Love and War

A soldier in a heathen army would have no compunction over taking, raping, and disposing of a captive woman. Not so in the army of the LORD.

According to the Torah, not everything is fair in love or war. (Image © Bigstock)

Ki Tetze

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Ki Tetze (כי תצא | When you go forth)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Gospel: Matthew 24:29-42

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 21:10 | Female Captives
    • Deuteronomy 21:15 | The Right of the Firstborn
    • Deuteronomy 21:18 | Rebellious Children
    • Deuteronomy 21:22 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 22:13 | Laws concerning Sexual Relations
    • Deuteronomy 23:1 | Those Excluded from the Assembly
    • Deuteronomy 23:9 | Sanitary, Ritual, and Humanitarian Precepts
    • Deuteronomy 24:1 | Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce
    • Deuteronomy 24:5 | Miscellaneous Laws
    • Deuteronomy 25:5 | Levirate Marriage
    • Deuteronomy 25:11 | Various Commands
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 54:1 | The Eternal Covenant of Peace

Portion Summary

Rabbi Meir said, There is a parable about this matter. To what can it be compared? It can be compared to two identical twin brothers. Both lived in a certain city. One was appointed king, and the other became a bandit. At the king's command they hanged the bandit. But everyone who saw him hanging there said, The king has been hung! Therefore the king issued a command and he was taken down. (b.Sanhedrin 46b)


A popular English maxim states, "All's fair in love and war." The implication is that rules of proper conduct can be suspended when fighting on the field of battle and when playing on the field of romance. The Torah disagrees.

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself ... (Deuteronomy 21:10-11)

According to the Torah, not everything is fair in love or war. Last week's Torah portion spelled out certain laws of conduct for warfare. This week's Torah portion introduces the prospect of romance on the battlefield.

The Torah acknowledges that the soldiers of a conquering army are likely to be tempted to take captive women, but it forbids acting on the impulse. Instead, the Torah demands that a captive woman be granted dignity and honor. She is to be allowed to mourn her parents. She is to be given the honor of marriage. She is not to be taken forcibly; she is to be married and given the status of a wife. She cannot be treated as a slave, nor can she be sold.

Before the conquering soldier can consummate his desire and marry the woman, he has to allow her to mourn the loss of her family for a full month. During this period of time, she is to shave the hair of her head and (according to Rashi's reading of the Hebrew) let her fingernails grow.

Shaving the head and letting the nails grow long are apparently mourning rituals of the time. However, Rashi suggests another reason for her hairless, unkempt appearance. He states that the Torah's laws are attempting to dissuade the man from marrying the captive woman by making her appear repulsive to him. The month of mourning is like a thirty-day waiting period during which the man has time to reconsider his intentions. Does he really want to marry the weeping bald woman with the long fingernails? If at the end of the thirty days the man has decided he is not pleased with her and does not want to marry the woman after all, he is to let her go free.

The Torah's wisdom in this matter teaches us several principles that apply to every romantic relationship. A person should never rush into marriage. Love at first sight is not real love. Before committing to marriage, a person needs to take time to see past the other person's sexual allure and fog of lust. "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Proverbs 31:30).

These laws teach us to curb our natural desires and remember that the person we are so attracted to is, after all, another human being, not a sex object. Furthermore, the laws pertaining to the captured woman teach us that sex before marriage is never sanctioned. Even the battlefield soldier had to delay gratification thirty days and wait until the wedding document was signed.

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