Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Don’t Grieve the Women (5771 Ki Teitzei I)

In Deuteronomy on September 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm

To crush your enemies
See them driven before you
and to hear the lamentation of their women 

Isaiah 54:1-10
Devarim 21:10-21

The poem above is not from our aliyah. It is by a more modern, secular prophet. He isn’t even real. He is a hero of short stories and comic books, and has appeared in movies and tv. Conan the Barbarian, appearing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982, said this of human nature.

The first aliyah of Ki Teitzei is challenging us. It describes the protocol for taking a captive woman to wife, execution of inheritance relating to multiple marriages, and dealing with rebellious children.

Rashi argues that these three ideas relate to each other. Of and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form, and thou has a desire unto her, and wouldst take her to thee to wife (v. 11), Rashi says:

The Torah speaks only in opposition to evil inclination, for if the Holy One Blessed Be He does not make her permitted, he will marry her illicitly; however, if he does marry her, eventually he will hate her, for it is stated after this, (v.15), “If a man have,” etc., and eventually he will beget from her a stubborn and rebellious son (cf. v.18). Therefore these sections are adjoined (Tanhuma).”

Rashi and other commentators expand on this idea, saying that the further stipulations towards the woman – shaving her head and paring her nails, putting off the (beautiful, Rashi) raiment of her captivity, dwelling in her captor’s house, and bewailing her parents for an entire month (v. 12-13) – are meant to make her repulsive. The month-long wait lets her captor lose interest, find a proper wife, (the daughter of Israel shall adorn herself, v.13 Rashi), and avoid the curses of complex patrimony, criminal children, and familial humiliation.

This is a very man-centered interpretation. What about women?

Rashi is right when he says that men would marry these women illicitly if they were not permitted. The Talmud says that a man need only have sex with a woman to marry her (citation needed). This implies rape on the battlefield to me. See Rape of Nanking. Permitting these women for marriage lessens their risk of being brutalized by elevating them to the position of a commodity in the immediate awareness of the attackers (Deut. 20:14). This is still unacceptable, which is why the Torah further says if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her … thou shalt not deal with her as a slave (Deut. 21:14). In other words, these women are people. They have human rights.

I diverge from Rashi here. He explicitly states that wives of war will be hated by their husbands. I disagree, and I think the month-long waiting period imposed by the Torah has two purposes. The first, as Rashi implies, is meant to help the aggressor lose interest. The second, to give the aggressor the opportunity to decide if he loves the woman or not, and be circumspect. If he is not, and marries the woman anyway for immediate physical reward, he may rape her and hate her, and extend this attitude to her children.

This is why the next two idea groups discuss children’s rights and consequences. Verse 15 starts the second idea, saying that children are entitled to a patrimony appropriate to their entitlement, regardless of parentage. Not only the first-born but all children, as ibn Ezra explains on v. 17, if there are three brothers, the first-born receives two-fourths and the others have one-fourth each. Verse 17 also states, if the first-born son is of a “hated” mother, that the right of the first-born is his. Does apportioning appropriate inheritance qualify as honest business treatment? Does honest business treatment and right personal treatment go hand-in-hand?

The third idea, starting in verse 18, begs the following questions. If you mistreat your wife, should you be surprised if your children rebel against you? If you mistreat your children, should you be surprised when they don’t listen to you? Will you have earned the heartache, pleading and handwringing over their activities? Who is responsible for their crimes and eventual death? Them? Or you?

Final question: Who speaks more for our age? Isaiah? Or Conan?


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