Deuteronomy 21:10

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When thou goest forth to battle against thine enemies, and Jehovah thy God delivereth them into thy hands, and thou carriest them away captive, (ASV)


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Deuteronomy 21: 10-14: "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 "She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 "And it shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.”

“...the Jews say that if she refused, and continued obstinate in idolatry, he must not marry her.” -Henry

1. It is all too infrequently recognized that this section of Deuteronomy actually represents the most humane extant law for the treatment of women and girls during warfare in the entire history of the ancient Near East. Rape of captive women by conquerors has been the inevitable consequence of military action throughout history. Deuteronomy makes it quite clear that such treatment of women –even enemy women- was forbidden. The Mosaic legislation not only precluded soldiers acting on impulsive sexual desires on the battlefield, it specifically precluded selling captive women as slaves (no “sex-slaves” here!). The only condition under which an Israelite soldier was allowed to have relations with a captive woman was that she be made a proselyte (which required her agreement) and that she be made a wife with all the rights and privileges accorded to any other Israelite wife. The couple, man and woman, were subject to all of the laws pertaining to Israelite marriage.

2. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 as Anti-Rape Legislation. No intercourse was permitted until and unless all the requirements and solemn rites were performed by both parties. Desire was not enough to legitimate intercourse with a captive female; there must be a willingness to allow her to become a part of one’s household and accord her all of the rights which belonged to a naturally-born Jew. Marriage could only take place after a period of mourning (the same mourning period pertained to Israel generally; cf. Num 20:29; Deut 34:8) . She was to be treated with humanity and sensitivity and could not be treated as a slave. Many ancient Rabbis maintained that the shaving of her head functioned not only as the standard purification rite accompanying freely chosen conversion, but also to make the captive woman appear less attractive, resembling a gourd or pumpkin shell, and this in his own house so that he would see her frequently (cf. Midrash Halakhah; Midrash Tannaim, Midrash Hagadol, bYevamot 48aff; Rashi; Maimonides, Toldoth Adam, and Torah Tmimah). If the marriage took place, it would only do so after a period of sober consideration and a willingness to make the same commitment which pertained to marriages generally.

3. Neither marriage nor conversion was forced. Israelites were prohibited from marrying any foreign woman, captive or not, unless she willingly underwent ritual purification by a solemn rite. The shaving of the head was specifically just such a rite (e.g. Num 8:7, etc.). The Midrash Hagadol stated that if the captive female did not wish to convert initially she was to be given twelve months to think it over. If she did not wish to become a proselyte, she faced the choice of living as a resident alien (non Jewish, but required to live according to the standards which pertained to Noah before the covenant Abraham or Moses; according to Midrash Hagadol if these standards were repudiated she would be killed, although it is apparent from Deuteronomy that if she had no place in Israel she was free to go: "you shall let her go wherever she wishes"). It is frequently considered inconceivable that a captive woman might actually view her conquerors in a positive light; the manner in which women and children were often -not just sometimes- treated in the ancient world, even by their parents, dispels this uncritical assumption.


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