Warring Women by David Gertler

Warring Women

by David Gertler2001/5761

Parshat Ki Teitzei (24:5) states that a newly married couple is exempt from war.  Not only are they exempt from war but, unlike the other exemptions (20:5-7), they are also exempt from supplying the war and working behind the scenes.  However, as the Mishna in Sotah (8:7) says, this only applies to a Milchemet Reshut (a war for any other purpose than conquering or defending the initial land of Eretz Yisrael).  However, with regard to a Milchemet Mitzva (one for outside conquering), everybody is required to participate “even a groom from his chamber, and a bride from the wedding canopy.”  This raises an interesting question, not whether women are permitted to fight in the wars, but perhaps obligated, as this Mishna seems to indicate.

This question brings out interesting answers.  The most interesting of them is that in a Milchemet Mitzva the groom is required to leave the canopy to fight.  Once he has left the canopy, why should the bride stay there?  She should also leave, not to fight, but because she has no reason to remain if the groom is gone!  However, this answer does not fit well with the words of the Mishna, and others therefore suggest that she should do behind the scenes work for the war effort.  The reason for this type of reaction to the Mishna is because it was absurd to think that women would go out to war.  It is only very recently that women are accepted easily to the armed forces.  (Some commentators attribute the disapproval of women entering the war to the prohibition of Kli Gever, claiming that armor is male garb.  The Ibn Ezra claims that it is largely because of promiscuity that will occur.  The Gemara (Kiddushin 2b, and others) simply states that it is not the way of a woman to be involved in war.)

This discussion may lead to another interesting thought.  This is the Mishnaic and Talmudic principle forbidding women to learn Torah (see Sotah 3:4 and compare with Nedarim 4:3, see also Rabbi Jachter’s discussion on the topic printed in Vol. 9 No. 15).  Rav Schachter makes an interesting observation (which for me was the best solution to the problem that I had heard) regarding the issues.  He quotes a Gemara (Sotah 42), which states that Hashem put before Bnai Yisrael a book and a sword and told them to choose one.  The Gemara claims that Bnai Yisrael will always be engaged in one type of Milchama, either a Milchama Shel Torah or a Milchama Shel Cherev.  Now, comparing these two, since a woman is not permitted to engage in one battle to engage in the other is equally forbidden.  But what is the war of Torah?  Rav Schachter explains that it is all the arguing and counter arguing that goes on when one learns Gemara with a Chavruta.  I think that we can explain what a woman is permitted to learn and what she is not by analyzing the way the woman will learn.  The forbiddance is not the learning but rather the war that often accompanies the learning.

The two lessons to learn out is that in war time, it is extremely important to engage in Milchama Shel Torah, to end the war.  And regarding the wars with Torah or swords, women, while allowed to play a role, should not stand in the front line, as that is improper.


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