Friday, February 20, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- "You knew all along"

We’re working on the laws in Deuteronomy 22:13-29.  These laws allow a groom to charge his bride with adultery if he thinks she wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night, a charge subject to all the same due process rules as murder. 
The charge falls to the ground without witnesses, or if the judges can’t vote a supermajority to convict.
The girl could raise three defenses: migo, admitting the facts but with an explanation of accident.  She could also say “you did it”; according to some local customs, the groom was secluded with the bride before the wedding ceremony.
The third defense is this.  If the girl is put on trial for adultery, and convicted, the court has the option of declaring a delay in the execution to bring in witnesses.  This actually happened once to somebody accused of trying to convert Jews to paganism.  He got 40 days in jail while the court waited for these witnesses. 
During this period messengers go out announcing the criminal’s name, crime, verdict, and witnesses.  Anybody who knows of exonerating testimony is expected to show up and prove that the witnesses were false.  The court can declare a delay as long as through the entire cycle of three pilgrimage festivals; a crime that took place the day after Sukkot ends could potentially result in a delay through the next Sukkot.
Because of arguments over the ketubbah, and the hardship and expense of travel in those days, the groom might have been in town between the signing of the contract and the wedding ceremony, and he would have known about his fiancee’s transgressions through gossip in the town. If the ketubbah was signed early, he might have heard about the adultery from the messengers who were looking for witnesses.  He went through with the marriage anyway.   The girl’s defense is “You knew what I was and you married me anyway.”
This also is the background for the verses saying that the man can never divorce her.  If he was the one who took her virginity, either in the city or in the town, he has to marry her unless her father absolutely forbids it.  Then he can never divorce her. 
Which brings up another issue that separates Jewish family law from western family law over the last, oh, 25 centuries.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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