Parashat Ki Tetze

All Is Not Fair In Love And War

By linking the incident of the female prisoner of war to the hated wife and rebellious child, Rashi encourages us to consider the consequences of treating others as objects.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.


Ki Tetze contains a very wide assortment of laws and instructions for the Jewish people, covering rules for ethical warfare, family life, the prompt burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and proper economic transactions. The parashah ends with the famous command to remember what Amalek did to the Israelites when they left Egypt; this paragraph is traditionally read on the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim.

In Focus

"When you go to war against your enemies and the Adonai your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her" (Deuteronomy 21:10-15).


As my teacher R. Eddie Feinstein wrote regarding this passage, all is not fair in love and war--the Torah recognizes the reality of war, but demands that even in the insanity of battle, a human being be recognized as a human being. That women were captured in war was non-controversial in the patriarchal cultures of the ancient world; the Torah, however, says that even this sexist cultural norm must be subject to some kind of moral regulation. Rape is condemned, and a ritual of bringing the woman into the soldier's house slowly, and allowing her to mourn, is instituted in its place. Many commentators assume that the point of this ritual delay is so that the soldier will change his mind, and let her go.


The law of the woman captured at war is difficult for contemporary readers; it is an artifact from an ancient world, a world whose attitudes toward women, war, marriage, and family is far from our own. I can accept that this law represented an advance over the typical "rules of war" of its day, but it's difficult to accept that the Torah gives permission for men to capture women and marry them forcibly.

Lucky for me, our good friend Rashi does something quite amazing with this entire passage, offering an interpretation which creatively illustrates my feeling that the Torah is saying something subtler than "capture women, but be more dignified about it."

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.