This week we read Parsh Ki Teitzei (or Ki Tese or Ki Tetse or Ki Tetzey or Ki Seitzei… some things are lost in transliteration…) which constitutes Deuteronomy 21:10 through 25:19. A very brief summary can be found here.
This year I want to try to explain the magnificence of the first reading, and rectify the misconceptions people (many moderns especially) seem to have regarding the Torah and its treatment of women.
10When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives,11if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
Now I’m some if not many of you are shaking your head and possibly your finger at these Torah verse and chastising them for chauvinism and misogyny. But first it is important to understand these verse in context. After all, context matters…
In ancient times when a people conquered another people, women were considered part of the booty. Their were possessions that men could (and did) do with was they pleased. Rape, murder, and other unspeakable horrors have occurred when war has occurred and one nation triumphed and stripped another. But here in Deuteronomy 21:10 everything changes for the Israelite conquerer.
If an Israelite warrior finds a conquered women he would like to take, he can no longer simply do so. There are rules. These rules are from God through Moses. They are inarguable and undeniable. He may NOT take a women and rape her and discard her. Rather, if he finds her attractive He may take her as his wife.
Yep, God is saying “Look fella, you want to sleep with this girl because you find her hot… too bad. She is a human being and deserves dignity and I, God, demand you treat her with some dignity… so if you really want her… marry her…”
but wait there’s more…
God goes on, “Now, hold your horses soldier. You must realize she is upset. You just conquered her home, and possibly killed her husband, father, or brother. So, if you want to marry this girl… you MUST provide her with your house to live in so that she can mourn her loss and you can witness her dismay. You must treat her with DIGNITY, and give her time. And yes, its in your house she’ll be doing all this grieving. All this you must do and you must provide for her for a month before you marry her… ”
So, lets realize what that scenario would really look like. A guy has a girl he finds attractive going through all the stages of grief in his house for a month, and the whole time he cannot impose himself on her… rather he is to cater to her and listen to her and patiently wait for 30 days. WOW! What are the odds a man would take this on? If God had simply banned all normative behaviors associated with conquering people (see above), then I suggest that many men would have simply disregarded the decree because it is too revolutionary. This rule is different. It is an example of an evolutionary moral shift. And those kind of shifts are workable for people. They are understandable, and not so radical so as to cause a rebellion.
This ruling closes with the idea that perhaps the man will actually not be happy with her after this whole ordeal (shocking.) So then what. Does he get to keep her as a slave? Nope. Does he get to objectify her and treat her like trash? Nope.
No, no rather God basically declares “You, young man are responsible for any dishonor she may face. And if you do not want her she is a free woman.”
Now realize if he has already married her she is part of the nation of Israel, and has all the rights and opportunities of a free Israelite woman. If he decides to not go through with the whole thing… then she’s free to go wherever she wishes.
In my eyes this is another example of Divine wisdom guiding the principles for our lives when we are faced with difficult challenges.
Evolutionary change is often better than Revolutionary change.
Human dignity is of paramount importance.
As the Talmud teaches (Baba Metzia 58b):
כל המלבין פני חבירו ברבים כאילו שופך דמים
“One who embarrasses another in public, it is as if that person shed blood.”
Are you emphatic about preserving others dignity?
Do you go out of your way to not embarrass or dishonor people?
Or do you stand silent as someone’s face is whitened from shame or embarrassment?
God willing I hope I will do my best to elevate others, especially in their time of need.
How bout you?