Monday, August 30, 2004

Ki Tétzé: The rebellious son, the rape victim, the childless widow—some things can be understood only in context

It’s fortunate that the rabbis tempered the law concerning the rebellious son (Deuteronomy, chapter 21, verses 18-21). Good heavens, if teenage rebellion were still a capital crime, the human race would soon cease to exist!

On a more serious note, despite my previous complaint about quotes taken in context, sometimes what the Torah says is incomprehensible out of context. Take the case of the rape victim. The non-betrothed rape victim’s rapist is required to marry her and is never permitted to divorce her (Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verses 26-29). From our modern point of view, this puts the rape victim in the dubious position of having to live with her rapist for the rest of his life. But look back at Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verses 13-21, in which a wife whose parents can’t prove that she was a virgin bride is stoned for playing the harlot. Who else would marry the rape victim, if not the man who’d raped her? In those days, she would have been considered, if you’ll pardon the expression, spoiled goods.

As for the woman whose husband dies childless, nobody asks her whether she wants to marry her late husband’s brother (in order to name their first-born child after the deceased). (See Deuteronomy, chapter 25, verses 5-10.) In context, though, the so-called levirate marriage seems to have been the functional equivalent of life insurance. My impression is that a woman who had a child by her deceased husband would have continued to be supported by her family-by-marriage, assuming that there were still some living males in the family who could have provided such support, whereas a childless widow would have had no visible means of support, and would have had to either return to her father’s family or, possibly, be reduced to depending on charity in various forms, such as gleaning. But you don’t have to take my word for it—just read the Book of Ruth.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If i remember correctly, both marrying the rapist and levirate marriage are explained/interpreted by the Rabbis as only occuring with the woman's acceptance.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)

Fri Oct 15, 04:19:00 AM 2004  

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