Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (JPS)

28  If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; 29 then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.

In today's (American, at least) culture, the idea of having a woman marry her rapist is utterly ridiculous and reprehensible. In addition, this has been mentioned multiple times in connection to the debate over homosexuality, particularly homosexual marriage, and always in a negative light. (That is a tangential discussion and is only marginally relevant to this question.) However, I have heard that this practice actually protected the woman as she would now have someone legally responsible for her.

So, my question is: what's the point? Why institute this law?


8 Answers 8


And the other critical caveat here: this is only if she wants him to marry her. If she'd rather never see him again, then the Torah never forces her into such a marriage. Additionally, if she wants a divorce, she is still entitled to one whenever she wants even after they wed. (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 177:3)

All I can say -- if this is a situation where she'd be interested in being married to him -- is the Torah was likely discussing a situation of someone who just got their lust out of control. Criminologists will tell you that most rapists today do it out of hatred for women. It seems the Torah wasn't addressing that type of sicko. I've discussed this point with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski (I was arguing that the warnings against excessive drinking in Proverbs still don't sound like a full-blown alcoholic as we know it today), who pointed out the Gemara (end of Sotah) says the world's been in a state of decline since the destruction of the Temple, and conceded that the world we know today just seems sicker mentally than that of the Torah/Talmud.

  • 2
    Maybe the fine is huge. I mean the alternative is death penalty (too stiff) or jailing, don't exist yet. By fining the guy, at least they both punish the rapist and reward the victim. Moreover, a man that can't afford fine could be a slave. Which is a tough enough punishment. But yea, marriage is a punishment. I like the idea :) Should this be an answer.
    – user4951
    Mar 28, 2013 at 3:49
  • See k-state.edu/media/webzine/Didyouhearyes/daterapefacts.html (and many other sources saying the same) considering the vast majority of rapes are date rapes, perpetrated by men familiar to the victim, I'm not sure the assertions in this answer are correct.
    – user6591
    Dec 16, 2015 at 5:17
  • @user6591 Deuteronomy was talking about "if someone grabs a woman out in the street and rapes her", i.e. stranger rape. This discussion is limited to that case. I don't know how prevalent date rape was in Mesopotamia 3500 years ago, but that's not what we're discussing here. (Not that in any way I am minimizing the horror of being raped by an acquaintance.)
    – Shalom
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:12
  • @Shalom I'm not so sure you are correct in your assumptions in the passuk. Who's to say they weren't out strolling together?
    – user6591
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:27
  • @user6591 that wouldn't be called "finding" her.
    – Shalom
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:57

The Chinuch says (in 557) it's a deterrent. Knowing they'll have to marry their potential victims (and won't be allowed to divorce them, and have to support them, etc.), people won't rape.

He adds (ibid.) that it's also a protection for the victim: once she's married she's unlikely to be raped again. (Numerous studies show that a woman who was raped is at greater risk of being raped again.)(But see Alex's and my comments on this answer.)

However, note that he lists these as "among the roots" of this command: in the end, it (like any of God's commands) is because God said so, and we can't fathom the wisdom of it.

  • 2
    +1. Although for your second paragraph, if I'm understanding the Chinuch correctly, he's saying not that it'll deter further rapes, but that once she's married, people will forget about her past history and stop bringing it up to (or about) her (i.e., instead of, "Hey, there's Shprintza - such a pity, what happened to her!" people will just say, "Hey, there's Shprintza, Shmerel's wife").
    – Alex
    May 22, 2012 at 20:23
  • @Alex, I wasn't 100% sure, but note that he uses the same words to describe what people will do to her as to describe what was already done to her (ham'vuyeshes and y'vay'shena), and note also the wording "y'vay'shena... badavar hara sheira lah". I'll edit the answer, though.
    – msh210
    May 22, 2012 at 21:58
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    once she's married she's unlikely to be raped again <-- This is false. You mean to say married woman can't get raped by their husband? I hope you know the meaning of rape May 23, 2012 at 8:47
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    @ManishSinha, Of course women can be raped by their husbands (which is of course also forbidden), but that is irrelevant in this context. That can happen to her if she marries someone else just like it can if she marries this guy. What we wish to do is make it less likely that she will be raped by someone else, which the Chinuch (according to msh210's understanding) feels is accomplished by her getting married. (Perhaps people are reluctant to rape a woman if it means also committing adultery or if she has a husband that can come after them.)
    – jake
    May 25, 2012 at 20:58
  • 1
    @bondonk There is a gemara that discusses a case of a man about to rape an unmarried woman. She states that she is a nidah and has not (yet) gone to the mikvah. He then backs off. This is given as the original source for unmarried women not going to the mikvah (as well as the case of Amnon and Tamar). We see that even someone capable of rape can be stopped by what appears to be something that we would not expect to have an effect. Nov 28, 2014 at 13:31

From a historical perspective one has to understand a few things.

One: We live in a time of such safety and ease that our ancestors would not be able to fathom it. Cities used to have walls, because entire villages and cities were always at risk of rape and pillaging. Avraham Avinu consistantly told people Sarah was his sister for fear people would murder him to take his wife, because to according to ancient world laws, it was a greater offense to sleep with someones wife than to kill someone if that person was an outsider. And so if you wanted to sleep with his wife, it your best bet was to kill him, THEN sleep with her.

Two: We live in a time where women have freedoms, resources, and respect that the ancient world could have never dreamed. Without getting into a huge debate about it, women were basically considered financial burdens in the ancient world. They had to always be kept inside and protected for fear someone will see them, take them, rape them, and then move on. They were almost never allowed to go to work. Father's paid other men dowry's to marry their daughters to incentivize someone taking her off his hands, so that she could be supported by someone else. And if that husband died, then the eldest male child would support her. And the list goes on.

Three: We see sex, virginity, and purity drastically differently, and rape is so rare nowadays we don't talk about its repercussions in relationships. Many men have a hard time getting intimate with their girlfriends/wives after they've been raped. But in the ancient world, nearly no one was willing to marry a non virgin. When a woman was raped in the ancient world, her life was literally over. She would more than likely never get married, never leave her fathers household, and if her father died, she would also likely die. This reality helps shed light on why God is there for the poor, the orphans, and the widows, and why the brother of the widow who has no children has to attempt to marry her. Because the poor have no resources and can't move up in the world, the orphans have no support, and a widow has no virginity and therefore little worth in the world. A woman without her virginity was like a person without eyesight, or hands, or feet. Severely disabled, at a great disadvantage, and likely to die.

So this law was probably instituted to help women, in the following way. If someone raped her, he had basically ended her life, as she would never marry and would lack any financial support. Therefore he was punished with the responsibility of providing for her for the rest of his life, and she was rewarded with the safety and security of a husband who would support her. This sounds completely crazy and insane to us now, and it should. Because we have thankfully moved on as a civilization where we no longer need these kinds of laws now. A woman can find a husband, whether she was raped or even if she just had prior sexual partners. Women can work for themselves, women can inherit and invest money, governments have welfare and aid programs, etc.

  • 2
    Please edit into your answer your source for saying that that's a reason for this divine command.
    – msh210
    Dec 16, 2015 at 4:06
  • @msh210 where in the mi Yodea rulebook does it say all answers must be sourced?
    – user6591
    Dec 16, 2015 at 5:14
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    @user6591, depends what you mean by "must". Am I gonna exercise my ability as a mod to delete it if it remains unsourced? Certainly not. But for most other senses of "must", (1) it's just common sense. If someone asks for a reason for a divine command, and I haven't any reason to think this answerer is an expert on such (as indeed I haven't), then this answer is not credible sans sources. And (2) sourcing answers is part of the MY mores if not its rules: see the top-voted answers to meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/712 and both answers to meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/1444.
    – msh210
    Dec 16, 2015 at 6:18
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    When you find the time and effort, I'm not sure you should bother. Secular historians are not known for their knowledge of the reasons for divine commands.
    – msh210
    Dec 16, 2015 at 19:01

There are already seven answers here, but no one gave Rambam's answer.

מורה נבוכים ג:מט תרגום קפאח

ולפי שכל נערה בתולה מועמדת לנשואין לכל מי שיזדמן לא נתחייב המפתה אותה אלא לקחתה לאשה כי זה יותר טוב לה וזה מרפא לשברה בלי ספק משישאנה אחר ואם לא רצתה בכך היא או אביה יתן מוהר ונוסף בעונש האונס לא יוכל שלחה כל ימיו

Guide for the Perplexed 3:49 Pines translation

As every girl who is a virgin is set for marriage with the first man that happens along, her seducer is only obliged to marry her; for he is the one who is most suitable for her, and this indubitably makes better repair for the flaw in her than her marrying another man. If, however, she or her father does not wish this, the seducer must pay a dowry. There is additional punishment for a man who has raped a girl: He may not put her away all his days.

  • Consider clarifying what "נערה בתולה מועמדת לנשואין לכל מי שיזדמן". Or why it would be the case.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 5, 2018 at 6:37
  • @mevaqesh I'm not sure I know the answer to that. I consulted five different translations from the Arabic (three Hebrew, two English) and while there are slight variances, none really gave a better idea of what Rambam meant.
    – Alex
    Jan 5, 2018 at 6:47

Written Torah is clear that the marriage is only if the woman and her father want that.(Shemot 22:17) This is because not all rapes are rapes. Some "rapes" are crimes of passion, similar to Shechem and Dinah incident. The passage in Devarim 22:19 does not mention the father which is why some people think that Torah forces women to marry their rapists.


First of all, the rapist must marry her only if she wants. (The Talmud (Kes. 39b) learn this from the verses.) It is the woman's right, not an obligation.

She may prefer to continue with the man who took her virginity, even he brutalized her, because it is important for her -- or for a potential husband so she fears not to find a better one.

For example, we see that Dinah did not want to go out of Shechem, until Shimon swore to marry her. The Midrash (Ber.Rab. 80) say that she told her brothers "where would I bring my shame?" (see also Rashi on Bereshis 46, 10).

  • 1
    This has been mentioned already a number of times on this page.
    – Double AA
    Jan 5, 2017 at 18:39
  • @DoubleAA Yes, but 1) not so precisely and concisely! I was surprised. 2) This answer adds the talmudic source for this, and 3) sources for the reason mentionned (that was asked, see comments on above answers). Etc
    – yO_
    Jan 6, 2017 at 9:26

the reason that you gave. to protect the woman by having someone care for her. At one point in history things were rather terrible for women in society and it was preferable to a woman to be married to an idiot or someone abusive rather than be on her home as there was no such thing as a single woman who was able to support herself especially if she had children. Additionally the obligation is on the man and the woman doesn't need to accept this marriage but only that now that he has caused her damage that in the eyes of society at the time would lower her value in terms of marriage (not being a virgin) he now has to be obligated to her as compensation (unless she does not accept)

here is an article that discuses how this is related to compensating the woman for damages... http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/1940448/jewish/Does-the-Torah-Punish-a-Rape-Victim.htm

  • Please edit into your answer your source for saying that that's a reason for this divine command.
    – msh210
    Dec 16, 2015 at 4:06

We should keep in mind that the people involved were much younger than they would be today. Girls were married off at a young age. As others pointed out, this rule wouldn't be imposed on the victim. It is there for the scenario of young people fooling around and going too far, which messes her up for life. The Ramban describes Dina as spending the rest of her life as a widow. So we see that an immense shame was attached to this.

The Maharal quotes a(n unknown) Medrash which equates the Aggada of Hashem lifting Mount Sinai over the Israelite's heads to coerce them to accept the Torah to Me'aness, the rapist. Just like over there he may never send her out our bond with the Torah will never break. The Maharal explains that a forced bond is a more powerful bond than a mutually accepted one. Hence we can say that in the case of an outburst of an over-exuberant passion of a young teen, and when it is otherwise understood that a match could work, this would be the happiest ending to their saga.

I would assume that in such a case, before trauma sets in, if a marriage is indeed possible and carried through, there would be no trauma involved. The event would be the gray beginning of their life together.

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