Torah Ambivalence Toward Rape – Deuteronomy 21:10-14

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16 responses

  1. Steve Blowers says:

    This passage shows that the Law of Moses condoned rape, unquestionably. It therefore shows up the inferiority of religion and no amount of commentary can explain it away. If we believe that marraige is instituted by God himself, then the man should have but one wife and no other. A married soldier cannot take another woman to do with as he pleases, a higher law says that if you even just look at a woman lustfully, you have already commited adultery in your heart. Genesis 2:24 sets the pattern, the two become one flesh. And a single man cannot force marriage upon a woman. God brought the woman to the man, did he not?

  2. Ilana says:

    I am very hesitant to try to understand the passage, especially without the oral law on it. On the surface, it does look awful. Certain terms used bsck then had meanings that today we misunderstand. Mourning her parents, it seems, actually means leaving her religion etc.
    I assume , knowing you, you did your research, but in case youmissed this, I found this (the hairless pubic and underarm part is beyond me!! LOL)

  3. Yael Shahar says:

    It’s a fair question. In reality, almost all commentators and halakhic legislators have taken the Eshet Yaffe Toar–the beautiful woman captured in battle–as one of the signpost put up by the Torah to show us how our legal systems should evolve. At a time when the fate of women on wartime was to be raped and then killed, the Torah laid down a rule that the victor must marry her. What that meant in those times was that she and her dependents must be economically supported for the rest of their lives (the vast majority of women were not self-supporting at the time). The Torah is in effect saying: “You want to have your way with her? Fine, but she becomes a respected member of your household, economically supported at least in the same fashion as in her former life, in order for that to take place.”

    Was this ideal? Not at all! But later authorities saw this rule as illustrative of how law should evolve–take a bad situaton and improve it in whatever way is practicle in your day, so that those who follow will have that much better soil in which to sow the next improvement. And so the next wave would see the invention of the Ketuba (the original prenup) which guaranteed financial support of women whose husbands divorced them. The next step included the ammendments of Rabbenu Gershom stipulating that no woman could be divorced against her will, and that a man could have only one wife (this had already been made a practical necessity by increasing the economic burden on men to support their wives).

    The continuation of this “directed” evolution saw the ruling that “kol hanashim hashuvot”, which in our day has been extended by R’ Yoel bin Nun. His contention is that the category of “nashim” is a legal category designating people in a certain kind of economic dependence, and that today, very few women actual fit that designation. The implication is that women are no longer exempt from time-bound mitzvot, and that legal inequalities will need to be abolished as soon as practically possible.

    The key here is realizing that halakhic evolution never stands still, and that all that remains of the earliest forms of Torah law is the direction that it set for further evolution. Had the law of the Eshet Yafe Toar not existed, or had it instead simply supported the exestant status quo of rape and pillage, it’s possible that today the status of women in the western world would be very different.

    To the extent that the modern liberal model is founded on the advances of the Torah, we could even see the Eshet Yaffe Toar as pavng the way for the increased sensitivity to women’s status up until our own age.

    • Sheri Oz says:

      I find this very interesting, Yael. I like the idea of an evolving legal system that evolves as we understand more and develop more. (Can humanity hurry up and evolve a bit faster, please!) But how does one get from “You want to have your way with her? Fine, but . . ” to: “You want to have your way with her? Tough luck!”

  4. If i were to discuss rape in the bible i would not have thought to bring this parsha as an example ir as a discussion point.
    I would have brought “Pilegesh Ba Givaa”. Judges 19. Judah & Tamar, Dinah (jacobs daughter). There the rape as an act of lust & violence us much clearer and it is presented as rape. In both cases there is revenge and a clear indication that raoe is forbidden.
    It is almost as thought you would have brought the story of Noah& his daughters as an example ic ghe bible condoning incest.
    The captive woman (when judged according to the mores and customs of her times), is actually sn example of self control and humanity.
    Sex in the bible is rarely consensual, and whenever it is initiated by a woman it “majes headlines”. Sex is an act of ownership not consent.
    There are clear laws on rape snd its punishment. Money and/or marriage. Seems harsh today, but was very advanced for those times.
    Sex in the bible however is much more matter if factly than our oral tradition and orthodoxy allow.
    If we want to discuss high morals and attitude to women and rape, jewish law must stop objectifying women.

    • Sheri Oz says:

      Yael – it’s not that I thought of discussing rape in the Bible and then selected this verse; I read this verse and then what I wrote about are thoughts that arose as I read it. I agree with what you wrote above and the part about rape being “punishable” by marriage reminded me of what I learned in South Sudan – when a man and woman are in love and want to marry but her father does not approve of the match, if he “rapes” her (with her consent cuz she loves him but fears her father as well) the father has to approve of the marriage. I find this parallel interesting, no?

  5. Steve Blowers says:

    Man was made before the Law was given, so what is the point of the Law? to help man attain the end for which he was created. It seems to me that endless commentaries upon the Law in order to try and cover every eventuality in life will move us not closer to that end, but further away from it. Where Love prevails there is less need of Law. Love is God and love is the fulfilment of the Law. Sex outside of marriage is not an expression of love, it is more to do with a desire for self gratification. Now, whether it is rape, or consensual sex, both fall outside of God’s intention for us, IMHO. I believe it is our job to teach this to children from a very young age. The passage in question might be viewed as progressive for its day, but handing out contraceptives to youngsters in our day is seen by many as progressive. Both attitudes fall far short of what God intended. The Bible has a lot to say about sex, but the 7th and 10th Commandments still apply.

    • Sheri Oz says:

      Yes, Steve. This is a major difference between Christianity and Judaism. Judaism is law-based and Christianity is love-based. And yes, regardless, the commandments still apply.

  6. Read it, don’t really agree with your perspective. This isn’t really talking about rape, it’s talking about the horrid situation of a woman who is captured as the result of war. One commentary I ready pointed out that the change of garment might indicate a change of status. They also suggested that the implications of the verse are that the woman will hopefully convert to Judaism, since if the person does keep her, her children become a part of the nation. I think at issue here is that the woman is NOT to be treated as an object. This is actually for her protection, since if she was left on her own after such a devastating war, she would be open prey to others. She might not like her situation, but marrying the victor would be preferable to abuse by strangers because of her lack of a male protector. Not very ideal, but having said that–THOSE principles certainly carry through to today, to defend and profide a better alternative than utter humuliation and destruction to those who have been so devastated by war. I think to read more into this passage, or to use it as a standard for how we should behave sexually, would have very dangerous consequences. There is much more going on in this passage than just that.

    ANother point worth nothing, if the man is displeased with her, she is free to do what she wants. She is not a slave or property. (I”m not saying he should be right to be displeased, but part of that could be her not wanting to convert or stay – two sides of the coin). So she is given a chance to grieve, offered a different new life, and if it doesn’t work out, she is not killed or sold, she is free to make her own way. That was huge then…. just my 2 cents…

    • Sheri Oz says:

      You add an interesting perspective. While the passage is not talking specifically about rape, I think it is clearly implied. Rape by one man rather than rape and murder by a gang. Marriage is a change of status, but also implies intercourse and no need for the woman to want it. I agree that this situation is preferable to the rampant abuse of women and children in war situations. But I think you are prettifying it beyond what it was – she was given a chance to grieve (convert to Judaism), offered a different life (as wife 2 or 3 or 4 perhaps), and if the guy doesn’t want it anymore for whatever reason she is sent off a free woman – free to do what? Was there child support offered? And what if she wanted/needed to stay for her own safety or that of her kids? My difficulty with this passage, in spite of the improvement of the contemporary situation, was that it suggests that men are innately rapists, rapists that can be tamed, but rapists. Maybe that’s stating it a bit harshly, but that’s how it seems to me. At the same time, I agree that the passage is saying a lot more than that as well.

  7. Yaakov says:

    The revulsion mentioned above regarding rape is misplaced due to a basic misunderstanding. We learn from other places in Tana”kh that Torah law does not condone rape. In this captive woman case, if she does not want to be “with” that man she is of course permitted to refuse, If she refuses he of course would give up the proposed marriage. Then he would have to set her free. He is not permitted to sell her as a slave. He is also required to set her free with a minimal dowry.

    If he or anyone else marries her the Torah etc laws of intercourse is only if she wants it apply. YES there are definite Torah based rules that a husband is forbidden to force or coerce his wife. The Torah clearly states “Onatah” (in her season=desire) not “onato” (his season/desire). He may seduce her with gifts kind words caresses etc., so that she will desire/agree, but he may not coerce or force her in any way shape or form! In fact forcing her can be a reason for her to receive a divorce from him with him paying a stiff penalty and getting public shame.

    Also be it a regular marriage or the marriage of a captive woman, if they divorce & she has children Torah law will require the man to pay child support for sure. These points are all developed via the rulings of our ancient sages which were later codified by latter sages e.g. the Ramba”M, Rabi Yosef Karo etc.

    • Sheri Oz says:

      OK. So you are saying that he marries her a month after her capture and before having sex with her; in that way, she has the right, as a wife, to refuse his approach. But biah (sexual intercourse) is a method of betrothal. What would prevent him from using this before the actual marriage?

      • Yaakov says:

        [a] “biah (sexual intercourse) is a method of betrothal” is NOT an accepted practice at all. By rabbinical laws derived from Torah law any touching is forbidden before marriage. The only mention in Torah where biah before marriage would result in a marriage is in the matter of a man seducing (or raping) a single girl/woman & in such case (if she agrees) he marries her must treat her well & is never permitted to divorce her (however if he mistreats her she may sue for divorce).
        [b] There is no place or way that Torah or rabbinical laws permit forced/coerced intercourse.
        [c] If a man forces a woman to have intercourse with him in a setting wherein she cannot free herself from him or she cannot scream for help (e.g. away from town, gathering of people etc), or is afraid that if she calls for help he will harm or kill her, that man will either have to pay a stiff fine or be sentenced to death depending on precise circumstances.

        The bottom line is that a man is never permitted to force or coerce any female to have intercourse with him!

  1. March 11, 2024

    […] Torah prohibits the rape of female prisoners of war — you must wait a month, give her time to mourn, and then, if you want to marry her, you can […]

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