ה׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (March 25, 2015)

Ketubot 51a-b: Against Her Will

We have already learned that, according to the halakha, a married woman who commits adultery becomes forbidden to her husband; on the other hand, a woman who was raped remains permitted to her husband.

Rav Yehuda teaches that women who were kidnapped are permitted to return to their husbands after they are released, even if they engaged in sexual relations with their captors, since we assume that they were forced into such a situation against their will. Rav Yehuda defended this ruling against arguments that the women brought food to their captors (which might indicate a willingness to be there), and even if the women participated in their battles by handing them arrows during combat (which, as the Shiṭṭa Mekubbetẓet points out, would seem to run counter to their own best interests), arguing that they did so only out of fear.

One case that does not fit into this category, according to the Gemara, was when a woman was being held by “ben Netzer.” In such a case, a woman who slept with her captors was considered to have done so willingly and would be forbidden to her husband.

“Ben Netzer” was the family name of the man who became known as Odenathus, who ruled the city of Tadmor (Palmyra, Syria) in the third century of the Common Era. He took advantage of the long and difficult war being waged between the Romans and the Persians to enhance his own position and influence well beyond the boundaries of the oasis that he called his capital city. After allying himself with the Romans and assisting them in the war against Shapur I, the Persian king, the Romans appointed him to be their governor over the neighboring lands. Nevertheless, he attempted to establish a broad independent empire and was killed in the year 267. After his death, his widow, Zenobia, succeeded in gaining influence up to the Egyptian border, until she was killed by the Romans. took a negative view towards this government and its leaders, at least partially due to their position towards the Jewish community, which came to the fore in the capture and destruction of the city of Neharde’a (see daf 23). Our Gemara describes the government as a mixture of monarchy and anarchy.

The Ramban explains that the “ben Netzer” government was known to refrain from forcible rape, so any woman who slept with an official of that government was viewed as having done so willingly.