Ketuvot 29 ~ The Terror of Rape

משנה מסכת כתובות פרק ג משנה א 

אלו נערות שיש להן קנס הבא על הממזרת ועל הנתינה ועל הכותית הבא על הגיורת ועל השבויה ועל השפחה שנפדו ושנתגיירו ושנשתחררו פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד הבא על אחותו ועל אחות אביו ועל אחות אמו ועל אחות אשתו ועל אשת אחיו ועל אשת אחי אביו ועל הנדה יש להן קנס אף על פי שהן בהכרת אין בהן מיתת בית דין: 

These are the girls (aged between twelve and twelve and a half) for who a fine is levied for raping them...

Today we begin to study the third chapter of Ketuvot, which focuses on the damages to be paid to a virgin who was raped, (or seduced,) by a man. These laws were later codified in the Shulhan Arukh, the code of Jewish Law, written by R. Yosef Karo (d. 1575) in sixteenth century Israel.

שולחן ערוך אבן העזר הלכות אונס ומפתה סימן קעז 

סעיף א

 המפתה בתולת ישראל (עד שלא תבגר, והיא מבת שלשה ואילך) (טור הרא"ש), משלם בושת ופגם וקנס. ואם אנסה, משלם עוד צער. ואם נשאה המפתה, אינו צריך ליתן קנס

סעיף ב

אונס ומפתה, דנין אותה בשלשה דיינים, ובלבד שיהיו סמוכים, בא"י. והאידנא שאין סמוכים, מנדין אותו עד שפייס את חבירו; וכד יהיב ליה שיעור מאי דחזי למיהב, שדינן ליה. (והבת, כל זמן שהיא ברשות אביה, הכל לאביה (גם זה שם). ועיין בטור סימן זה שהאריך בדינים אלו, והרב המחבר קצר בהם, שאינם שכיחין 

סעיף ג

האונס את הבתולה, חייב לישא אותה, ובלבד שהיא ואביה יהיו מרוצים, אפי' היא חגרת או סומא, ואינו רשאי להוציאה לעולם אלא לרצונה. לפיכך אין צריך לכתוב לה כתובה. ואם עבר והוציאה, כופין אותו להחזירה

As an emergency physician, I have cared for a number of women who have been raped.  I have interviewed them, examined them, and collected forensic evidence. The horrors of their having been assaulted was, I am sure, compounded by my legally necessary but emotionally gratuitous clinical exam. There is a danger that the talmudic discussion can, likewise seem overly clinical. But behind the legal back and forth is a brutal reality. To help keep the victim front and center, let's talk about the crime of rape.

International Rape Statistics

Rape plagues society everywhere. It's really hard to get accurate statistics to compare countries, since reporting rates and definitions of what actually constitutes rape vary. With that caveat, here's what the UN found:

Penalties for Rape

United States. In 2008, there were about 203,000 victims of rape age 12 and older. The penalties for rape vary by state. In New York, rape in the first degree is a felony that carries a penalty of 5-25 years in prison. In New Jersey, first degree sexual assault carries a sentence of 10-20 years. In Massachusetts, rape that results "in serious injury" (doesn't all rape result in that?) is punishable by life in prison, and no less that 20 years if committed by force (isn't that all rape?). The rape of a child under 16 carries a similar penalty. In 1977 the Supreme Court ruled that under the Eighth Amendment, the rape of an adult woman could not carry the death penalty. There are almost 160,000 men in prison for rape in the US.

US. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Systems.   Prisoners in 2013  .

US. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Systems. Prisoners in 2013.

United Kingdom. Rape carries a penalty of 11-17 years in custody, with a minimum of 10 years in prison if the victim was a child between 13 and 16 years of age.  If the victim was under 13, the starting penalty is 13 years in prison. The average time served for rape in the UK is eight years.

Israel. Rape of an adult carries a penalty of 4-16 years in prison. In addition the victim may receive damages of up to 228,000 NIS. Rape of a child under 16, or carried out with a firearm, or with the assistance of another person, carries a minimum sentence of 20 years (see חוק העונשים התשל׳ז–1977, and later amendments). 

Causes of Intentional Injury by Gender and Population. From Gofin, R. et al. Intentional Injuries Among the Young; Presentation to Emergency Rooms, Hospitalization and Death in Israel.     Journal of Adolescent Health    2000:27:433-44.

Causes of Intentional Injury by Gender and Population. From Gofin, R. et al. Intentional Injuries Among the Young; Presentation to Emergency Rooms, Hospitalization and Death in Israel.  Journal of Adolescent Health 2000:27:433-44.

In a study of children with intentional injuries treated in Israeli ERs, the rates for rape were 1.5 times higher in the Jewish children compared with Arab children. 

Although selected cases may reach the ER, it is estimated that between 1-4 in 10 or 20 cases of rape are reported. Stigmatization, fear, and feelings of shame or guilt may preclude rape disclosure by victims or their caretakers.
— Rosa Gofin. Intentional Injuries Among the Young In Israel, 2000.


Jewish law. Rape (including rape of a child older than three) is punishable by a fine of 50 shekels paid to the father of the victim.  The rapist is required to marry his victim (unless she or her father refuse) and he cannot forcibly divorce her.  In addition, the rapist must pay damages for pain and suffering, and monetary loss, the latter based on the lower value a woman who is not a virgin has in the market for marriage. If the rapist marries the victim, some of these fines are not levied. There are no fines for the rape of a child under three, or the rape of an unmarried  woman who is not a virgin. Rape of a married woman is punishable by death.

A President of Israel, A Convicted Rapist

In December 2010, then President of Israel Moshe Katsav was convicted of rape while he had been  serving as Israel's Minister of  Tourism in 1998. The verdict was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, and Katsav began his seven-year prison sentence in December 2011. The national shame at this crime was perhaps slightly mitigated by one of its lessons, articulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, "that all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body."

In his commentary to R. Karo's  שולחן ערוך,  R. Moshe  Isserles (d.1572)  explained that the שולחן ערוך did not detail the laws of rape, because it was such a rare crime - (הרב המחבר קצר בהם, שאינם שכיחין).  How wrong, how very sadly wrong, he was. 





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