If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.
The Children of Israel are off to war and victorious. The enemy forces are dead. The women survivors are frightened. If this had been most conquering armies the females would have stood no chance. They would have been treated as spoils of war. During World War II, German, Polish and Russian women were raped by the millions. Many of them — including nearly all of the Jewish women — were later killed. Only a few years ago, the Serbs established rape camps for Muslim women captives.
In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish soldier is commanded to act differently. He is not allowed to molest any woman during combat. As prisoners, the women are available only as prospective wives rather than concubines. The soldier cannot pick more than one woman or take one on consignment for his father or brother.
The Torah could have banned any engagement and simply allow the woman prisoner to return home. The rabbis could have been recruited to offer the women conversion.
Instead, the Torah understood that the Jewish man is hopelessly in love with this strange gentile. If he does not desire her, she is forbidden.
What is the source of his love. Is it the beauty of the captive. The Torah tests his love when the captive replaces her red miniskirt for a simple frock. Is it her hair? How about cutting that hair to the length of that of GI Jane? Did she just come from a manicure? Let’s see how much the Jewish man cares for her unkempt nails.
Is it her radiant smile? How about having her live in the Jewish man’s house for a month without contact with her family, friends or society. She can’t understand the language of her hosts. She is alone. And she cries and mutters the name of her god.
After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.
Does the Jew still want her? The Torah grants him permission. The woman is treated as a Jew regardless of her wishes. If the ex-soldier changes his mind, he cannot return her to the prisoner camp. He cannot sell her. He must set her free.
And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.
What if lust conquers all? The husband might end up hating her and their child. Can he block inheritance? Too late. Regardless of the father’s feelings, his first-born is the legitimate heir.
Then, the Torah addresses the child of the former captive. Remember, the woman was forced into Judaism. That child becomes the seed of her seething resentment. He rejects his parents, obsessed with pleasure, a profligate who steals for his rich food and drink. And, he is not yet even a teenager.
And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not obey us; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.” And all the men of his city shall pelt him to death with stones, and he shall die. So shall you clear out the evil from among you, and all Israel will listen and fear.
The commentators say all of these scenarios could be the result of a union based on lust. The Torah shows how desire quickly fades, replaced by resentment and revenge; how the offspring enter a house of hate and respond in kind. What happened to the love of the Jewish man?
The Talmud tells us the story of Rachel, the daughter of Kalba Savua, one of the richest men in Jerusalem toward the end of the Second Temple. Rachel saw a shepherd, the lowest of professions. He was the son of a convert, marginalized in society. He was also angry, particularly at the learned men.
But the Talmud says Rachel saw two qualities in this 40-year-old shepherd: He was modest and he knew how to behave.
“Do you want to marry me?” Rachel asked.
The shepherd was stunned and managed little more than to nod.
“Then, you will have to learn Torah,” Rachel said.
The shepherd agreed, and after their secret marriage traveled to a distant rabbinical seminary. In all, he spent 24 years from home while Rachel lived in abject poverty. When he returned, he was accompanied by 24,000 students.
That is the story of Rabbi Akiva, the father of Jewish scholarship and the leader in the war against the Roman occupiers.
And that is the reason the Torah did not stop the Jewish man from bringing home the gentile captive. Jewish society is built on the convert. King David came from the most famous of converts — Ruth. Another convert was Naama, one of the 1,000 wives of King Solomon. Like Ruth, Naama came from a poor family. She did not advance Solomon’s policy of marrying into the ruling families of foreign nations.
But Naama’s piety saved Solomon and restored his kingdom.
If the gentile — regardless of circumstances — sincerely wants to be Jewish, the Torah helps. The union of the Jew and the convert will go beyond lust to genuine love. But if there is nothing else but desire, there is tragedy.