Friday, January 30, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Deuteronomy 22:13-29

For this week you were supposed to read Deuteronomy 22:13-29.  We’re going to discuss another urban legend about women in Jewish culture and punishment for illicit sex.
The bonded girl who has been designated a wife is betrothed.  Betrothal in Jewish law was a status which ended only with death or divorce.  To end a betrothal required a formal divorce document.
While a girl was betrothed, sex with other men besides the betrothed was prohibited.
The situations in the Deuteronomy reading include that the marriage actually takes place and the groom says the next morning that his bride was not a virgin.
Understand, there are no Las Vegas weddings in Judaism.  First, a legal contract has to exist and this contract exists to ensure that in a no-fault or his-fault divorce, the divorcee has half a chance of being able to support herself.  The contract specifies that she gets at least 200 zuz, which is enough to buy a mixed herd of sheep and goats.  She can then sell the goat milk and cheese, and the wool fabric from the sheep.  At 5 pounds of cheese a day and 4 garments a year, she can probably afford to buy other food and pay rent.
Then there’s negotiation about her dowry.  She could have several kinds of dowry: K’naani bondsmen or more likely bondswomen; land; moveable property; buildings sheltering lodgers or industry.
The contract would specify which of these things were melog property or tson barzel.  In case of a divorce, the dowry returned to the family.  If it was tson barzel property, then while the marriage lasted, the husband got the income in produce, rents, the work of animals and bondswomen, etc.  If a divorce was issued, the husband had to pay to bring the property back into the same condition as when the marriage took place.  That’s the basis of the name, which means “iron sheep,” in other words, something that cannot be allowed to deteriorate.  This requirement did not apply to melog property.  You can guess at the negotiations over this issue.
The girl’s family could also provide a bride gift, something valuable representative of the family that the new couple kept only as long as they were together.
When the marriage goes to completion and the husband says his wife was not a virgin, that is called mekher taut, a purchase made in error.  The value of the marriage contract for a woman who is not a virgin, is 100 zuz.  If she was a widow or divorcee when the marriage occurred, the groom could NOT claim mekher taut because the presumption was that her prior marriage(s) had been consummated.  So the rules in Deuteronomy only apply, as it says, to a girl married from her father’s house as a virgin.
The claim can end with mekher taut or it can get worse and that is next week’s lesson.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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