Parshat Ki Tetze opens with a disturbing law: when a Jewish man goes to war and desires a foreign woman among the captives, he may take her home on the condition that he waits one month during which her beauty is neglected and must then marry or free her. When seen in its biblical milieu and through the eyes of the midrashic rabbis, this law teaches us a lesson about healthy approaches to sexuality and the necessity of consent, and is particularly relevant for Israeli society this week.
The Torah emphasizes the soldier’s physical desire: He takes her based solely on her physical appearance: he “sees” her, “desires” her. She is known as “eshet yefat to’ar,” a beautiful woman. The woman has no voice or choice. The Torah’s concession to human weakness in allowing this woman to be taken would be unthinkable today and would be deemed a war crime. However, in the context of antiquity, the idea of putting constraints on victorious soldiers was revolutionary and significantly limited wartime rape. The midrash further discourages this behavior. Noting the incongruous placement of this law next to a law regarding polygamy and then the rebelious son (ben sorer u-moreh), the midrash teaches, “one sin leads to another sin.” Meaning, taking the eshet yefat to’ar into one’s house will cause conflict and a catastrophic breakdown of family relationships. It might be permitted, but it is toxic for everyone involved.
The Torah and the midrash were beacons of morality in a world where a female captive had no rights, which thank G-d is no longer the case. They remind us that sexual relations without consent has disastrous effects, and healthy sexuality goes beyond mere physical attraction.