When is a Rapist not a Rapist?

This week’s parasha [Torah reading], Ki Tetze [Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19], contains a whopping 74 mitzvot [commandments] according to Sefer HaChinuch.1 Two of these deal with a situation where a man seduces an unbetrothed virgin girl. In such a case, the man must pay the girl and her father fifty pieces of silver, and not only must he must marry her (unless she does not want to marry him) but he is never allowed to divorce her.

It is important to mention that the Torah is not speaking of rape. Unfortunately, this passage is commonly misunderstood and improperly taught, resulting in people being (rightly) shocked and offended to hear that a rapist gets away with his crime, having only to pay a relatively small fine. The Torah is not speaking of rape!

In our parasha, the Torah uses the term shakhav imah, “lay with her”. In the infamous case of Dinah being raped by Shechem (Genesis 34), the Torah says shakhav otah, he “laid her”, forcefully, before saying v’ya’aneah, “and he raped her”. This terminology does not appear in the verses in question. Another tragic case is that of the “concubine of Gibeah”, where the shakhav root does not appear at all, and the Torah says ita’alelu ba, “abused her”. In both of these cases, the punishment was death. Rapists deserve capital punishment.

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Keywords: rape, rapist, sexual assault, sex crime, premarital sex, shacking up, intercourse, illicit sex, having sex, unbetrothed virgin, unbetrothed, virgin, fifty pieces of silver, 50 pieces of silver, penalty for rape

Bible reference(s): Deuteronomy 22:23-29

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