By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant The translation of this week’s Torah Parsha (CHAYEI SARAH) is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the Parsha pertain...
By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s Torah Parsha (KI TEITZEI) transpires when the Children of Israel are at the brink of embarking on war with hostile nations, as they journey to the ‘Promised Land’. The Parsha comprises seventy-four of the Torah’s six hundred and thirteen commandments; including marital issues; release of slaves; returning lost objects to the rightful owner; interest-free loans; and, a host of rather mundane mandates.
However, an in-depth reading of Parsha (KI TEITZEI) reveals several counterintuitive statements, which created both consternation and contrariety amongst our sages.
In the very first statement of the Parsha, we read: “If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God will deliver the enemy into your hands, and you can take his people as captives; and, if you see among your captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her, you may take her for yourself” (1).
One of the main objectives of the Torah is to create a just and healthy society. Abusive behavior of any kind is typically not tolerated. In this strange and disturbing instance, the Torah does not legislate against it; rather, it encourages it.
Rashi contends that the license to take a captive woman is based on the theory that in the heat of battle, ‘evil urges’ frequently emerge. He reasons that the taking of a captive woman might satiate these urges, so that a more heinous deed may be obviated (2).
Maimonides explains that the soldier must bring the woman to his home, to allow her to begin a month of mourning for the family, which she has left behind. She must shave her head, and clothe herself in unattractive mourning attire. His belief is that if the soldier sees the woman in this homely state for thirty days, the flames of his desire for her will dissipate; and, he will return her to her people (3).
Perhaps, wars waged in biblical times allowed for no propriety or decency. However, modern rabbinical scholars have learned, through the ages, that sexual abuse of a female prisoner of war, is not only repugnant; but, also emotionally and psychologically scars the woman for life.
Within Parsha (KI TEITZEI) is another statement, which is somewhat contrary to the teachings of the Torah, and the nature of Judaism, itself: “An Amalek or Moabite shall never enter the Assembly of God” (4).
The Amalek people were accused of undermining the power of God. They claimed that all of God’s miracles in Egypt were just happenstance, and coincidences. They refuted all that was considered holy, special and exalted in the minds of the inhabitants of neighboring nations.
The sin of the Moabites was to utilize a ‘prophet for hire’ (Baal), who enticed the Israelites to engage in illicit relations with the daughters of Moab.
Maimonides argued that the justification for collective punishment is likely to prevent future instances of committing such acts (5). However, in this same Parsha (TEITZEI), the Torah states: “The sins of the father shall not be visited on the son (6).
King Solomon taught us a fine virtue: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. Do not be vengeful towards our enemies; rather treat them well” (7).
This is the glory of Judaism, not to harbor hatred; nor, to be vengeful (8).
(1) DEUTERONOMY (21:10-11)
(2) Rav Mordeckhai Sabato, Yeshiva Har Etzion, Jerusalem
(4) DEUTERONOMY (22:4)
(5) Maimonides (“Guide for the Perplexed”)
(6) DEUTERONOMY (24:16)
(7) Proverbs (25:21)
(8) Bar-Ilan University’s Parshat Study Center, (Tel Aviv, Israel)