Historically, women (and children) have been the hardest hit victims of war. Beyond the killing, looting and pillaging that, until modern times (and some would argue that things are not much different today), were the normal “rights” of a conquering army, every woman in a conquered town was at risk of being raped or carried off as a captive.

Romantic stories of wartime love abound, but what happens when the powerful emotions of wartime collide with real life?

The rules of war in the Torah are meant to protect the Children of Israel, the soldiers and innocent victims of war. In Deuteronomy 21 (10-14), the Torah deals with the “unromantic” romance of war. If a Jewish soldier sees a captive woman and takes a romantic interest in her, the Torah forces him to get to know the “real” her. She moves into his home, removes her war clothes, shaves her head and cuts her nails and, for an entire month, “bewails her father and mother.” If after a month, he still desires to marry her, he may. If, however, he is no longer interested in pursuing her, he must let her go free.

The sages were realistic and quite blunt in their understanding of this law, stating that “the Torah was providing license for human passions…” (Kiddushin 21b). At the same time, however, they recognized the importance of the rule of law by stating definitively that “‘…then you shall bring her home’ (Deuteronomy 21:13) teaching that he must not molest her on the field of battle” (Kiddushin 22a). Many of the commentaries speculate that enemy women would dress suggestively in war in order to save their lives. Seeing the beautiful captive woman, now shorn of her hair, without her flowing gowns or long nails and in a state of emotional distress for an entire month, would quickly dissipate any passion the Jewish soldier ever had for the woman.

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