This week’s reading contains almost one-eighth of the 613 commandments contained in the Torah.
Ki Tetze addresses the way in which a captive woman should be treated by a Jewish soldier. This unusual injunction reflects the ancient and cruel reality that women were raped in wartime. The approach of the Torah here is to contain wholesale cruelty by agreeing to a process whereby if a soldier was attracted to a female captive, he had to bring her home and allow her to mourn her lost past.
Thereafter, the Jewish soldier was obligated to treat her as a married wife with all the usual rights. This scenario may have put off soldiers from taking this route, especially if the soldier was already married. An eclectic mix of commandments follows, including first-born inheritance, rebellious children, the concern for cruelty to birds and building fencing around roofs and patios to prevent accidents.
Issues of infidelity, forbidden marriages and resulting bastardy are then investigated. The common themes here are loyalty to and protection of fellow beings.
The state of mamzer is especially sensitive. It is no fault of the progeny of adulterous parents that the parents sinned. Nonetheless, the child inherits a status – that of mamzer – preventing him or her marrying anyone other than one sharing the same class of parenthood. Although the predicament is intended to warn off parents from acting in an illicit manner, the outcome appears to stand in contradiction to the principle that children should not suffer for the sins of parents.
Ariel is rabbi of Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation