Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Would you like to be regularly featured on Jewrotica? We are currently accepting applications for next year’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For a commentary on last week’s parsha, check out Double Mitzvah – Ki Tetze.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses continues giving laws (in this case, laws of the first fruit offering), and then goes on to offer the Israelites a blessing and a curse. If the Israelites choose to follow God’s ways and do as they are instructed by God, they will reap many benefits, including a plentiful harvest, victory over their enemies, and a general feeling of being blessed wherever they go. However, if they choose to stray from God’s instructions and follow after other nations or gods, they will be subject to terrible punishments, from starvation, disease, and slavery, to being conquered by other peoples, and generally being cursed in everything they do.
This Torah portion also contains one of the few cases of self-censorship in the Torah. Generally speaking, we are careful to read exactly what’s written in the Torah. It is a sin to distort the Torah, to add or take away even a single word. But here we have an exception. Deuteronomy 28:30 is translated in the Etz Hayim as, “If you pay the bride-price for a wife, another man shall enjoy her. If you build a house, you shall not live in it. If you plant a vineyard, you shall not harvest it.” Here we read the word yishkavenah, meaning “sleep with her.” You’re engaged to a lady, and someone else sleeps with her. I guess that’s bad. But the actual text, the word written on the text is yishagelnah. And yishagelnah means “raped.”Yishagelnah was deemed too vulgar to be said in synagogue, so it became customary to read the word as yishkavenah. Meanwhile, the Etz Hayim translation splits the difference with “another man shall enjoy her.”
What’s upsetting to me about this is that the actual verse seems to allow for focusing on the woman and her experience. She was raped. This, one can assume, is terrible for both the woman, and for her fiancé. But by misreading it, and mistranslating it, the focus shifts to the fiancé. He has been wronged by having been given a woman who is no longer a virgin. The girl is not really relevant once she has been defiled. There is no mention of the fact that the woman has been traumatized. It writes off completely an important and horrifying experience.
This tradition of reading the word as yishkavenah goes back a long way, and I’ve never heard of a community that reads the word as it’s written. But this week, as I listen to the Torah portion, I’ll be focusing on the woman whose trauma has been muted in this sentence, and I’ll be thinking of all rape victims, men and women and how their voices always deserve to be heard, and not silenced.Shabbat shalom!