WAR BRIDESSefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 566, in presenting the obligation for a Jewish military camp to have a separate area outside the camp where individual soldiers can go to relieve themselves,1 writes that this is in recognition of the eternal bond that the Jewish People have with God. The Shechina, God’s Presence within this world, is even more existent2 in a Jewish military camp for all such individuals are also clean in spirit;3 and thus there must be an even further obligation to ensure the cleanliness of the environment.4 The Chinuch argues that it must be that all the individuals are clean in spirit – clean of sin – for all those who were afraid that they had sins on their record would have already excused themselves from military service.5 Only truly righteous members of the Jewish People went to war.
This recognition must cause us to reconsider our understanding of the laws of the yefat to’ar, the beautiful woman captured in battle. T.B. Kiddushin 21b states that with this law, the Torah is specifically speaking in regard to the evil inclination and a necessity to pacify it, in this specific situation. The Torah, therefore, has allowed it to emerge in some permitted manner rather than in an openly, wanton way. Torah Temima, Devarim 21:11, note 72 presents what we may term the normative way of understanding this. In a time of war, there is a concern that the drive for lust will increase; as such, the Torah offered a more acceptable form by which to satisfy this drive rather than facing the possibility of it emerging unhindered. Of course, it is most strange to find the Torah dealing with the potential for sin by simply redefining it. If acting on these impulses of lust is inappropriate, how is it justified by simply re-inventing, for this reason, the parameters of the sin? Torah Temima concludes that it is simply because of the war and the necessity for soldiers to be focused on their mission. As such, the Torah is concerned about a distraction from the anguish that may emerge for the individual from this battle with his yetzer hara. Changing the parameters will lessen the anguish and thus allow the soldier to focus. This allowance, though, is only because of the war; in general, in a battle of desires, part of the expectation of the Torah is that one will learn how to deal with and overcome the anguish of this confrontation.
A difficulty with this explanation, however, may emerge with the recognition of the nature of these soldiers, as explained above: that they were men of the highest moral caliber, exemplifications of the trait of nekiut. Of course, they were still human beings and thus in possession of human desires. We do not see our righteous as heavenly angels but rather as more perfected human beings still in possession of, and responding correctly to, their human passions. Yet, is it still not strange to perceive such righteous individuals as having the potential of acting in a manner so base? We expect with the observance of Torah that we will be within a process that will refine our human drives, transform them into higher manifestations of themselves. It is thus difficult to imagine such individuals as acting like drunken soldiers entering an enemy village and acting towards the civilians in any manner that they wish. Is the Torah truly concerned that there is a potential for such righteous individuals within a Jewish army to act in such a manner? Yet, the Gemara does state shelo dibra Torah eleh kneged yetzer hara, that the Torah did not present this law except to quell the evil inclination.
With the observance of Torah, we are not solely interested in defeating our yetzer hara. One of the objectives of Torah is to refine it, to refine our drives and passions. Yet, even as these drives and passions become more and more refined, they are still drives and passions. Perhaps, it is not the base drive reflected by the “drunken soldier” that is the concern of the Torah in this case but rather a more refined drive that we could understand to potentially be inherent in even such a righteous individual as may be in a Jewish army sanctioned by Torah? A review of certain details of the laws connected to the yefat to’ar may actually point in that direction. For example, Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 532 mentions commentators that clearly state that, even when permitted, sexual relations with a yefat to’ar can never be against her will. The Torah is not envisioning a potential for the images we may have of soldiers raping and looting; creating this law to prevent such occurrences. There are other details in this law that would also cause us to question how such a law would quell such a base drive and passion. It may be, in fact, a more refined passion and/or drive that is the Torah’s concern.
One of the phenomena that occurs in a war is the reality of war brides. These are women from foreign lands whom soldiers, fighting in these foreign lands have married and have brought back to their home land to begin a life together. While the attraction of soldiers to these women obviously still has a sexual component, the fact that they wish to marry these women and integrate them into their lives at home shows that the drive is not solely a base one of unrestrained lust. I am not sure what this drive is. There could be some psychological motivation in an ethical conqueror to wish to connect with, and even benefit, a conquered one. Nevertheless, even such a possibly refined drive is still, when left alone and not directed by thought, a manifestation of the yetzer hara – and this, in fact, may be the yetzer hara of which the Gemara is speaking. An emotional drive emerging from the goodness of the heart may drive one to connect with a captured woman even as a wife. Thus the Torah had to speak in terms of this feeling, to offer a method by which it could be allowed to manifest itself in a more permitted way.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 Devarim 23:13.
2 The exact nature of the Shechina demands further explanation as it is associated with God yet seems to have temporal and/or physical properties. The idea that the Shechina can dwell within a specific place is an example of this. This investigation, however, is beyond the parameters of this Insight. Suffice to say, for our purposes, that it represents the recognition of the Divine in this world.
3 He is specifically referring to the moral concept of nikiut, translated as cleanliness, as presented in the famous beraita of R. Pinchus ben Yair in T.B. Avodah Zara 20b. Nekiut reflects primarily being clean from sin but it is also connected, as evidenced by these mitzvot, with physical cleanliness. Ramchal built his Mesillat Yesharim around this statement, discussing nekiut in Chapters 10-12.
4 Ramban, Devarim 23:10 writes that this mitzvah and the following one (see Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 567; Devarim 23:14) reflect the prohibition of praying and/or mentioning the Name of God, in the presence of excrement. The camp must be a holy place and, thus, amongst other requirements, must also be a place where the Name of God can be mentioned.
5 This is in reference to Devarim 20:8 whereby the officers instruct the army that everyone who may be afraid should leave and return home. The simple understanding of this is so that such individuals may not weaken the resolve of their fellow soldiers in battle. Rabbi Yossi HaGalili in T.B. Sota 44a states that this is speaking about individuals who are afraid that they have sinned and that these sins will not merit them being saved in battle. The result is that the remaining soldiers are people clean of sin.
6 See Devarim 21:10-14 and Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 532.
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