Friday, May 2, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Disincentives

We were talking about Exodus 21:7-11 and I tried to convince you that while verse 10 is the “law of daughters” referred to in verse 9, it does NOT mean that the bondholder can have sex with the naarah who has been bonded and designated as a wife for himself or his son.
The rest of the discussion is in Mishnah and Gemara so you had no reading assignment.
Let’s look at what the rabbis instituted for a naarah who was bonded out and designated as a wife.
First, they defined sex without the prospect of having children as prostitution, and the Bible prohibits men from betrothing their daughters into prostitution.  This is Deuteronomy 23:18, which says there shall be no qedeshah or qedesh among Israel.  Not only does this mean not having sex with underage girls, by the way, it also means a Jewish bondsman who is not married, being assigned a non-Jewish bondswoman to cohabitate with, because he cannot validly betrothe her.
So the Bible allows a father to bond out a naarah but for the bondholder or his son-designate to have sex with the naarah equals prostitution because since she has not reached puberty, there is no possibility of her having children.
Second, the rabbis established that a naarah is allowed to use contraception so that she cannot get pregnant, because getting pregnant too early can injure her health and the woman’s health is paramount, even when she IS pregnant.
The bondholder of a naarah has one more problem.  She may be immature in character.  If somebody tries to seduce her, she may not have the steadiness to refuse him, and if she gives in, the bondholder has to divorce her anyway.  It’s a lot of trouble to bond a naarah.
Why would the father bond the daughter?  Because he couldn’t afford a dowry and no husband would take her without it.  The bond money was in lieu of a dowry. 
Talmud discusses one other possible issue with bonding a naarah.  If her mother or brother does the bonding, she is allowed to repudiate the bond when she reaches puberty and the necessary age.  Why would the mother and brothers do that?  
When a father dies, his unmarried daughters get alimony from his property and if that leaves nothing over, the sons have to go on public assistance. They can’t divide up the property covered by the will of the deceased until the daughters marry, and this provides the mother’s rationale as well because, until the settlement, she can’t get back her own dowry.  What’s more, the man’s sons might have to pay damages on the dowry, which I will discuss later. 
Until the daughters are married, the property of the deceased remains in trust for them and the sons and widow can’t touch any property that might be due to them.
Since the girl can repudiate the betrothal (and Rashi says that the court intervenes to make sure she does this), bonding a naarah at the hands of the mother and brothers is a loser situation for the bondholder.
Both economics and moral considerations argue that bonding out a naarah was an infrequent situation.  There’s a philosophical wrinkle that goes with my interpretation of the Bible verses which I will discuss next week, and you have no reading assignment.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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