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Ki Teitze

Ki Teitzei ---- When you go out (to war)

Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments (mitzvot) are in the Parshah of Ki Teitzei.

Talk about a mixed bag! Ki Teitze contains 27 positive commandments (“do’s”) and 47 negative commandments (“do not’s”).

Here’s a very summarized list:

  • The Torah describes the only permissible way a woman captured in battle may be married.

  • If a man marries two wives, and the less-favored wife bears a firstborn son, this son's right to inherit a double portion is protected against the father's desire to favor the child of the favored wife.

  • The penalty for a rebellious son, who will inevitably degenerate into a monstrous criminal, is stoning.

  • A body must not be left on the gallows overnight, because it had housed a holy soul.

  • Lost property must be return.

  • Men are forbidden from wearing women's clothing and vice versa.

  • A mother bird may not be taken together with her eggs.

  • A fence must be built around the roof of a house.

  • It is forbidden to plant a mixture of seeds, to plow with an ox and a donkey together, or to combine wool and linen in a garment.

  • A four-cornered garment must have twisted threads tzitzit on its corners. Laws regarding illicit relationships are detailed.

  • When Israel goes to war, the camp must be governed by rules of spiritual purity. An escaped slave must not be returned to his master.

  • Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden.

  • Bnei Yisrael are not to make vows.

  • A worker may eat of the fruit he is harvesting.

  • Divorce and marriage are legislated.

  • For the first year of marriage, a husband is exempt from the army and stays home to make rejoice with his wife.

  • Tools of labor may not be impounded, as this prevents the debtor from earning a living.

  • The penalty for kidnapping for profit is death.

  • Removal of the signs of the disease tzara'at is forbidden.

  • Even for an overdue loan, the creditor must return the collateral daily if the debtor needs it.

  • Workers' pay must not be delayed.

  • The guilty may not be subjugated by punishing an innocent relative.

  • Because of their vulnerability, converts and orphans have special rights of protection.

  • The poor are to have a portion of the harvest.

  • A court may impose lashes.

  • An ox must not be muzzled while threshing.

  • It is a mitzvah for a man to marry his brother's widow if the deceased left no offspring.

  • Weights and measures must be accurate and used honestly.

The parsha concludes with the mitzvah to erase the name of Amalek, for, in spite of knowing about the Exodus, they ambushed the Jewish People.


 Our Torah portion is packed with fascinating insights. Due to limited time we will only explore a few of them.

According to Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch, three particular commands in Ki Teirtzei are there to ensure that we are embarrassed or ashamed. The first deals with what to do after capturing a woman in a war and what to do if one wants to bring her home and marry her. The second is what happens in a family when a husband has two wives and he likes one of them and doesn’t like the other. What does he do with his money and how does he give it to his children? The third is about the rebellious son. If he behaves in a certain manner, you must bring him to the gates of the city and stone him to death.

He writes, “It is an opportunity to read our morals and values into Torah. An opportunity to have a conversation between our values and our manners and Torah in order to create a better life and for us to behave better. Not just by fulfilling this commandment but by actually being in a discourse with it.

The rebellious son is there to remind us every day of how much effort we need to put in educating our children and ensuring we are happy are with them. He reminds us that we need to provide a sustainable home that is balanced and that we are happy with our children in this household.

The relationship with one man and two women, brings up the question that our tradition actually took, which is that two wives to one husband is not a very workable model.

The third is the taking of a woman captive in war and then asking to marry her should be a shameful reminder that this is not the right way to ‘do war’ and this is not acceptable behaviour.

The Torah provides a track for mindfulness and awareness. It is not necessarily for dictating right from wrong but actually to enable our right and wrong senses to develop.


(Deuteronomy 22:6-7) If one happens upon a bird’s nest, there is a commandment to chase the mother away before taking the eggs. One may certainly not take the mother together with her young.

There is an array of explanations provided by the commentaries.

The Sefer HaChinuch (13th century Spain) uses this mitzvah as a launching pad for a discussion about whether the commandments have rationales and direct physical/ psychological benefits, or are simply the King’s decrees to be obeyed unquestioned by His subjects. The conclusion is that the mitzvot were certainly given to benefit humanity.

Maimonides (12th century Spain, Egypt) explains that taking the eggs in the presence of the mother is cruel. Taking the eggs together with the mother endangers the species.

Nachmanides (13th century Spain) argues that if the primary concern of the mitzvah was the animal’s well-being, it would be prohibited for humans to slaughter animals or take the eggs in the first place. Animals were given to humanity for our use, but we may not become indifferent to the suffering of living creatures. The purpose of this mitzvah according to Nachmanides is to cultivate sensitivity, thus refining and ennobling the human and facilitating the ultimate fulfillment of our raison d’etre. 

(Deuteronomy 22:8) If one builds a house, one is obligated to put a safety fence around the roof. The Torah states that this is to prevent “the one who falls” from falling off your roof.

This law applies to any potentially dangerous area on one’s property, such as a swimming pool or a staircase.

Our Sages elucidate the striking redundancy of “the one who falls will fall off”. They explain that the “one who falls” is destined to fall and die anyway as a result of his past. The owner of the house must ensure that he will not play the negative role of the agent of Divine justice in this case. There is a principle that good things occur through the agency of the worthy and negative events transpire through the agency of those who are not worthy.

The wheels of history turn without our acquiescence. We may unwittingly choose our roles in the unfolding drama. Let us be sure to always play the “good guy”.


What happens if you discover your true love when you capture her in war? According to Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Rabbinic Director for Congregation Networks, quoting Professor Adele Berlin, “Issues pertaining to women are prominent in this parashah. . . . Much in the ideal society that Deuteronomy envisions revolves around the status of women . . .” (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi [New York: URJ Press, 2008], p. 1,165).

The text presents Moses’s interpretation of God’s words concerning women’s position in the family and community, their sexuality, the treatment of their children, and their marital status. As we moderns read these texts, we are struck by the differences between contemporary and biblical assumptions and expectations about appropriate roles for men and women.

Let us examine some of those assumptions. The portion begins, “When you [an Israelite warrior] [go out to] take the field against your enemies. . . .” The editors of The Torah: A Modern Commentary clarify that “you” means “an Israelite warrior.” The masculine singular form of the verb indicates that warriors are assumed to be male.

The text continues, underscoring this assumption: “and your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife . . .” (Deuteronomy 21:10–11). If we take a moment, we realize that the editor’s direction helps us to uncover additional assumptions as well: the enemies, like our Israelite warriors, are also male. The captives, while they may include some male warrior enemies, also include female enemies, probably non-combatants. A third assumption is that beauty is not culturally bound: a non-Israelite woman can be experienced as beautiful. And what does appreciation of beauty “lead to”? The assumption is that the perception of beauty leads to sexual desire, which in this case may also imply an assumption of control and power over the “beautiful woman.” There is an additional assumption here: Israelite warriors desire women.

The text continues and the point of this section becomes clear: “You shall bring her into your house, and she shall trim her hair, pare her nails, and discard her captive’s garb. She shall spend a month’s time in your house lamenting her father and mother; after that you may come to her and thus become her husband, and she shall be your wife” (Deuteronomy 21:12–13, as translated in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary).

We now discover the primary reason for this directive: to humanize this unnamed woman. It is as if the text says, “You may take a woman captive, but you must realize that she is, in some essential ways, a person. She, like you, has parents, and you must give her an opportunity to mourn—literally, to cry over—her separation from her parents.” Instructing her to trim her hair and nails and to change her clothing may be signs of mourning or, as Professor Berlin suggests, may be signals to mark the conclusion of a period of mourning. Alternatively, this process of grooming may make the captive more—or less—appealing to her captor (see Etz Hayim, ed. David L. Lieber [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001], p. 1,112; Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary [New York: Norton, 2004], pp. 981–82; and Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2003], p. 629). And here we discover yet another assumption: this is a young and unbetrothed woman. She is given time to mourn her parents, from whom she has been taken, not a husband. It is, of course, possible that a woman, through the process of her abduction, becomes available to the victor in a way that erases her personal history altogether, including an intended or actual husband or children.

The text continues to direct that after the woman is taken as a wife, should she not find favour in the eyes of her husband, he must release her and not perpetuate her captivity (Deuteronomy 21:14). Professor Richard Elliott Friedman teaches, “The words for degrading her and for letting her go are the same words that are used to describe the Egyptian degrading of Israel and then letting Israel go (Exodus 1:11–12; 5:1). Again Israel learns from its experience of enslavement. Israel not only celebrates its own release, but it learns to have compassion for others as well” (ibid., p. 629).

Throughout the ages, teachers of Torah share consensus, articulated here by W. Gunther Plaut: “These verses present ideal and theoretical, rather than practical, legislation. Actual warfare, then and always, gave vent to humanity’s basest impulses; killing, rape, and looting were, and remain, its ambience. The Torah must be seen to have here a meliorating purpose, a statement of how God’s people, if war became their lot, should behave” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary [New York: URJ Press, 2005], p. 1,322). If we extrapolate from the ideal behavior outlined here, Ki Teitzei provides a powerful mandate for a contemporary response to the violence against women that is rampant in our world. While war continues to be a primary source of women’s suffering, violence against women extends beyond the boundaries of armed conflict. Too often, women are assaulted, raped, brutalized, and murdered by those who should be their partners and protectors. The World Health Organization cites a report stating that violence against women touches an alarming number of individuals across the world: “Between 10% and 50% of women report they have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime . . . between 12% and 25% of women have experienced attempted or completed forced sex by an intimate partner or ex-partner at some time in their lives” (

The Torah’s mandate is clear: our responsibility to other human beings trumps national identity and gender. Even in the extreme situation of war, one who seems to be an “enemy” must be accorded consideration and dignity. Proverbs 25:21 can be read, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. If she is thirsty, give her water to drink.” The Psalmist reminds us of our obligation to remember the humanity of the enemy and the captive. However, bread and water barely sustain life. Likewise, a month of mourning does not change the fact that Israelite warriors are forcing female captives into unwanted sexual relationships. Let us return to the opening challenge of this portion, “When you [an Israeli warrior] [go out]. . . .” When we go out, we must reconsider what it means to be warriors. Men and women alike, we must name our enemies as those who target and exploit other human beings simply because they are women. Because we live in a world that continues to wage war on millions of women, we must become advocates for and warriors on behalf of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Ki Teitzei challenges us to stand against the escalating international trafficking of women and children. Ki Teitzei reminds us of the urgency of our work toward security and freedom from fear for all who are created in God’s image. Like our biblical ancestors, we too are challenged to build—and realize—an ideal society. May we go out to this holy work.


And as a final study of Ki Teitzei, let’s take a look at the command to marry your deceased brother’s wife if he dies childless. This command is known as “Yibbum”. The child of this union will continue the deceased brother’s line, and maintain his ancestral property as a discrete unit, so that his name not be wiped out of Israel (25:6). If the man refuses to marry his brother’s childless widow, she performs a ritual of public humiliation upon him called halitza (Deut 25:7-10), in which the woman removes the man’s shoe and spits, and the community then refers to his home as “the house of the removed shoe.”

According to Dr. Hacham Issac Sassoon, this presents a great opportunity to uncover inconsistencies and contradictions within Torah. He claims that in fact the Torah does not endorse the practice of yibbum and cites the following examples:

Lev 18:16 - Do not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is the nakedness of your brother.

Here the text forbids a brother from marrying his brother’s wife, ostensibly even after the brother has died. No exception is noted for the brother’s childless widow.

This problem so bothered the Sages, that they list it within a collection of contradictions in the Torah whose reconciliation is a feat so intangible “that the mouth is unable to utter and the ear unable to hear”.

“The nakedness of your brother’s wife you shall not uncover” (Lev 18:16) and “Her brother-in-law shall go in unto her” (Deut 25:3) – were spoken simultaneously. (Y.Nedarim 3:2.) [2]

The prohibition is repeated in Lev 20, but with the added reference to a punishment.

If a man takes his brother’s wife it is impurity; he has uncovered the nakedness of his brother they shall be childless (aririm).

Lev 20:20 decrees the punishment for marriage between a man and his uncle’s wife as aririm yamutu – i.e., they might have offspring but any such offspring will predecease their sinful parents. In contradistinction, v. 21 suggests that marriage between a man and his brother’s wife will be denied progeny altogether.

This imposition of childlessness as a punishment for marriage between a man and his brother’s wife reads like a polemic against Deut’s yibbum law, whose purpose is explicitly stated to be the raising of surrogate children for brothers who had died without issue. Lev 20:21 rules out any hope of producing offspring by announcing that marriage to a brother’s wife will be sterile.[3]

Lev 22:13 also suggests rejection of yibbum: If a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced and has no children and she returns to her father’s house as in her youth, of her father’s food shall she eat.

The verse assumes that a childless widow returns to her father’s house, ignoring the possibility for yibbum, in which case she would go to her brother-in-law’s house as his levirate wife.

Finally, the Priestly inheritance law, which names legatees in order of precedence, intimates a rejection of yibbum: Num 27:8 …If a man dies leaving no son you shall transfer his property to his daughter. If he has no daughter you shall give his property to his brothers.

Though not explicit, Deut 25 suggests that the deceased man’s property passes to the surviving brother who performs the levirate duty.[4] This is implied by the biblical story of Ruth (Ruth 4:5-10), in which redemption of the deceased man’s property and levirate marriage to his wife go hand in hand.

But in Numbers 27, it is the brothers, in the plural (אֶחָיו), who inherit the property. So, if you stop to ask what happens to a widow when her dead husband’s brothers bag the family estate, turn to Lev 22:13 discussed above. There you will discover that childless widows become dependent on their parents’ bounty.

So why the rejection of yibbum?

The cumulative evidence suggests that the Torah redactors did not consider yibbum an option, and likely repudiated it. Perhaps the Priestly authors did not feel that incest should have any exceptions—yibbum, which involved a woman marrying her brother-in-law, is at its core incest with an “indulgence.”[5] I would wager, however, that another factor behind this repudiation is the Priestly School’s rejection of polygyny, since the mitzvah of yibbum poses a direct threat for monogamy.

Significantly, the Deuteronomonic law of yibbum makes no exception for a surviving brother who is already married, in which case he would marry the widow in addition to his current wife (or wives). Deuteronomy seems to have accepted the practice of polygyny as lawful. It was probably quite revolutionary when it was banned – and concomitantly had to do away with yibbum.

The Last Word . . .

(Deuteronomy 25:17-19) Our Torah portion concludes with the Mitzvah of always remembering the evil perpetrated against our People by the nation of Amalek. This nation brazenly attacked the Jewish People when they left Egypt. They sought out the “soft targets”- the weak and infirm who were straggling behind. Their cowardly terrorist tactics are considered an act of contempt for God. By attacking the weak, they demonstrated fear of people, but no fear of God.

Amalek represents unadulterated evil. They are the nemesis and antithesis of Israel. We bring light and Godliness into the world, whereas they bring darkness and emptiness. We treasure life, whereas death is their elixir. The ultimate task of the Jewish People is to dispel evil from this world.

History presents a fascinating phenomenon. The Jews seem consistently to be on the front lines of evil’s onslaught. A few more “recent” examples include Mohammed’s hordes massacring Jewish communities across Arabia en route to conquer the rest of the world for Islam. The Crusaders destroyed countless European Jewish communities as they carried the Gospel to the Holy Land. The Communists targeted Judaism first as they embarked on their mission to “enlighten” the masses. The Jew was the Nazis’ first stop on their quest to Aryanize the world. The People of Israel were the first on modern radical Islam’s long hit list. It is no accident that we are their primary target, because we stand for everything that they hate. The name of God is called upon us. As long as the Jewish People hold steadfast to their mission, in the end good will prevail and evil will not remain even as a bitter memory.

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