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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Different Types of “Arranged” Marriages

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Our parasha opens with "difficult" p’sukim about the possibility of taking an eshet yefat to’ar, a beautiful woman from the enemy camp. Chazal depict this phenomenon as a step the Torah allowed to deal with a difficult situation for one’s evil inclination (Kiddushin 21b). Ostensibly, we are talking about the possible overflowing of bad thoughts through the atmosphere produced by the heat of battle.

Let us try to give a broader context to the phenomenon. In our times, it is much easier to understand that "going out to war" is a wider experience than just rolling out the tanks. Warfare includes computers, which can be more powerful than Alfred Nobel’s explosives. Even in ancient times, many of the struggles were held in fancy rooms, as people indulged in food and drink, without spears and swords. This was the world of diplomacy through which one nation could gain control over another nation by means of diplomacy, without bloodshed. The end of every such diplomatic effort was a wedding. The stronger king received the daughter of the weaker king, with the daughter representing the day-to-day dominion of the vassal to the dominant leader.

In the metaphorical sense, then, the "female captive" need not have had her hands bound, but could have been a princess given to the stronger king without her necessary interest in the matter. The idea of removing her "garments of captivity" refers to her changing her mode of behavior, as she must not bring the influences of her native nation into the Jewish king’s palace.

We can prove the relevance of this approach from the story of David. David’s third son, who was born in Chevron, was Avshalom the son of Maacha the daughter of King Talmay of Geshur (Shmuel II, 3:2-3). Chazal refer to Maacha as an eshet yefat to’ar and to Avshalom as a ben sorer u’moreh, a rebellious son, who is put to death, under certain unusual circumstances, due to expectations about his increasing moral/social deterioration. They say that David had such a bad son because the son’s mother had been an eshet yefat to’ar (Pesikta Zutrata,Ki Teitzei 36a).

If an eshet yefat to’ar is only a literal POW, it is difficult to understand the scenario. That would mean that David fought the King of Geshur during the time he served as king in Chevron. At that time, though, David was only king over the Tribe of Yehuda and he was under the sphere of influence of the Plishtim. How would he dare go all the way to the Golan Heights to fight Geshur?

It is much more reasonable to posit that David "acquired" Maacha as a political arrangement. Some of the most influential people in the Tribe of Yehuda had married into the family of Machir from the tribe of Menashe, who had 23 cities in the area of the Gilad, making them neighbors of Geshur in the Golan (see Divrei Hayamim I, 2:21-22). The Tribe of Menashe had special connections with the neighboring kingdoms of Aram, which included the small kingdom of Geshur (see ibid. 7:14). In that context, the Judean up-and-coming king made a diplomatic connection with Geshur, one that resulted in getting the princess as a wife. This arranged marriage was equated with eshet yefat to’ar and indeed resulted in the problems with her son Avshalom.

Let us pray that the IDF will remain the world’s most moral army and will not Heaven forbid get involved in any activity of eshet yefat to’ar or any other that could ruin its level.
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