Friday, April 25, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Exodus 21:7-11

We have finished with bondsmen, both Jewish and Canaanite, and your assignment for this week was to read Exodus 21:7-11.11
Exodus 21:7-11 describes the other class of bonded Jews: the underage girl bonded into a family as the future wife of the father of the house or his son.  The term for this girl is naarah, a word you need to remember because it is crucial in the narratives of Genesis as well as Jewish law.
A naarah is a female less than 12 years and 1 day old, who has not developed physical signs of puberty.  As soon as she reaches that age or shows those signs, she is no longer a naarah and her father can’t bond her out.  She becomes a bogeret and in possession of herself.
If a father bonds out a naarah, the bondholder has a number of responsibilities.  One is that the naarah must be designated as his or his son’s future wife.  That is a betrothal.  Anybody else who has sex with her commits adultery and may become liable to the death penalty.
This situation is reflected in Amos 2:7 when he says it is prohibited for a man and his son to have sex with the same naarah.  She can only be designated the wife of one of them and sex with the other is a capital crime in Jewish law, subject to due process.
A bondholder who fails to make the designation has to release the bond, return the girl to her family, and leave the bond unpaid. 
He also has to do this if she develops signs of puberty.  In the meantime, he is responsible for her maintenance.  He must provide food and clothing, according to verse 10. 
If he doesn’t, he has to release her from the bond, according to verse 11.
The problem verse is 9.  It says that he has to deal with the naarah according to “the law of daughters.”  What does that mean?  It means the three conditions in verse 10, one of which is onatah. 
Onatah means conjugal rights.  In Jewish law, the wife has the conjugal rights, not the husband.  A husband who refuses to have sex with his wife can be forced to divorce her so that she can marry a man who will give her her rights.  But the naarah is not married to the man, she is only designated as his or his son’s future bride.  There is no requirement that they actually go through a marriage ceremony.
So the requirement for onatah doesn’t belong to the naarah because she’s not married, only betrothed at most.  And when she reaches puberty, the bond becomes null and void; the bondholder has to release her.  But that's only my opinion, I haven't checked it out with an expert.
Verse 10 has been used to claim that Jews promote sex with underage girls.  Next week I’ll discuss why that cannot be true based on Mishnah and Gemara, but for now, understand that the betrothed naarah does not have conjugal rights and does not have to be released strictly because no onatah is taking place.  The woman who has to be released in that case is a wife, whom the man or his son married when she was a bogeret.  At least, that’s my interpretation.
Because the rest of the lesson is in Mishnah and Gemara, you have no reading assignment for next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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