Torah Ambivalence Toward Rape – Deuteronomy 21:10-14
The Torah seems to sanction rape as an unfortunate natural urge in the human male. Upon what do I base this horrid statement? Do contemporary rabbinic scholars make any attempt to help us get beyond that?
Accepting Male Inclination to Rape
The first verse of Ki-Teizei (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) talks about what to do if you (male you) lust after a woman whose people you just defeated in battle and took captive. You are to bring her into your home, shave her head, cut her nails, and give her a month to mourn her mother and father (in some places this is said to refer to her idol worship). After that you can take her as your wife. But if she does not please you after that, you must let her go.
In other words – control your lust for a month and then consummate the relationship whether she wants to or not and then if you no longer want her around, just kick her out a free woman. If that is not condoning rape if she does not want the sex, then please correct my misinterpretation of the situation.
Granted, as a friend reminded me, this approach to the women of a defeated enemy is a great deal more humane than the mass gang rapes that went on in Biblical times and in some places, as we are witnessing in neighbouring lands, continue to this very day.
Oh, yes, that’s true. So okay, then; it’s okay! Quite revolutionary, in fact. Rape only one woman (and not immediately). What a relief! My faith in the the values promoted by my religion is kept intact.
But I wonder what women would have said about that if they were given voice way back in Bible times, or any time after that. I can just imagine a woman of that period having said:
Oh yes! By all means! Israelite men are so much more humane than those of other nations. Israelite men are only to take one woman from among the captives and to marry her a month later, in order to have their way with her. I’m sure I will fare very well in his home with his first wife, and my children will be well treated by his first wife and her own kids. That is, if I am kept around after the Israelite man has had his way with me. But no bother, at least then I will be free if he decides to kick me out. I hope the Israelites win the war!
A Vote for a More Contemporary Attitude Toward Rape
I think I would have less problem with that passage if I would hear around me, today, commentators saying that this was progressive for its day but not for now. They should be writing about their disagreement with such an approach in contemporary society. It still keeps women’s status as that of property and still gives them no say in their own fates.
If Torah Law is meant to raise the spiritual level of human beings so that we both acknowledge our biological position within the physical world, yet behave in ways that remind us that we are not mere animals, but self-reflective beings that yearn for closeness to God, then there is a problem with the passage under discussion here – it condones rape as if it is a natural condition of the human male. It doesn’t say: DO NOT RAPE! The Law says, if you must rape, then do it within these constraints . . . and then says how to limit the “natural” male urge to rape. (Similar to the concession toward eating meat – eat meat, if you must, but do it under the constraints defined in the laws of kashrut.)
While the multitude of Talmudic and ancient interpretational writings on this very verse are progressive in view of typical soldier behaviors in times of war, past and present (e.g., Bosnia, the Congo, etc), it is time for contemporary writers to suggest a more advanced level of human spiritual and emotional development. It is time for present-day halachik thinkers and policy makers in the religious world to declare that women (and children) are not vassals and are not booty whether during wartime or peacetime.
The days of concessions are over. It is time for men to grow up. We need to move up to the next level in the search for spiritual purity.
Whether you agree or disagree, love to read your responses to my ideas in the comments below. Thank-you.