Parshat Ki Teitsei 5782: Halachot of the Captive Woman of Beauty — Contradiction or Educational Tool?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Ki Teitsei is being sponsored by Danny and Amy Michaels of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in honor of the marraige this week of their daughter Aviva to Yehuda Benovitz. To the Michaels family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes

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Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt

Parshat Ki Teitsei 5782: Halachot of the Captive Woman of Beauty — Contradiction or Educational Tool?

by Moshe Burt

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin renders to English the opening posukim of Parshat Ki Teitsei regarding Halachot concerning the army of Am Yisrael going to war in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim:

“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem Keilokecha will deliver them to your hand and you will capture his captives. And you will see among the captives an eishet yefat to’ar, a beautiful woman, and you will desire her and you would take her as a wife. And you shall bring her into the midst of your home and she shall shave her head (Rabbi Goldin writes following the generally accepted viewpoints in a series of Talmudic debates concerning the procedures to be followed in the treatment of an eishet yefat to’ar per Talmud Bavli, Gemara Yevamos 48a-b) and let her nails grow; and she shall remove her garment of captivity [Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 1047 cites Rashi who renders this to mean the custom of gentile women to wear their finery in wartime to entice their captors]; and she shall remain in your home; and she shall weep for her father and her mother for a full month. And after that you may come to her and live with her and she shall be a wife to you. And it will be that if you do not desire her, then you shall let her go where she will. You may not sell her for money nor may you enslave her, because you have afflicted her.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posukim 10-14 as rendered to English by Rabbi Goldin, ibid, page 219)

Rabbi Goldin poses questions regarding these Halachot (ibid, page 220)

Why must this captive woman be subjected to such seemingly demeaning rituals? Why, in addition, is this unfortunate woman ultimately granted no real control of her own fate? Why does the Torah allow a soldier to marry an alien woman captured in battle. even after all of these rituals are carried out?

To preface the title’s question, this author has understood during years of being a Ba’al Teshuva that there may be various understandings concerning the above Halachot, including the possibility that the soldier may be permitted a single co-habitation with the captive woman before the Halachot of the eishet yefat to’ar kicks in.

In titling this vort, only the third of Rabbi Goldin’s three questions will be addressed. This author would frame that question differently, i.e. how do we reconcile these Halachot with events such as Pinchas’ action of spearing Zimri ben Salu (nasi of Shevet Shimon) and Cozbi by their vitals, for which Pinchas was bestowed Hashem’s Covenant of Peace and that he and his descendants received a Covenant of enternal Kehunah “because he took vengeance for Hashem?” (This author citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 25, posuk 13)

And how do we reconcile these Halachot with the Halachot of the Eved Iv’ri who becomes an eved to another Jew due to indebtedness and is paired with a gentile woman for the duration of his period as an eved, after which, he is freed from service of the master and from any attachments resulting from his “enslavement?”

After his period as an eved, he is freed, and leaves the gentile woman he was paired with, as well as leaving any offspring arising from the coupling. The alternative, “if the bondsman shall say, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children — I shall not go free.’ The master shall bring him to court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever.'” (This author citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 21, posukim 5-6). In essence, the former eved, now with the opportunity of freedom, if he values his master and his imposed “family” over his being a Jew, he serves the master for life and is lost to Judaism by virtue of intermarriage.

The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah: with Rashi Commentary” Sefer Devarim notes (page 222) :

The word “eishet” is usually the construct form of “isha,” meaning “woman of.” It is used here to indicate that the verse [re: eishet yefat to’ar] includes “a woman of” another man, a married woman (Rashi citing Sifrei 211; Kiddushin 21b; Chizkuni; Mesiach Ilmim; Be’er Mayim Chaim) [Apparently meaning a woman married to a man of the adversarial nation]

As a background, we can contrast these Halachot with the countless cases of gentiles who went off to war, met and married woman from foreign countries, whether allied, or from enemy countries, i.e. the World War Two, Korea or Vietnam. There are countless stories of generals who met, had relationships with or married their female drivers, or soldiers who married women of allied nations, or former enemy nations post-war, etc. But for we Jews, there are Halachot regarding ritual purity and marrying only Jewish women.

Returning to Rabbi Goldin and his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, he writes in answer to why Torah permits the eishet yefat to’ar to the soldier with the Halachic restrictions noted above. Rabbi Goldin writes (ibid, pages 220-222):

The vast majority of scholars agree that, upon confronting this difficult narrative, we enter an arena of Torah where Hashem mandates law as a concession to man’s frailty.

Had Torah not allowed the soldier of Israel to wed this woman legally, the Talmudic Rabbis maintain, he would have been driven by his desires to initiate an illicit relationship with her, without permission of the law…. “It is preferable that Israel should consume the meat of [animals] that are about to die than the meat of animals that are already dead.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Kedushin 21b) It is preferable for the soldier of Israel to wed the eishet yefat to’ar in a legally sanctioned manner than to continue his relationship with her without the law’s consent. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 11)

In the case of the eishet yefat to’ar, …the Torah goes a significant step further. Instead of passively conceding to man’s weaknesses, Torah actively uses the law as a means of dissuasion. According to the preponderance of Rabbinic thought, the Divinely ordained laws concerning the treatment of a captive woman are calculated to dissuade the soldier from following his intended path. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sifrei on Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posukim 10-13; Talmud Bavli Yevamos 48a; Rashi on Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 13; Rashbam on Devarim Perek 21, posuk 13; and numerous other sources)

Recognizing the power of lust that drives the soldier toward his beautiful captive, the Torah deliberately constructs a course of action designed to cool the warrior’s ardor [noun: great warmth of feeling; fervor; passion] and allow his calmer reason to prevail. The steps mandated in the text [Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posukim 10-14, above]… are all designed to make this woman unattractive to her captor. As the soldier observes the eishet yefat to’ar stripped of her external beauty, he hopefully will come to see her for who she is, an unknown woman from an alien culture, unsuitable for his choice as a life partner. (Rabbi Goldin again citing Sifrei on Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posukim 10-13; Talmud Bavli Yevamos 48a; Rashi on Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 13; Rashbam on Devarim Perek 21, posuk 13; and numerous other sources)

Finally, even the seemingly unconnected textual passages that follow the eishet yefat to’ar narrative are viewed by Midrashic authorities as additional warnings to the soldier of Israel, calculated to alert him to the real dangers of following his intended path. Immediately after the laws guiding the treatment of the eishet yefat to’ar, the Torah turns its attention to two other topics: the rights that must be granted to a firstborn son, even if he is the product of a “hated wife,” and the laws governing the tragic case of a ben sorer u’moreh, a rebellious son.

The positioning of these themes in the text following the section on the treatment of the eishet yefat to’ar, the Midrash Tanchuma explains, is far from accidental. A union based solely on lust, without the benefit of shared backgrounds and values, is destined to produce a tension-filled, disharmonious home marked by “hated” wives and “rebellious children.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tetztei 1; Rashi on Sefer Devarim, Perek 21, posuk 11) Any transient benefits to be gained from a relationship with a beautiful captive, the Torah warns, will soon give way to a life of enduring pain and sorrow.

To this author, the bottom line seems to be that the Halachot of the eishet yefat to’ar are not contradictions to the prohibition against cohabitation with an alien of the opposite gender, or the Eved Iv’ri who favors the master and “imposed” wife and family over his Judaism. Rather, these Halachot are both a source of discouragement and an educational tool for the soldier, even in the heat of war and battle, that he not venture down the road of lust for both the Halachic hurdles which would ensue and for the probable resultant long-term pain.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.