Ki Tesse – Thought on the Perasha

We have been reading a lot in the newspapers and in the electronic media about captive women and their mistreatment. The wars in Syria and Iraq, in Yemen, and in Africa have brought to light the atrocities committed against women and minors; young and old alike.  Their sale in slave markets, their physical enslavement and their sexual exploitation, is reminiscent of the ancient and medieval ages. Yet it is actually happening in our days – in the 21st century! The violations of their human rights and their dignity is deplorable and reprehensible. Yet, we do not hear much in the way of protestations from the rest of the world.

Perashat Ki Tessé begins with a passage describing a situation in which, after a victorious war, a soldier finds himself with an opportunity to take a captive woman as a spoil of war. The Torah, understanding the often-inflamed passion of a soldier in battle, responds in a way to control that passion, and at the same time protect the dignity of the captive woman.

“When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, [and] you [may desire] to take her as your wife. 12 You may bring her into your home and [allow]have her shave her head, let her nails grow (as a sign of mourning) 13 She shall remove the garment of her captivity, as she stays in your home and mourn her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 But it shall be that if you do not desire her, then let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”

These verses were written 3300 years ago, when the ancient Gentile civilization considered women as property, to be treated as a man wishes and desires.  Unfortunately, not much has changed from those days when compared to the way women are being treated today in the Arab Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of South America. The Torah clearly stipulates the proper treatment that ought to be given to captives – and especially to women captives. While the Torah takes into consideration the inflamed passion of a soldier, the Torah also takes great precautions in protecting the captive women.

Even though she is taken as a captive, the Torah states that she must be given enough time and space to mourn her family, who may have been separated from her or killed in the war. Tears of grief are a catharsis that will help her make peace with her new situation. After one month’s time, she changes her garments of captivity in order to free herself from the feeling of war and captivity. It is only after a full month, that the soldier may approach her and offer to marry her as his legally wedded wife, entitling her to the full privileges enjoyed by a Jewish woman. If the soldier then decides that he does not wish to marry her, he must let her go free so that she may pursue her future.  He must not sell her or enslave her; she must be set completely free.

Where else can we find such humane treatment of women captives 3300 years ago? Or even 2000 years ago? Or 1000 years ago, or even today in those geographic areas mentioned above? Only in our Torah and Jewish values can we find such respect for human dignity and human rights.

Many articles have been published in the past several years describing the horrific treatment of women and captive women. We must wonder, in what age and era are we living? Atrocities and calamities like that, should not take place in our time and day – especially, when that type of treatment is sanctioned in the name of religion.   It is not only permitted by these other religions, but draws support from their interpretation of their scriptures and approval by their contemporary religious leaders.

Daily, upon waking up, we recite the Blessing: “Who has chosen us from all the peoples and given us his Torah.” We have been privileged that 4000 years ago, the A-mighty had chosen our forefathers, and by virtue thereof, us their descendants, to be given the Torah, G-d’s ultimate Wisdom. That has made us who we are and the special nation that we have become. No other nation in the world can teach us morality or ethics. No other nation can claim the upper hand in the area of the respect for the sanctity, or the dignity of life. Indeed, we ought to thank G-d for being the recipients of such a privilege.

We hope and pray that one day, humanity will learn some of the ways of our Torah and apply it to their lives. Then, maybe, peace and tranquility will reign in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D.

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