Friday, September 01, 2006

eishet yefat to'ar - the nature of halachic ethics

Parshat Ki Teitzei opens with the parsha of eishet yefat to’ar – a beautiful women taken captive by a Jewish solider during battle, who subsequently becomes permitted for him to marry. The Torah seems to acknowledge that the temptation for the solider is too great – “lo dibra Torah elah k’neged yetzer hara”, the Torah allowed the permissibility of the yefat to’ar as a concession to the evil urge (Kiddushin 21), but by placing the parsha of ben sorer u’moreh immediately afterwards warns that no good will come out of such a relationship (Sanhedrin 107). How is one to understand this idea? If indeed, the yefat to’ar is ethically wrong, then how can the Torah allow a concession to evil? And if indeed it is morally justified in battle to claim a captive wife, then why should no good emerge from such a relationship?
The Shiurei Da’as (vol 2 "Bein Yisrael l'Amim) poses the following chakira: are the laws of the Torah a reflection of what is right and good based on the design of nature, and punishment and reward are just natural outcomes of violating the rules, or are the laws of Torah like the mandates of a King, arbitrarily set up based on certain objectives but distinct from the natural order? Is G-d like a doctor who tells us how to live in harmony with nature, or like a King who establishes a social order above and beyond the base dictates of nature?
Like most chakiros, both sides have a grain of truth. The gemara (chagiga 3) tells us that the mitzvah of hakhel includes bringing children so that their parents would receive reward. We certainly have many mitzvos we can do to receive reward – why do we need this extra detail just to pile on more schar? The Sheuiri Da’as explains that parents will naturally be forced to bring their children along with them even without a mitzvah, but by adding a tzivuy, the Torah transforms natural consequences into a mitzvah. It is like the King ordering someone to take his/her vitamins – you would do so anyway to be healthy, but now you reap the extra benefit of showing obedience and gaining reward for the effort. The chiddush of hakhel is not that Hashem arbitrarily creates mitzvos to give us more schar, but the fact that where there already exists a predisposition for an action, Hashem will sometimes add a tzivuy to what we would naturally do anyway in order to enable us to receive reward.
The yefat to’ar is the other side of the coin. A solider who engages in taking a yefat to’ar is violating the natural order and therefore no good can come of his relationship. It is like placing your hand on a hot stove – the burn is an inevitable natural consequence of the act. However, unlike hakhel where the Torah added the mandate of mitzvah to what already is part of the process of nature, here “dibra Torah k’neges yetzer hara”, the Torah made an allowance for man’s base nature and did not legislate a prohibition. The danger of the ben sorer u'moreh outcome remains , but the Torah adds no other barrier to the soliders actions.
There are other examples R’ Bloch brings to illustrate his point (maybe I’ll get to a few more later) – it is worth seeing the entire essay. For those familiar with R’ Ahron Lichtenstein’s essay on whether there exists an ethic independent of halacha, it seems to me that the underlying issue is the same.

9 comments:

  1. jeffrey smith10:22 PM

    [Anonymous apparently doesn't care that SPAM is a trafe food.]

    Presumably the Gentiles were meant to be ethical people, and therefore ethics is something that is discoverable by human reason alone, without the aid of Torah. But if Torah is what we believe Torah to be, then everything that ethics contains is to be found in the Torah, and halacha is totally consistent with it: if it is halachic, it is ethical, and vice versa; if the Torah teaches it, it is ethical, and vice versa. So while ethics can be found outside the Torah, we who have the Torah can find it in the Torah, and without the danger of running off the track because of our fallible human reasoning.

    As for the yefat to'ar, I remember someone commenting (perhaps Rabbi Hertz?) that the sanctions placed about the y"t are such as work against consummation of the relationship: "you wish to have me? Then watch me for a month as I walk around ugly and in rags and groaning my heart out for my lost home and family, and see if I still attract you after that!" The soldier has a month in which he can work on subduing his yetzer harah. The Torah is actually providing a mechanism by which battlefield rape is to be avoided and the yetzer harah conquered. [Although I seem to recall that there is a dispute as whether the soldier is allowed intercourse one time immediately after capturing her, and then the rest follows, or whether he must wait the full month before even the first act of intercourse.]

    Also, if ben s"u'm is linked to y"t, then perhaps what Chazal said about it may also apply to y"t --that it never actually occurred, and the only reason it is there is so that we can benefit by studying it?

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  2. I mean to get to another posting to get to what you raise re: ethics. I'm not sure about it.
    We do have a recorded case of yefat toar happening - tamar was a daughter of a yefat toar taken by David haMelech. I like your idea of a month for the soldier to work on his ethics. Could this be why this parsha is read at the beginning of Elul???

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  3. Bill Selliger8:43 PM

    by adding a tzivuy, the Torah transforms natural consequences into a mitzvah.

    This idea is also the basis of the mishna in Makkos (22b) that we're all so familiar with. Seems to be a machlokes tana'im (see Rashi to Devarim 12:23). Maybe that's why the Shiurei Da’as didn't bring the concept from that mishna, and chose ha'khel instead.

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  4. jeffrey smith12:31 AM

    Just to give credit correctly--what I thought I remembered Hertz saying (in his commentary on this passage) he did say--I went back and looked. He cites Chazal, but unfortunately doesn't give the cite for the passage he quotes. Following Rashi, he connects the yafet toar with the ben sorer through the intermediate law about preserving the firstborn's share for the son of the hated wife--natural consequences of what happens when the y"t is actually taken as a wife--she becomes hated, the offspring is discriminated against, and tsuris takes over the household.

    And I did know about Tamar. I just forgot about her when I was writing up the passage.

    BTW, the y"t would apparently be forcibly converted? At least, did anyone mention what happens if the captive woman (who presumably was from a Gentile background) refused to convert? Was she simply released at the end of the month?

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  5. >>>This idea is also the basis of the mishna in Makkos (22b) that we're all so familiar with.

    If you did not know the Shiurei Da'as, why would you necessarily learn the mihsna that way? See Rambam in peirush hamishnayos.

    >>>BTW, the y"t would apparently be forcibly converted? At least, did anyone mention what happens if the captive woman (who presumably was from a Gentile background) refused to convert? Was she simply released at the end of the month?

    Many shitos on the details. Yes, it is forcible conversion according to some, at least for biya rishona. The minchas chinuch goes through all the details.

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  6. Bill Selliger10:04 AM

    >>>If you did not know the Shiurei Da'as, why would you necessarily learn the mihsna that way?

    See R. Shimon b. Rebbi's statement, immediately preceding R. Chananya b. Akashya's.

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  7. All R' Shimon b. Rebbi is telling you is that you get more schar for avoiding tempting issurim than for non-tempting ones. How does that relate to the Shiurei Da'as?

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  8. I saw that the Baal HaTurim comments that when the pasuk says that your bring the y"t "bsoch haboyis", that refers to the her conversion even before she has stepped into to Yisroel's house. According to this, the conversion happened even before the onset of the "month of decision".

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  9. jeffrey smith9:56 PM

    l.j.--Rambam presents it differently (Hilchot Melachim). [Typical of me to ask the question, and then remember that I've got the MT on the shelf in front of me! Not the first time I've done that.]
    He presents three possibilities:
    1) She converts voluntarily sometime before the end of twelve months, and becomes a full fledged convert, who can not be forcibly married to her captor, btw.
    2) She does not convert by the end of twelve months, but does take on the Noachide laws, and therefore can live anywhere in EY as a ger toshav, but her captor can not marry her, since she is sitll a Gentile.
    3) She refuses to abandon idolatry by the end of twelve months, and is executed accordingly as an idolatress who can not be allowed to live in EY.
    If she did convert at the very beginning, then she can not be forcibly married even at that point.
    Hence, according to Rambam, the y't has a good deal of control over her situation, and if she does marry her captor, then she does so of her own free will; or she can live on her own as a full convert or a righteous Gentile. (We'll leave comments on the social and economic difficulties she would face in such a situation to others.)

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