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Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Troubling Parsha: Ki Teitzei

Photo by Steve Corey via Flickr

The focus of today's D'var Torah (Parshas Ki Teitzeiwas the laws of the so-called "beautiful captive." This term refers to a non-Jewish woman seen and desired by a Jewish male soldier at war. The law gives him the right to kidnap her, bring her home and rape her, after a waiting period of a month.

The right to rape a woman seen and desired in wartime, albeit with certain conditions, is conferred on all soldiers, although it is true that the ancient Rabbis frowned on it. They predicted that those who took advantage of this accommodation to human fallibility would suffer in the end. 

But as the Rabbi explained, they ancient sages understood that war created savages out of decent human beings.

Still, it's a very concerning section.

How do we understand the seeming sexism in Judaism that is displayed in this law and elsewhere? Including:

  • Rationalizing systematic rape, albeit in war.
  • Allowing a married man to have sex outside of marriage, albeit with a woman who is single - not "owned" by another man. (If a woman commits adultery she is killed, and if a man commits adultery with a married woman he is killed as well.)
  • Enabling ongoing abuse by allowing a man to refuse divorce despite his wife's wishes.

On top of this we have the prohibition against homosexuality. This is called an "abomination," despite the fact that we know many men have an insurmountable sexual orientation towards other men.

Why is the lust that leads to rape a disability requiring accommodation - but the lust that leads to consensual male sex a sin no matter what?

Why does the Torah seem to care only about a man's urges, and not about the shattering impact of rape - not to mention kidnapping from one's home, family and nation - on women?

To bring in a contemporary horror, how can we criticize ISIS for sexual brutality, slavery and trafficking, when the Torah seems to sanction the same thing - albeit on a much smaller and more "humane" scale?

We have to ask these questions and come up with real answers. If the Torah is to really be our living Scripture, it's not okay to wish and rationalize such troubling issues away.

One thing is clear: When women are not represented in the yeshiva, men don't do a very good job representing our interests. 

We need more female scholars in the academy.

Update 8/30/2015: discussion going on at my Facebook page.

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All opinions my own.