Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Distracting dress on the sidelines of battle?

Summary: Did the eshet yefat toar dress so beautifully to distract the enemy armies?

Post: I've heard that back in the day, when Flatbush played basketball against all-boys schools such as TA, they would position their cheerleaders under the opposing team's basket. That way, the boys would be distracted by the pretty cheerleaders and be less likely to make the basket. I don't know that this was historically true, but it was called to mind by this pasuk and Rashi:

13. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.יג. וְהֵסִירָה אֶת שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ וְיָשְׁבָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבָכְתָה אֶת אָבִיהָ וְאֶת אִמָּהּ יֶרַח יָמִים וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ וּבְעַלְתָּהּ וְהָיְתָה לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה:
And she shall remove the garment of her captivity: [so that she should not be attractive to her captor,] for they are pretty [clothes], because gentile women adorn themselves during wartime, in order to seduce others [namely, the enemy] to have relations with them. — [Sifrei 21:8]והסירה את שמלת שביה: לפי שהם נאים, שהגוים בנותיהם מתקשטות במלחמה בשביל להזנות אחרים עמהם:

That Sifrei is here:

וְהֵסִירָה אֶת שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ  • מלמד שמעביר ממנה בגדים נאים ומלבישה
בגדי אלמנות שהכנענים בנותיהם הם מתקשטות במלחמה בשביל להזנות
אחרים עמהם

I've heard this famously explained as an attempt to distract the enemy soldiers in war, and thus allow their own side to win. And a quick search shows me that that is how somewhat at Aish HaTorah presents it:
The elementary respect that is due a fellow human being would require obtaining the beautiful captive's full consent, even in the case of this provocatively dressed woman who was specifically sent to the battle zone in order to distract invading Jewish soldiers (see Rashi 21,13).
So too here:
 This week’s parsha begins with the parsha of Yefas Toar, a woman who is taken captive at war. The nations of the world used to send their daughters out dressed in their finest in order to distract the enemy at war.
and here:
Rashi tells us that often nations would send out attractive young ladies to distract and ensnare the enemy soldiers .
But that does not seem to be what Rashi and the Sifrei are saying. Where does it say that the fathers, or the nations, are doing this, rather the the girls themselves? And where do they get that they are doing this to distract, rather than to seduce to have sexual relations?

It would seem that they are getting it from the word הם in the Sifrei, implying men, and שהגוים implying that it was the act of the nation. But this could mean that regarding the nations, or more specifically regarding the Canaanites, this is how the women conduct themselves. And מתקשטות  is the reflexive, implying that they do this to themselves.

It would seem that the distraction would come from attributing a reason for the nations to do this. And / or, להזנות אחרים is taken as distraction. Also, perhaps based on the reaction sparked in the Israelite soldier, such that לא דברה תורה אלא כנגד יצר הרע. (Maybe also the incident with Kozbi bat Tzur sent to her specific task?) I don't find this particularly convincing. , but perhaps there is some other source that clarifies all this. Or perhaps not.

If so, it is interesting how this later explanation was attributed to an early source like Rashi, and even today read into Rashi's words. It seems to me that this is a fairly common phenomenon.

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