KI SETZE(Done at MOT Bayonne, 1996)
This week's Torah portion of Ki-Setze is part of the book of DEVARIM, the last of the Five Books of Moses. DEVARIM is essentially the last will and testament of Moses, a restatement of Hebrew law to the sons and daughters of the freed Egyptian slaves, the generation which would actually enter and posses the Promised Land. One need not proceed further than the opening verses of the portion of Ki-Setze to find a topic to speak on which is apropos to the business we are in. The essence of Judaism is a moral framework which encompasses all aspects of life. According to ancient Jewish theological principles, when we adhere to these rules we aspire to a more sanctified state which warrants the positive intervention of HASHEM. For the Jewish People, even the conduct of war has with it a set of moral or humane responsibilities, which when followed was believed to ensure HASHEM's assistance in securing victory. The first verses of Ki-Setze offer one of these rules of war, the appropriate way for Jewish soldiers to treat women inhabitants of captured territories.
A note here, what was considered moral and acceptable treatment of women some 3500 years ago, could easily be termed chauvinistic today. My purpose here is not to condone or explain these attitudes, but to convey possible modern implications of some interpretations of these verses by ancient commentators. To accomplish this, we should consider these interpretations within the historical context at the time they were prepared.
The tradition of many societies allows conquering warriors to indulge in unbridled rape and pillage of defeated peoples as spoils of war. The Torah however, states that should a Jewish soldier become infatuated with a female captive, he was permitted to take this woman as his wife provided they both undergo a thirty day "cooling off period". During this period, the woman was to live in the soldier's house (although no intimate contact was permitted) and an effort had to be made to make the woman as unattractive as possible. She was required to shave her head, cut off her fingernails, wear unbecoming clothing and spend the thirty days in a state of mourning for the loss of her parents or, as some say, the loss of her country. After a month of seeing her this way the soldier was then allowed to make the final decision of whether she would become his wife. If she. were still appealing to him they would marry, if not she was set free without condition.
Most modern readers of these verses of Ki-Setze realize that such a concept begs an important question - could a soldier at the height of battle be reasonably expected restrain himself in this way? One ancient group of sages recognized this. They understood that combat involves passion and that this passion sometimes resolves into a sexual energy that the soldier, at the culmination of battle, could not repress. They held therefore, that the soldier was to be allowed one and only one intimacy with the object of his affections, if she was willing, prior to the start of her 30 day mourning period. This would allow the soldier an avenue to vent his passions without becoming a slave to his emotions. Although this interpretation is not generally accepted and perhaps should never be, it does show that the ancient sages were willing to challenge a principle they thought impossible to enforce. How nice it would be if modern lawmakers, both in the religious and secular arenas, shared this realistic attitude.
Perhaps more than any other criterion, a nation's conduct of war can either secure or destroy it's place amongst the peoples of the world. Despite Germany and Japan's struggle to attain legitimacy in the Post-World War II era, many find it hard to forget their conduct of that war. While succeeding generations of those countries prefer not to think of the war, Americans such as myself were able look back with pride at the accomplishments of our parents on the recent 50th anniversary of VJ day, knowing that World War II veterans like my father fought justly, in a just cause. As American Jews, the portion of Ki-Setze reveals a further source of pride in that our country's conduct had amongst its roots the moral and humane traditions arising from our Torah, Judaismís roadmap to fulfillment.
My father and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a healthy happy and prosperous New Year.