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Does the Torah Punish a Rape Victim?

Does the Torah Punish a Rape Victim?

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Question:

Is it true that the Torah requires rape victims to marry their rapists, and the only punishment to the rapist is a fifty-shekel fine paid to the victim’s father?

Response:

Actually the reverse is true: The victim is not required to marry the rapist; the rapist is required to marry his victim (if she consents), after paying her a very heavy fine.

The Talmud derives these laws from a close reading of the biblical passage:

“If a man finds a virgin girl who was not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give fifty [shekels of] silver to the girl’s father, and she shall become his wife, because he violated her. He shall not be able to send her away all the days of his life.”1

Noting that the Torah is usually economical with its words, the Talmud is surprised by the seeming redundancy of the phrase, “who lay with her.” We already know what this man did; why is it repeated?

From this the Talmud deduces that the fifty-shekel fine is merely a portion of his obligation; it is the portion he pays for the pleasure he took from his act. But this doesn’t compensate her for her pain, indignity and loss. The Talmud thus infers from this verse that in addition to the fine, the rapist is required to indemnify her for three forms of damage: the indignity she suffered, the pain she endured and the loss she incurred. In all, this amounts to a hefty fine.2

In addition, the rapist is required to marry his victim, and is not permitted to divorce her without her consent. The Talmud explains that this obligation rests on the rapist, not the victim. She is under no obligation to marry him.

Today it is hardly conceivable that a woman would choose to marry a man who had forced himself on her. In the not-so-distant past, however, women depended entirely on their husbands for protection and support. The rapist thus perpetrated a double crime against his victim: he violated her dignity and compromised her future, for with the stigma of rape upon her, it would now be exceedingly difficult for her to marry. The Torah is concerned not only with the pain she suffered in the past, but with her vulnerability in the future. Should she find herself without prospects for marriage, and should she want this man as her husband, the Torah requires him to marry her. In any case, whether the woman opted for this marriage or refused it, she was compensated for the damages caused by the rape.3

Another thing to bear in mind is the deterrent aspect of this law: the fact that a man knew that if he forced himself on a woman he would face not only a stiff punishment, but also the obligation to marry her and support her for the rest of his life without the ability to ever divorce her, might well have been a strong deterrent against such action.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Deuteronomy 22:28–29.

2.

Talmud, Ketubot 49b. The compensation goes to the father so long as the victim is a minor. Once she reaches the age of maturity, the compensation goes directly to her.

3.

Rabbi (Don) Isaac Abarbanel offers the following explanation. In most cases, a man and woman enter into a covenant of marriage before they are intimate, and he also lavishes gifts upon her. This man forced himself on his victim with no promise of marriage and without the enticement of gifts. He is therefore required to make good on both counts. He must pay fifty shekels to compensate her for the lack of gifts, and is also forced to marry her, should she desire it.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website—Chabad.org. He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit InnerStream.ca.
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Discussion (61)
January 26, 2015
Its been awhile since I visiited this topic. Just an FYI, I used force to compel compliance when I was a law enforcement officer. 3 levels of the 5 levels of at my disposal were were not physical. The first force that acted upon the subject was my uniformed presence, the second verbal commands, third soft empty hand control. Using these three levels of 'force' I was able to persuade 99% of the subjects to see it my way :). The same examples could be used in the discussion. 1st level of force presence: A handsome rugged looking man on a white horse, groomed, clean, wearing the finest linens. 2nd level of force verbal comands: He whispers sweet words into the womans ear. 3rd level of force soft empty hand control: A caress, a touch. He just has used 3 levels of non violent "force" to persuade the women to lie with him. Instead of fleeing she consents to his advance. They are BOTH found out and will be expected to follow through with their actions and marry.
David
Delmarva
January 25, 2015
Re-read until you understand
Obviously, if she does not consent, they do not marry. The rapist still needs to marry her victim and cannot marry with another person. The victim can marry wherever she wants to.

Still, you do need to remember: a rapist doesn't always abuse with physical violence. The rapist can make an innocent victim drunk, then have sex. It still a rape.

Jonathan, you are thinking in wrong way. Do not think as person who lives in 21th century, but in ancient times, when a woman needed to marry or she would be stigmatized forever.

If she is abused by violence, of course she wouldn't marry him and it's not required to do so — your example in Middle East is under Shar'ia, not Halakhah.

But in ancient times, if the rapist abused her not by violence, but making his way to drunk her victim, the victim can choose marry him, so she can have a husband and do not need have worry the stigma of being raped and do not marry.

To not marry in ancient times was a very bad thing. Almost a social suicide.
Anonymous
December 27, 2014
Logic?
That makes no sense though... how could anyone even consider a rape victim would consent to marrying their rapist, unless she were being stigmatized by the act of it happening? Which as we know, in parts of the middle east, rape victims are put to death as if its her fault!

So again... the interpretation that she can marry him if she consents, is pure insanity.

One then must ask, what happens if she doesn't consent?
Jonathan Berman
OHIO
December 1, 2014
David
In the last two paragraphs of Rabbi Gurkow's essay, he and Rabbi Arbanel [in footnote #3] describe a biblical-era man "forcing himself" on a woman who the Bible says has been "seized".
According to what you said, "seizing and forcing" indicate consenting promiscuous sex, not rape. That's an amazing conclusion! What accounts for your reasoning? Its about trying to prove God isn't "evil". By today's standards, some values of Bronze Age man are evil or at least ignorant. Ancient attitudes about war, slavery, sexism and science are enshrined in the Bible. Written by Bronze Age men. People use convoluted reasoning to justify these attitudes. I believe its best not to define the Bible as the literal word of God. It is no longer necessary to kill people for cursing their parents or eating seafood. Seems it once was...
Levi Tribesman
Boston
November 25, 2014
G-d said all His commandments are holy righteous and good. In fact if I'm not mistaken that is the only thing in Torah He says is like that. I also firmly believe He created in me the ability to discern between good and evil. One need only look at the reaction to the interpretation of this commandment to see everyone including me cringe at the thought G-d would expect a rape victim to marry the perpetrator of such a crime. If the interpretation I just read is true then I could proclaim this commandment as something evil and that would make G-d a liar and the author of a morally heinous crime. However, please study yourself and you will find this commandment has absolutely nothing to do with rape. She did not cry out and says they are found out, which seems to imply they were both doing something wrong. In a nutshell it is a commandment against promiscuous behaviour, and one night stands so to speak. It expects one to follow through with their actions of sexual intercourse & marry.
David
Delmarva
September 7, 2014
Very Confusing Post by Anonymous [Wilmington]
Statutory rape means one of the people [the 'virgin girl' in this case] is under-age and cannot legally consent. In the Bible, "the man who lay with her" seems to have a clear meaning. It means sexual intercourse, not a "form of kidnapping". It is rape, where one pays a fine or enters the saddest possible relationship if the raped one desires. It is not a Ten Commandments level law, "Thou Shall Not Rape", but something lesser. When we try to understand an ancient text though, its all a matter of subjective interpretation. So often, we really don't know what is being communicated. The danger is when profound religious/legal authority is claimed by one who "knows". This has been the "engine" of a lot of suffering through history, driven by Christians, Muslims and to a far lesser degree, Jews. It is one of the reasons I am proud to be of Jewish heritage.
Levi Tribesman
Boston MA
September 6, 2014
I have never read this script to mean anything other than statutory rape. Where you have two consenting people but no ketuba. In my oppion rape as understood in the context of the article is not rape but a form of kidnapping.
Anonymous
Wilmington
September 6, 2014
Re: Compensaiton
Rabbi Gurkow, Is that supposed to make it BETTER? If (ANY deity forbid) a loved one of yours was to befall such a violent act, would you council her to marry her attacker. I would guess not, because we have grown since then. However, the holy texts from any monotheism or other as not grown with humanity. The end result, one day it will be an untenable position to hold to ancient doctrine for morality and humanity. Much love and peace, though.
Ashley
September 1, 2014
Ashely, your passion is commendable, but see footnote 2 for the answer to your concern'
Lazer Gurkow
September 1, 2014
Pay "her" for her suffering???????
I love how this article clearly states several times that the victim is paid for her suffering.......Except that the bibble clearly states that her FATHER gets the dough. Well done, Lazer for going that extra mile (and a half) to continue to try to spin an ancient and outdated immoral document to make it seem normal and moral. Wake up, Humans.
Ashley Hancock
MN
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