 30 days (i.e. the shloshim period) to mourn her parents and family killed in the war.   The purpose behind this is clear- if the soldiers desire to take her  as a wife merely as a result of battle lust- it will pass in that time.  If it was merely because she was beautiful- he now gets to have to acclimatise himself to her while she is NOT beautiful- no hair, uncut nails, no make-up, eyes red and weeping from mourning, ugly clothes etc.  If it is only lust for her beauty, then it should pass during this time.  Additionally, it gives her a chance to acclimatise to her new surroundings, to mourn for what she has lost.  At the end of the period, he marries her and she becomes his wife.  If he does not marry her- he sends her off, free and with no obligations towards him.

To the modern eye- perhaps a fairly cruel fate- but consider it in context.  She has not been raped and left hurt on a battlefield.  She has not just been left without a family, house, money etc to support her- but brought into a family.  She has been clothed, fed and given time to mourn in a protective environment.  In all, a far better fate than generally awaited the captured women of other nations!

Now, as with many things in the Torah, there is what is permissable, and what is approved of.  In this case, we see something permissable, but not approved of.  How can we be certain of that?

Firstly, the Torah here seems to be intent on making sure she will be repulsive to him so that he will not go through with the marriage.  Evidently it would prefer the man not to take her as a wife, but it is trying to make the best of a bad situation: 

 וְהָיָה אִם לֹא חָפַצְתָּ בָּהּ וְשִׁלַּחְתָּהּ לְנַפְשָׁהּ וּמָכֹר לֹא תִמְכְּרֶנָּה בַּכָּסֶף לֹא תִתְעַמֵּר בָּהּ תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר עִנִּיתָהּ:  And IT WILL be, if you do not desire her and send her away wherever she wishes and you will not sell her.  You will not keep her a s a servant since you afflicted her. 

But it goes further- the very next law we are given is in regards to when a man has two wives, one loved and one despised- and the despised wife’s son is the oldest; then he cannot pass him over to give the first born’s double inheritance to the son from the loved wife!  Rashi states that the despised wife is this wife, the woman that he brought back from war- that eventually he will grow to despise her.  Also, the law of the wayward and rebellious son is next- and who is the rebellious son?  None other than the son of the woman he brought back from war!

From here we cam learn a principal from the Torah:  people will often endure harsh circumstances.  They will make the best of the place they find themselves in- but it does not mean that they will embrace it.  The woman has been taken captive, she endures through the 30 days and then consents to the marriage- what else could she do?  We are not talking about a period with social services and support structures for strangers- yet here she is, a stranger, in a different country with her family dead.  She endures- but is most likely going to be bitter- leading to a bad relationship with her husband and embittering her own son.

Contrast this to people who come into something voluntarily.  The Torah exhorts us to be good to the ger, to the converts- and mentions how they can be bad for us; not because they do bad, but because in their righteousness and eager embrace of the Torah, they make those born Jewish look bad in comparison!  The Ger tzedek is welcome and leads to good things and enhances us- he may cast a light that causes some of us to dim in comparison- but their mitzvot and behaviour add to the tally of the nation and are greater than any harm they might do.

Not so here.  The end result of this is the son that rebels.  A breakdown in the family, a blemish in the nation, an altogether unwanted result (and the chapter ends with the discussion of how you deal with the body of somebody sentenced to death- juxstaposing this to the rebellious son to teach us that such a son will eventually do something to earn himself the death penalty. The Torah is warning us- yes, you can bring such people in, but what will the end result be?  Do you want to be in the situation of living with a wife you despise?  A son that is a glutton, lazy and rebellious? 

Perhaps this answers the question that you see asked many times- why do Jews not seek out convert?  Why do we not see forced conversions in Jewish history to expand numbers?  I have written previously on the issue of conversions and why we make it difficult (, but here there is an additional reason.  Here we see a woman that is effectively in the position of a forced convert.  Perhaps she even becomes a genuine Jewess, but the reality is that there will also be that ember, that pain from being taken captive, being a captive of war.  Similarly, when someone converts only for marriage, or only because of some perceived benefit beyond that of being Jewish, is there not an ember of “I was forced into this?”  The person who converts solely because of marriage- do they not wonder what might have been if they had not converted?  Yes, many of them are genuine and become great assets to the community- but there is always the possibility of the other result- and thus the care that needs to be taken


As always:  corrections, discussion, comments etc are welcomed…


August 28, 2009 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , ,

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