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A Family Gathering

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 1, 2006

This weeks Parasha starts with a section (Devarim 21:10-20) that is rather gruesome – it looks like Torah is sanctioning rape in war time, only making it look like something else. And it continues with talking about a hated wife, and how one must not treat his children by her differently than those he has by a wife he loves – even if the loved one’s son is the younger. Finally the passage ends with how a rebellious son is to be punished for his disrespect towards his parents.Really ugly – what does such a text do in Torah?

“10. If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, 11. and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. 12. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. 13. And 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. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you. 14. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her. 15. If a man has two wives-one beloved and the other despised-and they bear him sons, the beloved one and the despised one, and the firstborn son is from the despised one. 16. Then it will be, on the day he [the husband] bequeaths his property to his sons, that he will not be able to give the son of the beloved [wife] birthright precedence over the son of the despised [wife]-the [real] firstborn son. 17. Rather, he must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the despised [wife] and give him a double share in all that he possesses, because he [this firstborn son] is the first of his strength, then he has the birthright entitlement. 18. If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not obey his father or his mother, and they chasten him, and [he still] does not listen to them, 19. his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place. 20. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.” 21. And all the men of his city shall pelt him to death with stones, and he shall die. So shall you clear out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear.”

Rabbi Baruch Sienna once told me that some times troublesome texts are in Torah, to teach us how not to behave, not because Torah condones all kinds of gruesome actions.

Rashi clarifies this by connecting the three characters to each other as if they were family.

The woman in the beginning of the passage, because she is made a wife under less than ideal circumstances, becomes the hated wife in the middle of the text, who gives birth to the man’s first son – the one who in the end of the passage despises and disrespects his parents – this way the less than ethical treatment bestowed on his mother in the end punishes itself in that the man ends up having a son that hates him too.

To me this reads as the Torah Commenting on Domestic Violence – the woman in the beginning of the text is taken captive, abused, and under “nice forms” forcibly married to the man (for all practical purposes she is raped) – the children that issues from this union are by their very conception abused by the abuse inflicted on their mother – they grow up despising their father, who in turn despise them, because they remind him of his ill-treatment of their mother, and in the end they become what “shames” him. The words from the last verse “So shall you clear out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear.” doesn’t necessarily imply the rebellious children but the entire situation – mistreat people and in the end they will turn against you, not only in the first generation, but in the second generation as well.

Shalom Shabbat!



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