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Parshat Ki Teitsei 2017
With 74 mitzvot, our parsha ranks numero uno in terms of quantity. These commandments run the gamut from war to paying workers on time for their work but the one subject that received a lot of attention is male-female relations. And as in psychology, which deals mainly with the pathological, here too most of the relations reported are basically dysfunctional. Not that our ancestors suffered more from dysfunctional families than other nations. It’s just that exceptions need to be explicated.
Here’s an example. A man marries a woman and then finds her distasteful (he hates her). Instead of just divorcing her (regulations for divorce appear later in the parsha), he decides to defame her, claiming she wasn’t a virgin. But her parents kept the wedding night sheets – and so the defamer not only receives a public lashing he also has to pay the parents one hundred pieces of silver for defamation and, the piece de resistance, he can never divorce her.
Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment for the woman? He is saddled with her but she is bound to him too. How do you think that would play out? He could abuse her, beat her to a pulp. And the cities of refuge were for accidental murderers, not for battered women.
It could also work the other way. Knowing that her loving husband could never divorce her she could retire from the wifely chores of the time – no cleaning, cooking or sharing of his bed. Obviously this could backfire and make him even more abusive. Oh, what happens if the woman really hadn’t been a virgin? She is stoned to death. Very even handed, wouldn’t you say?
As the commentators love to explain juxtapositions, I propose the following connection between the defamer rules and the next rules that appear. If a man is found sleeping with a married woman – both of them are to be stoned to death.
The connection? The defamer can’t divorce his wife but that doesn’t mean he can’t sleep around, and so he finds another playmate. She’s married and unfortunately they are found. Bad news for both of them.
Now if instead of a married women he finds a maiden who is betrothed? This is not a case of consensual sex but of rape. (The first case says ‘they were found’, these cases say ‘the man found her’). If the act occurred in the city – both are to be stoned – she, because she did not cry out for help and he because he was causing anguish to his countryman’s woman. If the act occurred in the field – only he is to be stoned because the woman is given the benefit of the doubt. She screamed for help but no one heard her.
And like the song about the hole in the bucket, the series ends with a man raping a non-betrothed maiden. As with the defamer, he has to pay the parents of the maiden, 50 pieces of silver this time and – guess what, he cannot divorce her for the rest of his life. Back to square one again.
While our highly developed sensibilities of equality and fair play are justly offended by some of these seemingly discriminatory laws, we should remember that in those days most women really did not have freedom and today’s opportunities. A tainted woman (what a quaint phrase!) would not easily find a husband and so forbidding the husband from divorcing her was seen as a progressive and liberal act of protection for her. How times have changed.
Perhaps the most well-known case of man-woman relations in our parsha appears at the very beginning. The beautiful woman captive syndrome. While at war, an Israelite warrior sees a beautiful woman among the captives and falls into lust for her. It seems from the text that he is allowed to sleep with her, perhaps even rape her (because, the rabbis say, the Torah would not promulgate a commandment which people could not uphold such as not raping women during wartime).
But if he wants her a second time, it has to be as his wife. Before marrying her, she has to stay in his home for 30 days, mourning her parents (and perhaps her slain husband), with her head shorn and her fingernails clipped short so that he sees her at her most unappealing. If at the end of the period he still wants to marry her – so be it. If his libido has had a chance to cool down (and perhaps his Israelite wife/girlfriend has had her say), she goes free in payment for all the anguish he has caused her.
The parsha ends with a repetition of the commandment to wipe out the memory of Amalek and all remnants of that nation. So this questions arises: what would happen if an Israelite warrior fighting Amalek espies a beautiful woman there and lusts for her (like a partizan falling for a nazi woman in WW II)? Which commandment would take precedence, Amalek or the beautiful captive? I don’t know.
This short review of the laws of man-woman relations shows that not much has changed in 3000 years in terms of primal urges. Only our reactions to them have been refined a bit, in some cases.
As we barrel towards the High Holidays it is worth keeping in mind that all of our good intentions, should we have any, are merely patches on a primal mind that has been directing our actions for ages and ages. These patches are important but the more fundamental mechanisms must be cleansed as well. And now is the time.