Sunday, August 23, 2015

So you're a Jewish sex slave

We all struggle with questions of identity from time to time: Who am I? Why am I here? Am I a Jewish sex slave? This handy guide will help you find the answers!
But first, let's explore some things about you.
  1. Are you a Jewish male?
If so, you have nothing to worry about. Unless you steal something and don't have the means to pay it back, in which case the court may sell you as a slave. At that point (Maimonides, Laws of Slaves 3:3):
When a servant is sold by the court, his master has the option of giving him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife. This applies to the master who purchased him or the son who becomes his master if the master dies. He may give him a Canaanite maid-servant as a wife and compel him to engage in relations with her so that she gives birth to slaves that he conceived.
Don't worry, you don't have to raise those kids you may be compelled to have: like your slave-wife, your slave-children belong to your master. It might be awkward when you see him in shul, though.
2. Are you a Jewish female?
a) How old are you?
b) How does your father feel about you?
Here's why we need to know (ibid. ch. 4): 
A Hebrew maid-servant is a girl below the age of majority sold by her father. When she manifests signs of physical maturity after reaching twelve years of age and becomes pubescent, he does not have the right to sell her... If the father fled, died or did not have the resources to redeem her, she must work until she is released.

So, you might be a Jewish slave, but if you're in the first grade or younger, at least you'll be out to prepare for being a bat mitzva after your six years of servitude run out. Of course, your master may decide he wants to marry you. That's where the sex comes in.

The mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife takes precedence over the mitzva of redeeming the maid-servant. How is the mitzva of designating a maid-servant as a wife performed? The master tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: "Behold, you are consecrated to me," "You are betrothed to me," or "Behold, you are my wife." This may be done even at the conclusion of the six years of her servitude before the setting of the sun. He need not give her anything, for the first moneys were given with the intent that they could serve for the purpose of consecration.From this point onward, he must treat her as a wife, and not as a servant...
How does a master designate a maid-servant as a wife for his son? If his son is past majority and gives his father permission to designate the maid-servant as his wife, the father tells the maid-servant in the presence of two witnesses: "Behold you are consecrated to my son."
So, your master's son does have a say. You, not so much. But at least you won't be a slave anymore!
3. Are you a non-Jewish male?
Then we won't even bring up sex, because masters are presumed to be male, and we don't even want to talk about that. But congratulations on being alive! Had you been captured in battle as a) an adult or b) one of the nations we really don't like, you wouldn't have made it this far.
4. Are you a non-Jewish female?
Hey, it's all cool, assuming you're not from one of the no-no nations. Oh, and you might be "married" off to a Hebrew slave, see above. Oh, and one more thing, as per this week's Torah portion (Deut. 21:10-14).
From time to time, you men will serve as soldiers and go off to war. The Lord your God will help you defeat your enemies, and you will take many prisoners.  One of these prisoners may be a beautiful woman, and you may want to marry her. But first you must bring her into your home, and have her shave her head, cut her nails, get rid of her foreign clothes, and start wearing Israelite clothes. She will mourn a month for her father and mother, then you can marry her. Later on, if you are not happy with the woman, you can divorce her, and she can go free. But you have slept with her as your wife, so you cannot sell her as a slave or make her into your own slave.
See, sex yes, slave no. Best-case scenario, you live happily ever after with your one-time battlefield rapist. (Unless he's a priest, in which case rape yes, marriage never.) Or maybe he rejects you, but then he can't keep you as a slave or sell you. So that's good, right? You can walk free and clear... bound by the Noahide covenant (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 8:7):
Her captor must be patient with her for twelve months if she refuses to convert. If she still refuses after this interval has passed, she must agree to accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah's descendants and then, she is set free. Her status is the same as all other resident aliens. Her captor may not marry her, for it is forbidden to marry a woman who has not converted.
Okay, you can't refuse him, but you can refuse his faith... just as long as you don't keep your own (ibid. 9):
A beautiful captive who does not desire to abandon idol worship after twelve months should be executed. Similarly, a treaty cannot be made with a city which desires to accept a peaceful settlement until they deny idol worship, destroy their places of worship, and accept the seven universal laws commanded Noah's descendants. For every non-Jew who does not accept these commandments must be executed if he is under our undisputed authority.
You feel better now, right?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Adorable Abominations

You've heard of the Ten Commandments, but what about the Nine Abominations?
The former we read three weeks ago, while the latter appear in this weekend's Torah portion (Deut. 18:9-12):
When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone that passes his son or his daughter through the fire, one that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever does these things is an abomination unto the LORD; and because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you.
That is the popular translation, at least, for the term used here: toeva.
However, this rendering is highly misleading, just as "Commandment" is a poor translation for an entry in the Decalogue (the term in Hebrew is not mitzva, but davar, a statement, utterance or thing).
See, Cecil B. DeMille should have used this title.
See, Cecil B. DeMille should have used this title.
You see, abomination etymologically means to regard as an ill omen, and divining by omens is on this very list of toevot! Colloquially, it is used to described something which is morally reprehensible, but that hardly fits the term toeva as it is used in the Torah.
It first appears in Genesis and Exodus as a way of describing the cultural differences between Egyptians and Hebrews. "The toeva of Egypt" is used to describe breaking bread with Hebrews, the profession of shepherding (although Egypt itself has vast flocks) and the Hebrew sacrificial rites. Explaining the last of these (Exod. 8:22), Rabbi S.R. Hirsch writes:
Perhaps this is only a diplomatic term, showing consideration for Pharaoh, denoting what the Egyptians regard more than anything.
Wait, toeva is a term of respect? Shocking as it may seem, Rashi says it nearly a millennium before Hirsch, in his comments on next week's portion (Deut. 22:9), as he tries to define kadosh, a term paradoxically used for both sanctification and contamination.
To anything man regards as toeva, either in a positive sense, e.g., something holy, or in a negative sense, e.g., something forbidden, the term kadosh applies.
It seems that we have to go to the South Seas to find an adequate translation for toeva, namely "taboo." The Torah is listing practices which are off-limits for the Israelites. Similarly, when the Torah says in the previous portion "Do not eat any toeva" (Deut. 14:3), it is not calling every non-kosher creature--99% of God's creation--an abomination. Jacob (Gen. 49) compares many of his sons to certain animals, all of which but one are non-kosher; Judah b. Tema (Mishna, Avot 5:20) charges every child of God to emulate certain animals, all of which but one are non-kosher. It is the eating which is forbidden, not their very existence.
However, not all taboos are created equal. A few lines before the prohibition of eating any toeva, the Torah cautions (12:31): "You shall not do so unto the LORD thy God; for every toeva to the LORD, which He hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods."
God hates this toeva--so are other abominations adorable? No, but not all cultural taboos are created equal. That is why "anyone that passes his son or his daughter through the fire" is #1 on our list--it is not the first among equals, but inherently different.
In fact, this is the one thing on which Leviticus and Deuteronomy agree. Like Deut. 18, Lev. 18 has a list of "these toevot"--not nine, but eighteen; not sacerdotal, but sexual. There is just one exception--the worship of Moloch: "And you shall not give your seed to pass through for Moloch, and you shall not profane the name of your God; I am the LORD" (v. 21). What the children pass through, as Nahmanides explains, is fire. It is the same as the prohibition in Deuteronomy.
When we get to Lev. 20, which describes the penalties for these acts, there is a clear distinction made for Moloch. All the other offenses have death penalties, but they are virtually inapplicable by human hands, either because the divine court has the responsibility or because these sorts of things do not happen in front of witnesses giving legal warning. But Moloch is a special case, as there is a specific charge on "the people of the land" to bring him to justice: "he shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones... And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed unto Moloch, and put him not to death; then I will set My face against that man, and against his family..." The Talmud (Shevuot 39a) famously notes:
R. Simeon said: If he sinned, what sin did his family commit? But this shows you that there is not a family containing a tax-collector, in which they are not all tax-collectors; or containing a robber, in which they are not all robbers; because they protect him!
When children are being sacrificed, when infants are being burned in the name of God, a moral choice must be made. Is one part of "his family," those who justify his actions, even in the slightest, by hurling terms of hate; or is one part of "the people of the land" who demands justice? This is a fateful decision, for as Rabban Gamaliel explains, pursuing justice and giving no quarter to such outrages is the prerequisite for living here (Sifra ad loc.): "'The people of the land'--the people who are destined to inherit the land by enforcing these very matters."