Let us look at a short segment of this week?s Torah portion, Ki Tetzeh, that deals with the unpleasant issue of female prisoners of war.
The situation of female prisoners of war has never been good. Usually, they were abused by their captors, sold into slavery, and sometimes even worse. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with history of war, even in modern times, knows that indeed, this reality seems almost unavoidable even within supposedly civilized and enlightened armies.
The Torah deals with Jewish laws (halacha) of war and does not disregard this reality or try to paint an imaginary picture as though this issue does not exist. We read:
If you go out to war against your enemies?and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her?
(Deuteronomy 21, 10-11)
At this point, the enlightened reader wants to continue reading, but the Torah pauses at this ugly reality and instructs, ?you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.? Meaning, abusing this captive is forbidden. She is not a sex slave, or any other slave. If you desire her, the path to take is legal marriage that provides this captive all the rights of a legal wife. But wait, it does not end here.
You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that?she will be a wife for you.
(Ibid, Ibid 12-13)
This miserable captive, about to become the legal wife of the soldier, is not an object. She is a person who has just gone through the trauma of being taken captive. Chances are she might have lost family members killed in war. As justified as the war might be, people were killed who have relatives, and one of them is about to become your wife. You must allow her time to go through the process of grief and mourning over her relatives. And where will she sit and cry during this month? In your home! You must allow her emotional wounds to heal, and only then may you ? ancient Jewish soldier ? marry her, as she attains all rights of a legal wife.
The following verse hints at another motivation for this month given the captive to mourn her dead relatives. Naturally, during the war, the soldier who is in a high state of anxiety might relieve his tension without control. But once the tension subsides, he regains control over his impulses. After a month of seeing this captive crying in his house, it is possible, even probable, that he will no longer desire her. So, then what happens to her? Can he make her a slave or sell her into slavery?
And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.
(Ibid, Ibid 14)
From the moment this poor woman was given reason to hope she would become a legal wife, with all that entails, it is forbidden to bring her back down to the reality of slavery. If the first plan was abandoned, and it?s good if it was, then she must be set free; not sold to another person and not made into a slave in yours. She has won her freedom.
When the Torah writes laws like this, does it mean that this is the way to behave? The famous commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 11th century)) answers: ?The Torah [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination [which drives him to desire her]. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly.? Meaning, in a situation in which it is hard for a person to control his urges, if we do not provide him with guidance on how to get what he wants in a way that is relatively moral, he will end up doing it in a way that is worse.
Obviously, if military orders could be given that forbid this sort of behavior, as is done in the IDF and other armies, that would be far more preferable than allowing the marriage with a female prisoner of war. This is the intent of the Torah when it gives these kinds of halachot. We are to understand that this is a situation which is inappropriate, but even a person who does something inappropriate can do so more-or-less morally. That is the interpretation of Rashi?s commentary, ?The Torah is speaking only against the evil inclination?. Even if you surrender to your evil inclination, there is no reason to surrender completely and behave immorally.