Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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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, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates 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. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), 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), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers 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. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. 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 holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. 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 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. 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 an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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