Friday, August 20, 2010

A troubling passage from Ki Tetze

In the very beginning of Parshat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), we read about the female captive whom a soldier is permitting to take as a wife.

י כִּי-תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה, עַל-אֹיְבֶיךָ; וּנְתָנוֹ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּיָדֶךָ--וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ.

10 When thou goest forth to battle against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God delivereth them into thy hands, and thou carriest them away captive,

יא וְרָאִיתָ, בַּשִּׁבְיָה, אֵשֶׁת, יְפַת-תֹּאַר; וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ, וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה.

11 and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form, and thou hast a desire unto her, and wouldest take her to thee to wife;

יב וַהֲבֵאתָהּ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ; וְגִלְּחָה, אֶת-רֹאשָׁהּ, וְעָשְׂתָה, אֶת-צִפָּרְנֶיהָ.

12 then thou shalt bring her home to thy house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

יג וְהֵסִירָה אֶת-שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ, וְיָשְׁבָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבָכְתָה אֶת-אָבִיהָ וְאֶת-אִמָּהּ, יֶרַח יָמִים; וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ, וּבְעַלְתָּהּ, וְהָיְתָה לְךָ, לְאִשָּׁה.

13 and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thy house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that thou mayest go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

יד וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא חָפַצְתָּ בָּהּ, וְשִׁלַּחְתָּהּ לְנַפְשָׁהּ, וּמָכֹר לֹא-תִמְכְּרֶנָּה, בַּכָּסֶף; לֹא-תִתְעַמֵּר בָּהּ, תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר עִנִּיתָהּ. {ס}

14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not deal with her as a slave, because thou hast humbled her. {S}

It's all very well and good that a man who has "humbled" a female captive is not allowed to sell her or deal with her as a slave. But, with her mother and father dead, no husband, probably no surviving relatives, and probably no means of supporting herself, where exactly is she supposed to go, and how is she supposed to survive? Fundamentally, the displeased husband is tossing her into the street.

To my more learned readers, how did/do the rabbis deal with this passage?


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Take a look at Rabbi Weiss's Shabbat Forshpeis column on page 3 in this weeks Toras Aish for the parameters of the law as described by the Ramban and the Rambam.

Sun Aug 22, 05:59:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Another source from TorahMusing's parsha roundup. There are also a couple of audio shiurim referenced there that that I haven't listened to.

Sun Aug 22, 07:19:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Colleen said...

I read the comments from the Toras Aish and they don't really deal much better with the woman. The article says that Maimonides says Jewish law prohibits us from "taking advantage of the weak". Taking the woman captive isn't really treating her any better than how Amalek would take advantage of the weak.

Sun Aug 22, 07:35:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The torah allows lots of things that are repugnant by contemporary morality. Sotah - a trial by ordeal. Slavery (especially slavery on non=Jews - Hebrew slaves are closer to what we would call indentured servants).

One answer some find satisfying is that in each case these laws raise the customs of surrounding lands at the time of the giving of the Torah to a higher, more human level than was the case. Rambam argues that many of these laws were the best that could be expected of the Jews at that time, but that as they were abandoned they were not be taken up again. (I have deliberately avoided mentioning sacrifices).

OTOH, one can find such a claim difficult to accept in a document given for all time which is intrinsically limited in how much it can be changed.

Ultimately, I can be satisfied with the pragmatic answer that many of these laws are not in force any longer, and no one (outside of a small fringe) is seeking to restore any of them prior to the Messianic age. I can understand someone not finding this answer satisfactory, especially in light of some the remaining problematic issues (agunah and mamzerut to name two of the most prominent).

Sun Aug 22, 10:43:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Colleen, I guess the best that can be said is that the Jewish version of dealing with captives was probably better than the non-Jewish approach generally accepted at that time.

Larry, much as I appreciate the links--thanks!--and your response, neither you nor the rabbis seem to have addressed the question of how the rejected captive was supposed to survive. But the good news, as you said, is that all of this is pretty much theoretical now anyway.

Mon Aug 23, 10:32:00 AM 2010  

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