Grappling with Inequality: Ki Tetze 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: In what ways does the Torah text properly address inequalities in ancient society? In what ways does it fall short?

There is no doubt that some of the rules in this week’s Torah portion are not congruent with modern ideas of equality and decency:

The Pitch: “If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father 50 [shekels of] silver, and she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.” – Deuteronomy 22:29-30

Swing #1: “Legally, virgins were the highly prized responsibility of their fathers.” – Jennifer Wright Knust, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex & Desire 57

Swing #2: “Married to the man who raped her?! Presumably, hopefully, this means that the choice was hers as well as her father’s.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Swing #3: “The sin of the Jewish people at the episode of the golden calf was akin to that of the rapist. We, who have been told ‘You shall not have any other God,’ have subjected God to the pain of our making another god for ourselves.” – Shnei Luchot HaBrit

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentaries seem to feel uncomfortable with these rules of the Torah? Or are they trying to make sense of them? Is it blasphemous to say that modern Judaism has improved some upon Torah laws?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: In the interest of safety, our High Holiday services this year will feature very few people in the pews. But you can help fill up our seats by making a donation and submitting a photograph of yourself and/or a loved one, which will be turned into Foamcore cutouts and placed in the otherwise empty seats! Contact or 716-510-1990 for more details by September 4th.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of potentially improving rules, which new baseball rule this year (Designated Hitters in the National League, seven-inning doubleheaders, placing a runner on second base at the beginning of each extra inning) has the best odds of enduring after the COVID crisis concludes? I’m guessing it’s the DH in the NL, but who knows?

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!