A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: KI TEITZEI (DEUTERONOMY 21:10-25:19)

By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

This week’s Torah Parsha (KI TEITZEI) occurs as the Children of Israel are at the brink of embarking on war with hostile nations, as they tirelessly struggle to reach the ‘Promised Land’. The Parsha comprises seventy-four of the Torah’s six hundred and thirteen commandments.

The separate commandments, pertaining to war, reveal several counterintuitive mandates, which engendered both consternation and contrariety amongst our sages.

In the very first statement of the Parsha, we read: “If you go to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God delivers the enemy into your hands, you can take the people as captives; and if you see among your captives a beautiful woman, and you desire her, you may take her for yourself” (1).

One of the main objectives of the Torah is to create a just and healthy society. Abusive behavior, of any kind, is typically not tolerated. In this strange and disturbing instance, the Torah does not legislate against it; rather, it encourages it.

Rashi contends that the license to take a captive woman is based on the theory that in the heat of battle, ‘evil urges’ frequently emerge. He reasons that the taking of a captive woman might satiate these urges, so that a more heinous deed may be obviated (2).

Maimonides explains that the soldier must bring the woman to his home. She must shave her head, and clothe herself in unattractive mourning attire. He believed that if the soldier saw the captured woman in this homely state for thirty days, the flames of his desire for her would dissipate; and, he would return the woman to her people (3).

 Although the early rabbinical scholars attempted to provide some form of rationalization for this defilement of women, during battle, the more modern rabbinical scholars strongly condemned this interpretation of the lines in the Torah Parsha; with full knowledge that Judaism does not condone any form of sexual abuse of a woman.

Within Parsha (KI TEITZEI) is another statement, essentially divergent to the teachings of the Torah: “An Amalek or Moabite shall never enter the Assembly of God” (4).

The Amalek people were accused of undermining the power of God. They claimed that all of God’s miracles in Egypt were just happenstance, and coincidence. 

The sin of the Moabites was to utilize a ‘prophet for hire’ (Baal), who enticed the Israelites to engage in illicit relations with the women of Moab.

Maimonides argued that the justification for collective punishment was likely to prevent future instances of committing such acts (5). However, contrary to the statement in the Parsha, relevant to the punishment of the people of Moab and Amalek, is the directive in KI TEITZEI: “The sins of the father shall not be visited on the son” (6).


(1) DEUTERONOMY (21:10-11)

(2) Rav Mordeckhai Sabato, Yeshiva Har Etzion, Jerusalem

(3) ibid.

(4) DEUTERONOMY (22:4)

(5) Maimonides “Guide for the Perplexed”

(6) DEUTERONOMY (24:16)

(7) Proverbs (25:21)