G-d's Fixation with Beauty

 Parshat Ki Tetzei

Dear Rabbi,

I know that the Fifth Book of Moses, Deuteronomy, is allegedly written by Moses and is not up to the level of writing contained in the first Four Books, and that being said, this week’s parshah really seems to be a rather rambling hodgepodge of what to do.
Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments (mitzvot) are in the Parshah of Ki Teitzei, but there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to their presentation. Not only that, to me, there seems to be the Moses’ “slant” to what was stated in the First Four Books. While I am at it, I want to revive certain mysteries contained throughout the Torah that seem to bother me when I read them.
Starting with the very beginning of the First Aliyah at Deuteronomy 21:10-11 we read the following:

“If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives,”

“and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.”

Starting with Abraham and his wife Sara, good looks seem to be a part of what made them special. Here we have a commandment of what to do if you go to war and take captives, and if among those captured there is a “beautiful woman” that you desire, you may take that person as your wife. Forgetting about a comeback of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” what is G-d’s obsession with good looks or those that are not marred in some way having a more important role in being in a position of leadership in the Jewish religion. What do you do with a captured woman that is not good looking, treat her as a slave? Where is the compassion in all of this?

There is some redemption for first born sons, despite the proclivity of giving “good looking women” an edge in relationships with Jewish men. In what seems to me to be a direct slap in the face of Jacob and what he did, in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the following is stated:

“If a man has two wives-one beloved and the other despised-and they bear him sons, the beloved one and the despised one, and the firstborn son is from the despised one.”

“Then it will be, on the day he [the husband] bequeaths his property to his sons, that he will not be able to give the son of the beloved [wife] birthright precedence over the son of the despised [wife]-the [real] firstborn son.”

“Rather, he must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the despised [wife] and give him a double share in all that he possesses, because he [this firstborn son] is the first of his strength, then he has the birthright entitlement.” 

Now you might point out to me that the paragraphs in question indicate that the description of the wife is the “despised one”, but other than her plain looks, what did Leah do to earn the displeasure of Jacob? 

In the Second Aliyah, at Deuteronomy 22:5 we read the following: 

“A man's attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman's garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your G-d.” 

This raises a number of questions for me. First, there is no general description of what a man or for that matter a woman wore while wandering in the desert, but the clothing of choice seems to be some sort of robe. How did one know what was a woman’s form of clothing from a man? More specifically, in Leviticus 18:22, it is an abomination for a man to lie with another man as he would with a woman, I do not see any reference to what kind of clothes he should be wearing. For that matter, with the ever changing men’s fashion world, what would be considered women’s garments? Before you come back with a dress or skirt, would you consider a Scotsman that wears a kilt an abomination? 

Whether you think I am making some of the above comments somewhat “tongue in cheek”, I would like to engage in a frank discussion about what is contained at the end of the Third Aliyah that carries on into the Fourth Aliyah.

In Deuteronomy 23:3-4 the following is stated: 

“A bastard shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even the tenth generation shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.”

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even the tenth generation shall never enter the assembly of the Lord.”

This continues in Deuteronomy 23:8-9 to say the following:

“You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land.”

“Children who are born to them [in] the third generation may enter the assembly of the Lord.” 

So as I understand this, someone of Jewish heritage can never marry a “bastard”, an “Ammonite” or a “Moabite”, nor can one of Jewish heritage marry a first or second generation “Edomite” or “Egyptian”. To put this in a more realistic perspective, no descendent of Alexander Hamilton can marry a Jew, nor can any descendent of an “Ammonite” or “Moabite” but someone of Jewish heritage can now marry an “Edomite” or “Egyptian”. 

So, if we as Jews are not to add or subtract what we are taught in the Torah, Jews can marry any other nationality, including modern day “Edomites” or “Egyptians”. Where is it specifically written that any of these nationalities must convert to Judaism for the offspring of such a marriage to become a Jew? 

I could go on, but I really want your views as to the questions posed.




Dear Mordecai,

The Torah does not present its content systematically, in contrast to the modern manner of organizing and presenting information. The way the topics are organized is associational. For example, the parsha begins with the captive woman who becomes someone’s wife. The following topic is about marriage. This leads to the subject of the disobedient and wayward son, who receives the death penalty. The next passage mentions that someone who is hung must be buried the same day. One topic leads to another by association.

I actually think that the Torah is rather terse in describing the looks of people. Aside from the general “she was beautiful and well-formed,” we don’t have descriptions of men and women’s bodies and faces. As for the captive’s good looks, this is not mentioned because G-d cares but because humans do. Attraction is perhaps the most powerful force in human nature. I was at Target the other day, and a bunch of men were doing construction. A nice looking lady walked by, and all the men turned to look. This is commonplace. The captive woman’s beauty is mentioned since the prospect of landing an attractive woman motivated men to go to war.

I’m glad you mentioned Deuteronomy 21:15-17. I also see this as a repudiation of how Jacob behaved. The affirmation of the rights of the first born may be more connected to the issue of property distribution than anything else.  

If you had been deceived by Laban and woke up next to Leah, you probably would have despised her, too – not for her plain looks but because she was part of your being deceived.

The lack of specificity around garb and what constitutes men’s garb and what constitutes women’s garb is likely intentional since the Torah is written for all time, and, as you point out, fashion is fickle. I would appeal, however, to your common sense. We can often simply tell when we look at clothing what clothing is men’s clothing and what clothing is women’s clothing.  

Regarding your challenge on the subject of intermarriage, we know that the Tanakh has a different concept than the Rabbis of how someone’s descendant gains the status of “Jew.” What you seem to be pushing on is the prohibition against intermarriage and the promotion of endogamy. Leaving the issue of halakhic status aside, don’t you think that someone will learn how to be a better Jew if both of his parents are Jews? The mother and the father are need to inculcate the values. If only one parent is Jewish, then the child will also find refuge in that parent’s faith, or lack of faith, too. For this reason, I also see that the progeny of a Jewish mother being Jewish creates the possibility of a loophole wherein a Jewish woman can say, “I’ll marry a non-Jew. After all, my children will still be Jewish.” As we see in the example of the ben sorer u’moreh, the parents’ united voice is essential to proper child-rearing. Are you suggesting that the prohibition against intermarriage is unnecessary?



Dear Rabbi,

With all due respect, I do not think your explanations of the questions I posed are correct. While I agree that the first Four Books of the Torah go off at times, in my reading, there is a general theme with an occasional aside. In this week's parshah, there does not seem to be any sort of consistency for the commandments we are told to obey. 

I disagree with your explanation of G-d not caring about "beauty" and that it is only a "human" emotion. Again, the mitzvot of what to do if you capture a "beautiful woman" is described not that of any woman. I really don't think a motivation to go to war was the possibility of meeting a beautiful woman. It may be considered among the "spoils" of war. The other part of the same general paragraph deals with those with some form of disfigurement being excluded from religious activity. That was allegedly dictated by the Almighty not a human. 

Laban may have tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, but it did not stop him from "jumping" on her when he got the urge. The duplicity of Jacob's actions cannot be adequately defended.

I also think your response to the "clothes" issue does not answer my question. Moses is allegedly speaking to the Israelites and telling them what they can and cannot do. It is supposed to be a repetition of what we learned in the first Four Books. I gave you the reference of a "man shall not lie with another man" but where do clothes come into the picture until the commandment in this week's portion of the Torah?

Getting on to what I will describe as my main topic as it relates to this week's parshah, I am not saying that if one marries out of the faith that it is no big deal. I am asking why, if despite marrying one of another religion, the choice within that family is to raise their children Jewish, that there seems to be a "great divide" as to whether they should be considered Jewish? With all that has befallen the Jewish people as it relates to prejudice, if one wants to consider himself or herself, a member of the "Tribe" why is there all this debate about accepting them into the fold?



Dear Mordecai,
I do think that what you might find interesting are Biblically critical explanations of why Ki Tetzei is composed in the way that it is. I am wary of the term “hodgepodge,” and I stand by my assertion that the topics arise associationally rather than systematically. I accept that you do not find this persuasive.
I think the uncomfortable “fact” that you are not willing to openly acknowledge is that the Torah was written if not wholly by man, in large part by man. That man would attribute certain ideas to G-d is an interpretation of G-d’s word but not G-d’s word itself. That doesn’t mean that the text does not arise between an encounter between man and G-d. It does. If we see the Torah as strictly G-d’s unadulterated word, then passages about beauty and physical deformities will bother us.
I can see that we are already leaning into Genesis, and I am now recalling your animus for Jacob. We extensively discussed Jacob’s character last year. Your negative assessment of Jacob’s character raises significant problems since Jacob is truly “the Jew.” After all, his name is Israel. While I find apologetics tiresome, the risk of the view that you have of Jacob is that it obliterates any positive concept of what being a Jew means. Jacob had an extremely hard life and made many mistakes. His frailty and fallibility is on display for all, but as one of our patriarchs, we have to find a way to revere him.
I’m going to need you to explain further why the verse about man not lying with another man is relevant to the discussion of clothes in this week’s parsha.
You are unquestionably right that certain elements of the Jewish community are severe in how they respond to the children of mixed families. We can affirm endogamy and welcome everyone who has a hint of Judaism since we need all the help we can get and all hands on deck. The charedim have held on very tightly to their lineage – so tightly that they need to dismiss anyone who has not acted similarly. To explain fanaticism is no small task.



Dear Rabbi,

If I accept that the entire Torah was written by man, then I spent a number of years in Hebrew School being fed a myth. On top of that, C.B. DeMille made a movie that had many spectacular effects including the exchange between G-d (as I understand it, Mr. DeMille used his voice as G-d) and Moses (who was Charlton Heston and someone that was not Jewish) when the Ten Commandments were delivered. All my childhood dreams dashed by realty. 
My comment as it relates to "man not lying with another man" is what we read in one of the other Four Books, and since Moses is retelling what we were already taught, the woman's clothing reference seems to be the one related to the "man not lying with another man" unless the female clothing remark is yet another "no no" in addition to not taking up with another man.