Parsha Ki Teitzei: A Loved Wife, a Hated Wife, and the Firstborn Son?

argument-238529_640This week we read parsha Ki Teitzei (Ki TetzeiKi TetseKi ThetzeKi TeseKi Tetzey, or Ki Seitzei) which means “When/If you go…”  Ki Teitzei consists of  Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19.  You can read a brief summary here.

 

Parsha Ki Teitzei is riddled with laws and rulings.  There are 74 of the 613 laws given in just this parsha.  Since I wrote about the captive woman last time, this year I will move on to the second law mentioned.

Here is the NIV translation from Deuteronomy 21:

15If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.17He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

First let me fix some mistranslations:

15If a man has two wives, and he loves one and hates the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he hates16when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he hates.17He must acknowledge the son of his hated wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

In our modern minds we encounter a problem right a way… TWO WIVES?  The Torah was given in a time where polygamy was ubiquitous.  Rather than revolting against the custom and banning it outright (which would have probably backfired as most revolutions do) the Torah humanizes the situation and tries to convey it’s disapproval of the arrangement.

Understanding that if a man has two wives (The Torah does not demand polygamy.  Rather it promotes monogamy…) then it is probable that he will love one and inevitably hate the other.  This serves as a cautionary tale against polygamy.  The Jew reading this can infer quite easily that God and His Torah do NOT advise polygamy.

There is not one instance in the Torah where polygamy works out well.  Not once!  Always there is tragedy.  Always there is a disenfranchised wife.  But God knows we don’t handle revolutions well, so He set laws so as to nudge us into an evolution away from polygamy… Which we did!

The Torah is not chauvinist or misogynist when it gives us laws like this.  Rather it shows just the opposite!  God and the Torah teach us to protect women, protect the hated wife’s children, and treat people with dignity.   But it had to do so in a time when chauvinistic and misogynistic practices were universal and expected.  Thanks to the Torah we have evolved away from many of those ways.

Shabbat Shalom!

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