Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Parshat Ki Tetsei

The Beautiful Captive Woman

The Torah often brings us laws that can make us cringe. Last year we looked at the stubborn and rebellious son and showed how by understanding the culture of the ancient world, the law of the stubborn and rebellious son was a law we can be very proud of (see

The same apples to the law of the beautiful captive woman.

Essentially, when Israel is victorious in war, a soldier may take a captive woman and marry her. However, beforehand "she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. She shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month" (Devarim 21:12-13).

Rashi even explains that the purpose of these laws is to make her look repulsive. What is the reasoning this law?

In order to understand it we must try and understand ancient culture.

Fighting battles was a great stimulant for ancient warriors. It was quite normal for the soldier to rape and pillage the villagers after the battle. It was well accepted and the victims were usually then taken off as slaves after their ordeal if they were lucky.

The Torah recognizes that this is human nature, yet it clearly cannot condone this behavior. So what does it do? It makes the taking of the woman a legal act. However, he cannot do with her as he desires. Instead he must bring her to his house. There he must allow her the opportunity to mourn her personal and national loss. She must observe the mourning rituals such as the removal of her regular clothing and the shaving of her head.

Once her mourning has ended, the soldier may make take her as his wife. However, by this time, the thrill of the battle has been well over and the soldier may no longer desire her. The Torah tells us that if this is the case, he may not simply reject and sell her. He may not even keep her as a slave. He must simply release her and allow her to go wherever she wishes.

Rather than being a cruel law, we once again have an example of the Torah being ahead of its time, in its concern for the captive women.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat entitled: "The Stubborn and Rebellious Son" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat entitled: "The Impaled Criminal" appears at

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