Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

The Weekly Portion Ki Teitzei: Real vs. Ideal

Our portion opens with a terrible story that seems unredeemable.

It prescribes that when a Jewish soldier in wartime, sees a beautiful enemy woman and wants her, he should capture her and bring her to his home, for a month let her cry for missing her parents during which time she should not bath or cut her hair or nails, then convert her to Judaism and marry her as a second wife. How revolting!

A woman is not a thing. How can a G^dly Moral Code prescribe such a horrendous cascade of actions to people (Jews) who should be an example to all of Mankind? Isn’t this a clearly ugly thing that we should, no: must, protest and reject. No matter how beautiful or worthy Judaism – how could we stand by injustice and accept this?

Bear with me and we’ll redeem it. And not by giving this Commandment an apologetic nice makeover but just by placing it in context.

Now first, we need to discuss human nature.


Spinoza was a Jewish philosopher in roots but his philosophy put him squarely outside of the Jewish Tradition. (Fear for annoying the Christian authorities must have helped the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Community of Amsterdam to actual ban him.) He is, though, one of the greatest philosophers ever as counted by the non-Jewish world. Spinoza expert Philosopher Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo of Jerusalem says that his philosophies are sublime, so beautiful. Yet, he explains, Spinoza had no wife or kids. His analyses are stunning but detached from reality.

Classical Christianity preached the “turning the other cheek.” A beautiful concept that – history teaches us – did not work. Ask the Jews. We were mass murdered without even having given an initial slap.

Why did the US Constitution give stability and the Weimar Constitution so much tumult that within the turmoil, a Hitler could rise to the top? Because the former was written for humans, describing what works best while the latter described how theoretically it should have worked.

Moral codes that prescribe shoulds that are too ambitious, backfire.


The armies for Jewish Holy Wars, describes the Torah clearly, should comprise of the holiest soldiers there could be. If one talked between putting on one’s arm and one’s head tefilin (not such a terrible thing to do really), one should go home and not participate in battle because the fear of repercussion for that not-even-sin would impair your spirit and also make fellow soldiers nervous. So who should go out to war? The holiest of the holiest only.

Now, wars are messy bloody affairs, very hard on the Soul. In the craze of war, having been forced to kill, losing loved comrades, or to soothe one’s hurting heart from all the killing (make love, not war), one could too easily lose track of what is holy and good. One could feel so powerless that one is driven to disempower others (rape). And scholars, the only ones who should go to war, could so easily be overwhelmed by the gory business of battle.

Comes the Torah and says: If you want her, do such and such first. It’s not the best way in life but it’s allowed. But if you do (or even think of) doing all of that, would you still want her? Would you still not have come to your senses, not even in a month’s time? And not after seeing your wife and children raise their eyebrows and roll their eyes? No instance is known of any Jew ever, even some simple soldier, who acted out this procedure. Say, you could eat pork but you first have to put it in urine and feces, inspect it every day for a month yourself, then dry it, and then roast it. Would you still?

Look at the present IDF. The world over, it is normal that winning (and sometimes losing) armies rape and plunder. In our latest war, there were some accusations of theft by a few soldiers and the suspects are put on trial. But rape? Never. It’s done so well that Arab leaders have accused Jewish soldiers of being racists that they don’t touch their women and girls “because they don’t like them.” As if rape is done from liking someone! No, the high standards the Torah teaches and that we have kept for thousands of years, for more than a hundred generations, are so ingrained in us that even our secular soldier at war scenes don’t take advantage of powerless women and girls.

Our section comes to teach us manners. It doesn’t say: be cruel and drag her off. It says nowhere that he can mistreat her or be insensitive to her. Only, if you think you can’t control yourself – this is the kosher way. The result: it’s not worth it. There is no mention anywhere that such a case of a captive woman was ever actually done. But if the Torah would have simply forbidden it, the temptation could have been sky-high – possibly almost impossible to resist.

The Torah is like a booklet of factory issued operation instructions. The One Who wrote the Torah text also fashioned Man. So we see a wisdom in the text that’s unusual. It fits humans like a glove. It knows how far to challenge humans and when to allow for a compromise to human weakness. Together with the Oral Law (Mishna, Talmud, Halacha), it knows how high to set the bar. To challenge us with high expectations without making it contra-productive by expecting too much.


There are similar seemingly ugly passages, also in the beginning of our Weekly Portion. How could we be obligated that if we have a son who is rebellious, eats meat and drinks wine without limit and doesn’t listen to his parents, we should bring him to court and if found guilty, he should be executed? A child! The Talmud deals with this question.

It explains that this commandment was never executed. There are so many conditions that need to be exactly the case as written in the Torah that the Court must check, that in practice in every case it can (and must) exonerate the youth.

So why is there such a Commandment? To teach us that there must be limits to parental love and permissiveness. And that if we bring home a non-Jewish girl to be our second wife, how would you expect your son to be able to contain his impulses?

One Sage remarks that he actually sat on the grave of a rebellious son. The warning must stay realistic enough to deter. (He didn’t mention if the son was executed or died of natural causes, possibly of old age.)

Another case. The Torah blesses us with strength not to eat blood. For Jews, the idea of consuming blood is revolting. Why would we need extra strength for abiding by this Injunction? No other Commandment in the Torah says this. But the Author knows us. Stolen waters taste the sweetest. As revolting as drinking blood may be, as soon as it becomes forbidden, it becomes attractive.

Another case. G-d tells us, if you would ask, what shall we eat for three years when you don’t sow in a Sabbatical Year and not for the ensuing Jubilee Year, then I promise you a threefold harvest before. Not preparing a harvest for years is a real challenge. If you can take it, I will make you satisfied with a third of the normal diet. That means less food stuff to buy or bring home, less to store, less to cook and less to clean.  A blessing. But if you can’t take it, I promise to enlarge your crop. No punishment for a lack of trust but rather a blessing. How much faith can be expected of normal people?!

Another case, now from our modern times. The State of Israel or the rabbis don’t stress that circumcision should be done. The backslash would be enormous. Who should tell us what to do?! But now it’s not stressed, most Jewish parents do this from their own free will.

Yes, having your new son been cut is hard but not cruel. It’s not the unkindest cut if you let them cry. Crying heals. There are standard medical procedures that hurt babies much more. And ever compared Jewish men with similar Gentiles? Fine people, no? Also here, the outcome shows that it’s fine if not excellent. It discourages masturbation. In a rights frame of mind, less “sex” is a “sin” but in a duty mindset, there are two reasons why this is good. To forbid masturbation but have the possibility dangling just in front of you all the time is cruel. And this Injunction is protective. Masturbation isolates, hinders deep connection to a soul mate. Isolation is the last thing Jewish men need. What is so wholesome in a privilege to easily get isolated? Circumcision at a later age is more painful, more dangerous and sexologically damaging and defeats the whole purpose of trying to protect. Offer a random teenager: now you can choose pain over pleasure. Not fair.


The Torah was not given to the heavenly Angels. It was given to humans. It may be hard at times to keep but it must be doable and work out well. The regular outcome of a Commandment must be taken into account to judge the Prescript. We’ve been given a good Law.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX, among his over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". His second daily active less tame blog, to which one may subscribe, one may find here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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