Parshat Ki Tetze

September 13th, 2019

In Parshat Ki Tetze Moshe presents us with a framework of social and moral behaviour, opening with the understanding of human weakness of a man falling for a beautiful woman in wartime. The next chapter then teaches us to care for lost property and then kindness to animals. Moshe then moves to a more delicate issue in verse 5 which needs some interpretation, “A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for whoever does these, is an abomination unto Hashem.”

As with many of the edicts, our sages look for the reasoning, and in doing so, try to understand the implementation of this prohibition, which to some extent, are reflected in the dress habits of the period in which they lived. Interestingly, there is noticeable difference in the text, whereas for a woman we are told she should not wear anything pertaining to a man (klei gever), whereas a man is told just not to wear a woman’s dress (simlat isha). Yonatan Ben Uziel, who was a Talmudic sage, and whose translation into Aramaic appears in many Chumashim as the Tirgum Yonatan, often translates and also interprets. Here his translation is simply, “a woman should not wear tzitzit or tefilin and a man should not shave himself to appear like a woman.”

Rashi, based on the Talmud, presents the dangers of disguising as the opposite sex which could lead to promiscuity and almost in a footnote adds that the Torah is only talking of clothing which could encourage wrong behaviour. Ibn Ezra, based on a different Talmudic source, notes the difference in the wording the sentence for men and women and his opinion, this is an issue of role play. A woman should not go to war, her role is in the home and he adds that both our nation and those around us are accustomed to different codes of dress to differentiate between the sexes. The Rambam mentions that men should not wear jewellery but adds that this depends on the local customs. The Abarbanel explains, possibly based on what he saw in his times, that an unfaithful woman would disguise herself as a man to hid her indiscretion, and a man seeking a gay relationship would dress as a woman.

The Netziv takes a more sociological approach explaining that men and women are as we know different (Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus). What we are being told here is that you cannot really change a person’s nature, but one can change clothes in an instant. Changing clothing and accessories over time, will mess up a person’s personality.

Rav  S R Hirsch takes a different approach and he sees this as the Hashem’s desire to emphasize the importance of motherhood and women in Jewish society. The woman’s place in the home must be one of respect for her role as the mother and keeper of the household. As such, beginning in the home the man and woman’s garb should be distinctive. R Hirsch understands this from the juxtaposition of the next seeming unrelated verse. “If you by chance come across a bird’s nest ….do not take the mother with the young.” R Hirsch notes that here we have the mother at her home caring for her young ones. Respect the mother’s role as protector, only when you free her from this role can you take the eggs.

I need to be careful about what story to tell. A good number of years ago, I was traveling to the Far East in the days when you could visit the pilot’s cabin on a BA flight, if your children were members of the junior jet club. I was a little surprised that the pilot was a woman and she told me she had actually been the first female captain in British Airways. We chatted and she asked me what I do and I explained that I was in the computer field. She responded that her nephew had one of these new flight simulator programs and every time she tried it, she crashed. She hoped that would in any way make me nervous, and not to worry as she knew how to do the real thing.