The Torah says:

When you take ... your enemies ... captive, and you see among them a woman of beautiful form, and you desire her, you may take her to yourself as a wife. [Deuteronomy 21:11]

But the Torah does not say: "If you have a strong craving for a bacon-cheeseburger, you may have it, but you must donate 100 times its cost to charity, to buy food for the poor."

So why does it allow the equivalent for the captive woman?

We can answer that the sex drive is the strongest drive. But perhaps our commentators have more convincing answers.


The notion of Yefas Toar is something that is very hard to comprehend. However when taken within the context of war and the resulting environment, Rabbi Frand helps to paint a clearer picture. He writes here:

War is an environment the likes of which we should never know. It is a dehumanizing experience, which does crazy things to people. One has only to read the paper and listen to the news about abuses that have taken place in recent times, in and around situations of war and conflict. War has a pernicious and corrosive effect, even on people who are spiritually elevated. That is how such a thing can happen, as “you will see her in captivity and lust for her”.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 21b writes:

בביאה ראשונה דכ"ע לא פליגי דשרי דלא דברה תורה אלא כנגד יצר הרע

With regard to the first act of sexual intercourse (between the soldier priest and the gentile woman), everyone agrees that it is permitted, as the Torah spoke only in response to the evil inclination.

Rashi over there underlines this fact that it is permitted only as a means to deal with the Yetzer Hara.

The implication is that in the thick of war, Hashem recognises the urges that soldiers may have, and therefore rather than forbid such an act, it is permitted with the caveat that he has to deal with the circumstances, namely, to take care of her and not completely disregard her after being with her.

This is further clarified by the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Melachim UMilchamos 8:2 where it writes:

וְכֵן בּוֹעֵל אִשָּׁה בְּגֵיוּתָהּ אִם תְּקָפוֹ יִצְרוֹ. אֲבָל לֹא יִבְעָלֶנָּה וְיֵלֵךְ לוֹ. אֶלָּא מַכְנִיסָהּ לְתוֹךְ בֵּיתוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כא, יא) "וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת תֹּאַר". וְאָסוּר לִבְעל אוֹתָהּ בִּיאָה שְׁנִיָּה עַד שֶׁיִּשָּׂאֶנָּה

Similarly, a soldier may engage in sexual relations with a woman while she is still a gentile if his natural inclination overcomes him. However, he may not engage in sexual relations with her and then, go on his way. Rather, he must bring her into his home as Deuteronomy 21:11 states 'If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners...You shall bring her into the midst of your home...' It is forbidden for him to engage in sexual relations with her a second time until he marries her. (Touger Translation)

So whilst we give those engaged in the battlefield the means to satisfy their urges, it is clear that the yefas toar is not to be treated like a proverbial piece of meat, as the man must duly take responsibility for his actions.

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    How does this answer my question? – Maurice Mizrahi Aug 23 at 23:19
  • You asked why specifically the case of yefas toar is allowed. As you mentioned the urge of soldier is strong and that is indeed what the sources point to - however it differs from other instances when we have desires, in that the soldier has to expressly deal with the results by taking care of this woman. – Dov Aug 23 at 23:24
  • Thus we don't give the soldier carte blanche to do whatever he wants - he has to deal with the outcome. So whilst we give a nod to his yetzer hara we do so on the proviso that he care for her afterwards. – Dov Aug 23 at 23:26
  • That's why I added charity to the cheeseburger. A countervalue. – Maurice Mizrahi Aug 24 at 0:10

The Torah Temimah in a footnote asks this exact question:

ויש להעיר בעיקר כלל זה לא דברה תורה אלא כנגד יצה"ר, הלא לפי"ז לא שבקית קיום לכל מצוה, דנימא דכיון שאפשר שיעבור באיסור נתיר לו שיעשה בהיתר, וי"ל דלא נאמר כלל זה אלא במלחמה, דאז צריך שיהי' רוח כל איש נכון בקרבו ולא יצער נפשו כדי שיוכל לעמוד בקשרי מלחמה, וכמבואר בס"פ שופטים בענין החוזרים ממערכות המלחמה, ויתכן לומר דמטעם זה הותרו קותלי דחזירי במלחמה כמבואר בחולין י"ז א' ולפנינו לעיל בפ' ואתחנן בפסוק ובתים מלאים כל טוב (ו' י"א)

And there is to analyze in the rule of "the Torah only spoke towards the evil inclination (Yetzer Hara)", we should say that every single sin should have a permissible way to do it?! No. Rather, this is not a general rule, but a specific rule for wartime. At war, everyone needs to have an ease of spirit, and therefore we relax certain restrictions (as seen in various places in the Talmud) in order to create a more comfortable mindset.

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Good question. The truth is that during times of war, a soldier is allowed to eat non-kosher food if kosher food is not available. The way the Rambam sounds, allowing foreign women is a similar concession, but the Torah put a restriction on it that the soldier must marry the woman, and not just leave her. See here.

חֲלוּצֵי צָבָא כְּשֶׁיִּכָּנְסוּ בִּגְבוּל הָעַכּוּ''ם וְיִכְבְּשׁוּם וְיִשְׁבּוּ מֵהֶן. מֻתָּר לָהֶן לֶאֱכל נְבֵלוֹת וּטְרֵפוֹת וּבְשַׂר חֲזִיר וְכַיּוֹצֵא בּוֹ אִם יִרְעַב וְלֹא מָצָא מַה יֹּאכַל אֶלָּא מַאֲכָלוֹת אֵלּוּ הָאֲסוּרִים. וְכֵן שׁוֹתֶה יֵין נֶסֶךְ. מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ וּבָתִּים מְלֵאִים כָּל טוּב עָרְפֵּי חֲזִירִים וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן:
Those courageous soldiers (or front-line troops) who cross the borders into non-Jewish lands, capture them and take prisoners are permitted to eat non-Kosher meats, swine and so on, if they are hungry and could not find anything to eat except for these forbidden foods. They may also drink wine offered in the service of idolatry. By Tradition we have learned that “houses filled with all good” (Deut. 6:11) means beheaded boar, and the like.
2 וְכֵן בּוֹעֵל אִשָּׁה בְּגֵיוּתָהּ אִם תְּקָפוֹ יִצְרוֹ. אֲבָל לֹא יִבְעָלֶנָּה וְיֵלֵךְ לוֹ. אֶלָּא מַכְנִיסָהּ לְתוֹךְ בֵּיתוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים כא, יא) "וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת תֹּאַר". וְאָסוּר לִבְעל אוֹתָהּ בִּיאָה שְׁנִיָּה עַד שֶׁיִּשָּׂאֶנָּה:
Similarly, one may have sexual intercourse with a non-Jewish woman if his lust gets the better of him. But, he must not just have intercourse with her and go. Rather, he must take her home, as it says, “and when you see a Woman of Beauty among the captives” (Deut. 21:11). He may not have intercourse with her a second time until he marries her.

The reason is generally understood to be that in times of war, when soldiers are focused on basic matters of survival, it is not possible to expect them to strictly adhere to the laws. Therefore, they can eat non-kosher food if necessary, and if they have a strong desire for a woman, they can fulfill it. So the permission granted for a craving is limited to the background situation of a war, but would not apply otherwise.

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    Eating non-kosher food in war is not a result of the evil inclination. Rape is. – Maurice Mizrahi Aug 24 at 12:22
  • @MauriceMizrahi, that depends. The Rambam that N.T. quoted indeed says that they're allowed to eat this food only when necessary for their survival. (The commentaries on the Rambam there explain that it doesn't mean when their lives are in danger - in such a case it's not just soldiers, but anyone else, who are allowed to eat such food - but rather that they don't have to go looking for other food, and can just eat what's available.) However, the Ramban (Deut. 6:10) apparently disagrees, and says that they can eat it regardless. – Meir Aug 24 at 15:43
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    I agree with you. I think the Rambam answered this well. The Talmud also explains that the law about the rape was not ideal but a concession to the primitive nature of human beings. Cheeseburgers, on the other hand, were not significant enough to make a concession. – Turk Hill Aug 24 at 23:17

The law of Deuteronomy 21:10-14 says that:

"You may go to her, have sex with her, and she shall be your woman. But if you do not desire her later, you must set her free. You may not sell her for money, nor make her your slave, because you humbled her.”

The Talmud explains that this law is not an ideal, but is a concession to the human passion. Rashi seems to say that based on halakhah, an Israelite soldier may even marry a Canaanite woman, tho the Talmud is clear that the child will not be considered his own. This is why when King David had four hundred children as a result of the law of a captive woman, none were considered his own and so they could not compete with Solomon for kingship.

We could apply the same to the laws of slavery, for example. Yes, the Torah "allowed" slavery but restricted the treatment of slaves. The Rambam wrote that people were to treat their slaves fairly, well, and with respect. Similarly, Maimonides seems to say that G-d does not need or want sacrifices. But since it is, as Maimonides wrote, “impossible (for an individual or nation) to go suddenly from one extreme to another; it is…impossible for him to suddenly discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.” Thus, G-d “allowed” the ancient Israelites to have them as a concession, a concession to the primitive nature of human beings. Maimonides wrote that there seems to be a law of nature of the principles of gradual development. Things develop gradually. Just as flowers sprouts in stages or steps and not by leaps, so do the Jewish people develop spiritually. The Rambam explains:

“He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of G-d and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, not by any action. For this reason G-d allowed these kinds of service to continue.” (Guide,3:32 from the easy to read M. Friedlander translation).

Now, why does the law allow these actions but not consuming a bacon-cheeseburger? The simple answer is that bacon-cheeseburgers did not exist in biblical times. Or, we could say that the passions for sex are much stronger than food. I was once told about a poll that said that people would rather give up food than sex. Or, perhaps we could say that the Torah laws are based partly on the time, place, and people for which it was given. This is why Rabbi Ishmael said that “the Torah (which is intended for humans) speaks in human language.”

It is also the opinion of the highly respected expert on Maimonides, professors Menachem Kellner, who holds an interesting position of halakhah. He says that according to Maimonides, the biblical laws are arbitrary (ie it could have been other than it is). Because the Torah was given to Abraham's descendants (Abraham being the man who rediscovered G-d), it follows that the Torah could have been different. Thus halakhah is a social reality but not an ontological reality. For example, Rambam writes that the laws of sacrifices were a concession for the primitive nature of human beings. In fact, most of the mitzvot were given to wean Jews away from idolatry. Rambam writes that many commands are linked to Sabian idolaters, but that the Torah refines, restricts, or gives new meaning to these practices. As an example, Kellner points to native Americans. Had Abraham been a Navajo, for example, the Torah would reflect their history and there would be no laws concerning sacrifices, for example, since the Navajo did not practice sacrifices.

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Because the law against eating beef with cheese served a different purpose.

I'm not Jewish, but a Christian, so I won't be able to cite any rabbinical sources for this, but my understanding is that the law regarding the forbidding of eating a calf cooked in its mother's milk was because this was a part of the religious ceremonies of the Israelite nation's pagan neighbors, and God wished them not to do so in order to set them apart. If they had been allowed to do so under certain circumstances, then it wouldn't have properly served this purpose.

Then, after the Babylonian Captivity, the Israelites realized that they kept being punished for breaking the Law of Moses, and decided to build a sort of "fence" around the Law by adding a bunch of additional rules that would keep you from breaking the Law accidentally. As a result, it became forbidden to eat any beef alongside any dairy, not just the meat of a calf that had been cooked in its mother's milk. This is why today cheeseburgers are forbidden to the followers of Rabbinical Judaism.

By contrast, the laws about sex and marriage in the Law of Moses weren't intended as methods of setting the Nation of Israel apart from their neighbors, but were rather moral laws instructing them how to behave in a loving fashion towards one another. In this particular case, it's about mitigating the damage that war rapes might cause - you might be forcing yourself on a woman, but if you do, you are then responsible for caring for her for the rest of your lives.

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    I like your answer but I would disagree, insomuch that the explanations about the food and "fences" are in the Oral Torah. And that Deuteronomy is the first Oral Torah. – Turk Hill Aug 24 at 23:13

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