Thoughts on Parshat Ki Tetze

A year ago at this time, Israel was experiencing a respite after 50 days of war during which, yet again, not a single enemy female was raped. For most of us this statistic is taken for granted. To use war as an excuse for perpetrating sexual crimes against the enemy is unthinkable. And yet the very fact of it is quite extraordinary. Historically rape has been a commonplace in war. Even in modern times it is hardly unknown, if less prevalent.

Of course, now it is pretty much mandatory for Musilm warriors in the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Nusrah and Boko Haram to freely capture masses of females — after massacring their husbands, fathers and brothers — forcing them into sexual slavery, in accordance with Islamic Shariah law.

Nevertheless, there can be no better example of the self-loathing and suicidal malaise that has metastasized in Israel’s left-wing dominated academe than a paper published three years ago by Hebrew University doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan. Nitzan’s paper won resounding applause and accolades from leftist social science scholars across Israel for his thesis which argues that the Israeli army is alone among armies, both contemporary and historic, for having a zero record of military rape — specifically of Arab females in Judea, Samaria and Gaza — because Israelis are racists and, as such, would not engage in carnal relations with women whom they are programmed to revile.

In other words, the fact that the IDF, alone among armies, does not rape enemy women is because of Israeli racist attitudes toward Arabs. Never mind the fact that racism has never before prevented rape. If anything, it has served as a prime justification for rape. American slave owners routinely raped their black female slaves. The Japanese raped the detested Chinese and Koreans. The Nazis had no compunctions about raping Jews. And the Russians wantonly raped the hated Germans.

Parshat Ki Tetzei opens with the Torah’s recognition of the universal phenomenon of seizing and abusing the womenfolk of enemy combatants. Rather than declare a blanket prohibition — which would look good on paper but be practically unenforceable — the Torah instead sets up a detailed procedure whereby an Israelite soldier may take a bride from the enemy society and marry her. The process begins with an enforced 30 day period of abstention, during which time the captive female must make herself unappealing in order to dampen the Israelite’s ardor in the hope that he would have a change of heart.

Should his desire for the woman remain strong, he may then, and only then, take her as his legal wife — with all the conjugal obligations of marriage. Should the Israelite warrior choose not to go through with the marriage he must release the woman unharmed and allow her to return whence she came. He may under no circumstances take advantage of her in any way be it physically or materially.

Can it possibly be that Israeli soldiers do not rape because we have a Torah with a 3,000 year tradition of how to treat enemy women that is in utter contrast to the predictable and detestable conduct of other armies? The question is, of course, rhetorical. As an ethical army, the IDF places human life and human dignity at the top of its priorities.  ‘Purity of arms’ is the underlying and overarching principle that guides Israeli military conduct in battle. An Israeli soldier who would rape an enemy female would be judged severely and sentenced without compassion.

Which brings us back to Tal Nitzan’s disgusting thesis, and the chorus of raves it received from a leftist cohort that continuously surprises in its capacity to break new ground in self-loathing.

It is a sad fact that the fast track to success in the Israeli academy is to publish material that is damaging to the State’s reputation. European governments are delighted to give grants to self-hating scholars and academic organizations. Junkets and lucrative speaking engagements are abundantly available for any Israeli who is ready to besmirch his country’s reputation. This is true as well for filmmakers, writers, and journalists.

By contrast, scholars who support the Jewish State and its Jewish character are unlikely to be accepted into graduate programs, let alone find jobs as faculty members. Hence, the virtual leftist monopolization of the social sciences (and liberal arts) becomes inevitable.

On a separate note …

Re: The random listing of laws on Ki Tetze

Parshat Ki Tetze is the single largest repository of Jewish laws — containing more than 74 of the 613 commandments.

The presentation of laws in Ki Tetze seems utterly random both in sequence and in emphasis. Laws that are rarely relevant are accorded both priority and prominence, while others that are anchors of daily life are treated almost cavalierly, stuck in nooks and crannies, sandwiched between virtual soliloquies that elaborate on uncommon situations.

Conventional wisdom would suggest — and appropriately so — that this random format is intended to indicate that it is not for us to decide on a legal hierarchy, and that each commandment should be accorded the same gravitas as any other. I would like to suggest another possible explanation for Ki Tetze’s haphazard rhythm. The Torah is telling us that life is unpredictable, and that we should not assume that it will unfold in an orderly manner. Yes, we can hope for consistency and prioritization. At the same time we must recognize that what seems important today can easily become marginalized by tomorrow’s circumstances. And that which appears insignificant today can acquire enormous relevance as the ground suddenly shifts under our feet.

Illness, war, natural disasters, economic havoc can, and will, occur without warning. And the best way to be mentally prepared is by understanding that chaos is part of the natural order, and our survival depends both on our expecting the unexpected, and our ability to shift gears and rearrange priorities as necessary.

Re: The usage of the word ZACHOR זכור (Remember) in Ki Tetze

Parshat Ki Tetze is a virtual cornucopia of mitzvot — with 74 of the 613 wedged in between Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19. As I mentioned above, it is quite the hodgepodge with little in the way of rhyme or reason in terms of order, juxtaposition or hierarchy. Nevertheless four of these mitzvot — including the last — merit the special distinction of including the word ’זכור’ (remember) or a variant thereof. Surely this special emphasis, the requirement to remember, must indicate something important, and yet there appears to be no shared common denominator.

The first of these is Deuteronomy 24:9

ח. הִשָּׁמֶר בְּנֶגַע הַצָּרַעַת לִשְׁמֹר מְאֹד וְלַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּ אֶתְכֶם הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִם תִּשְׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת:ט. זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְמִרְיָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:

8. Be cautious regarding the lesion of tzara’at, to observe meticulously and you shall according to all that the Levite priests instruct you; as I have commanded them, [so shall you] observe to do. 9. Remember what the Lord, your God, did to Miriam on the way, when you went out of Egypt.

The second is Deuteronomy 24:18

יז. לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר יָתוֹם וְלֹא תַחֲבֹל בֶּגֶד אַלְמָנָה:יח. וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּמִצְרַיִם וַיִּפְדְּךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה:

17. You shall not pervert the judgment of a stranger or an orphan, and you shall not take a widow’s garment as collateral [for a loan]. 18. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you from there; therefore, I command you to do this thing.

The third is Deuteronomy 24: 22

כא. כִּי תִבְצֹר כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל אַחֲרֶיךָ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה:כב. וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה:

21. When you pick the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean after you: it shall be [left] for the stranger, the orphan and the widow 22. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt: therefore, I command you to do this thing.

The fourth and final is Deuteronomy 25:17

זי. זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:יח. אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים:

17. You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, 18. how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear God.

The first ’זכור’ pertains to the law of tzara’at, the spiritual skin affliction that results from gossip. The second ’זכור’ pertains to the fair treatment of strangers, orphans and widows both in legal adjudication and the (not) taking of collateral for a widow’s loan. The third  ’זכור’ relates to the leaving of grape harvest gleanings for  strangers, orphans and widows.  The fourth and final ’זכור’ is the one in which the remembering is itself the mitzvah, namely to remember how Amalek mistreated us during our trek in the desert.

And yet there is indeed a common denominator in that all four of these mitzvot relate to relations between human beings — the first three are מצות בין אדם לחבירו  how we should treat (or not treat) our fellow human being. The last does not specify a particular action. It is purely a commandment to remember. What we must remember is the ultimate example of how not to treat a fellow human being. And this latter is the concluding mitzvah of the parsha, clearly the climax precisely because it is both so specific and so abstract.

From this we can infer an entire ethos of interpersonal behavior of which the first three ‘zachors’ are but illustrations.What the Torah seems to be telling us is that the mitzvot which govern our relations with others — the מצות בין אדם לחבירו  are vastly more important than those that govern the relations between man and the Almighty — מצות בין אדם למקום.  Hence if we are inclined to be particular about our observance, clearly the former take priority over the latter. Indeed, if we are meticulous (מחמיר) about how we care for others, in all likelihood the way we manage our relation with God will take care of itself. The same cannot be said for the reverse.  The empirical evidence for this is ample.

JJ Gross

Jerusalem, Israel