Deuteronomy 21:12
Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
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Deuteronomy 21:12-13. She shall shave her head — This was one of the external signs of mourning, Leviticus 19:27; Leviticus 21:5. Shall pare her nails — This also seems to have been done in mourning. In the original it is, Shall make her nails, which may be understood of letting her nails grow, which to us seems more suitable to a state of mourning. But this is to be resolved entirely into the fashion of countries. Poole thinks that both of these things were rather to be done in token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion. She shall put the raiment of her captivity off from her —

That is, as the French renders the words more clearly, the raiment which she wore when she was taken captive. Instead of the fine clothes wherein she had been taken captive, she was to put on sordid apparel, which was the habit of mourners. And shall bewail her father and her mother — Either their death, or, which was in effect the same, her final separation from them, being now to forget all her former relations.

21:10-14 By this law a soldier was allowed to marry his captive, if he pleased. This might take place upon some occasions; but the law does not show any approval of it. It also intimates how binding the laws of justice and honour are in marriage; which is a sacred engagement.The shaving the head (a customary sign of purification, Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7), and the putting away "the garment of her captivity," were designed to signify the translation of the woman from the state of a pagan and a slave to that of a wife among the covenant-people. Consistency required that she should "pare" (dress, compare 2 Samuel 19:24), not "suffer to grow," her nails; and thus, so far as possible, lay aside everything belonging to her condition as an alien. De 21:10-23. The Treatment of a Captive Taken to Wife.

10-14. When thou goest to war … and seest among the captives a beautiful woman … that thou wouldest have her to thy wife—According to the war customs of all ancient nations, a female captive became the slave of the victor, who had the sole and unchallengeable control of right to her person. Moses improved this existing usage by special regulations on the subject. He enacted that, in the event that her master was captivated by her beauty and contemplated a marriage with her, a month should be allowed to elapse, during which her perturbed feelings might be calmed, her mind reconciled to her altered condition, and she might bewail the loss of her parents, now to her the same as dead. A month was the usual period of mourning with the Jews, and the circumstances mentioned here were the signs of grief—the shaving of the head, the allowing the nails to grow uncut, the putting off her gorgeous dress in which ladies, on the eve of being captured, arrayed themselves to be the more attractive to their captors. The delay was full of humanity and kindness to the female slave, as well as a prudential measure to try the strength of her master's affections. If his love should afterwards cool and he become indifferent to her person, he was not to lord it over her, neither to sell her in the slave market, nor retain her in a subordinate condition in his house; but she was to be free to go where her inclinations led her.


1. To take off his affections from her by rendering her uncomely and deformed; but then the last words must not be rendered shall

pare her nails, but shall nourish them, or suffer them to grow, as the Chaldee, Arabic, and divers of the learned Jews and other interpreters render it. Or,

2. To express her sorrow for the loss of her father and mother, as it follows, Deu 21:13, it being the ancient custom of mourners in most nations to shave themselves, and in some to pare their nails, in others to suffer them to grow. Or rather,

3. In token of her renouncing her heathenish idolatry and superstition, and of her becoming a new woman, and embracing the true religion; which her captive condition and subjection to his will would make her inclinable to do in profession.

Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house,.... In order to make her his wife, after some things were done here directed to; for this is not to be understood of his taking her home with a view to defile her, as Maimonides (e) interprets it; who observes, that when a man's lust so rages that he cannot subdue it, yet he ought not publicly to satisfy his lust, but to have the woman into a private and secret place, as it is said:

thou shalt bring her into the midst of thine house; nor was he permitted to lie with her in the camp, nor was it lawful for him to defile her a second time, until her mourning was at an end; though elsewhere (f) he gives a different sense of this passage, and supposes the man to have lain with the captive woman, before the introduction of her into his house; for it is a notion that prevails with the Jewish writers, that an Israelitish soldier might lie once with an Heathen woman taken captive, to gratify his lust, but might not repeat it; so it is said in the Talmud (g); yet it must be observed, that there are some, though but few, who are of opinion that the first congress was unlawful, and that he might not touch her until certain conditions were fulfilled, and they were married, as R. Jochanan (h); and which is embraced, supported, and defended by Abarbinel on the place, and in which he is undoubtedly right; and so it is understood by Josephus (i) and Philo (k); for this law gives no liberty nor countenance to the violation of the beautiful captive. The plain meaning is, that when a Jewish soldier was passionately in love with a captive, and was desirous of making her his wife, he was to take her home to his house, where she was to remain, to see whether his passion of love would subside, or the woman become a proselyte, or however till certain rites were observed, and then he was permitted to marry her:

and she shall shave her head; either that she might be the less engaging, her flowing locks, or plaited hair, or modish headdress, being removed from her, which had served to excite a passion for her; or as a token of mourning for her present afflicted state and condition; and in afflicted circumstances it was usual to shave the head; see Job 1:20; and though it was forbidden the Israelites, yet not Gentiles; Deuteronomy 14:1.

and pare her nails; this and the former some think were ordered to make her fit to be his wife, and were a sort of purification of her, and an emblem of her having renounced Heathenism, and having departed from it, and laid aside all superfluity of former naughtiness; but this phrase is interpreted in the Targum of Onkelos, "let her nails grow"; and so the Arabic version: and this the Jewish writers say was ordered to be done, that she might appear ugly and disagreeable to him, and be abhorred by him; so Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Ben Melech; the same is observed by Maimonides (l), and is the sense of R. Akiba (m). Another of their writers (n) think it refers to a custom in some nations to dye their nails."The daughters of the Heathens (he says) used to adorn the nails of their hands and feet, and dye them with various colours, according to the custom of the Ishmaelites (or Turks); that there might be a variety in their hands, and men might look at them, take them and handle them until the fire of hell, and an evil concupiscence, burned; wherefore this is ordered that they might let them grow, without any preparation or die.''But perhaps this neglect of their nails, and suffering them to grow, was in token of mourning as well as shaving the head, as also sometimes even paring the nails was done on the same account.

(e) Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 41. (f) Hilchot Melachim, c. 8. sect. 2.((g) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 21. 2.((h) Apud Abarbinel in loc. & R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 14. 1.((i) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 23. (k) De Charitate, p. 706. (l) Ut supra. (Hilchot Melachim, c. 8.) sect. 5. (m) In T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 48. 2.((n) R. Abraham Seba in Tzeror Hammor, fol. 146. 2.

Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; {d} and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

(d) Signifying that her former life must be changed before she could be joined to the people of God.

12. to thine house] Lit. to the midst of thy household.

shave her head, and pare her nails] Heb. make or dress her nails (2 Samuel 19:24 with feet and beard). Berth. thinks these duties are part of the following mourning, the cutting off of hair being a mourning rite (Deuteronomy 14:1, Ethn. Ber., 427). But because she has to do this at once and at the same time put off the raiment she was taken in, it is more probable that all three are required as elements in her purification from heathenism (so most commentators); see above, pp. 243 f. On similar customs among Arabs, cp. W. R. Smith, Kinship, etc., 178, OTJC2, 368, Wellh., Reste Arab. Heid. 156.

Verse 12. - She shall shave her head, and pare her nails. The shaving of the head and the paring of the nails, as well as the putting off of the garments worn when taken captive, were signs of purification, of separation from former heathenism, preparatory to reception among the covenant people of Jehovah (cf. Leviticus 14:8; Numbers 8:7). Pare her nails; literally, make or prepare her nails, i.e. by cutting them down to a proper size and form (cf. 2 Samuel 19:25, where the same word is used of dressing the feet and trimming the beard). The Targum of Onkelos takes this in quite an opposite sense, rendering, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, "suffer to grow," and the rabbins who adopt this meaning suppose that the design of the prescription was that the woman, being rendered unlovely, the man might be deterred from taking her to be his wife. But this is altogether alien from the spirit and scope of the passage. Deuteronomy 21:12When the woman was taken home to the house of the man who had loved her, she was to shave her head, and make, i.e., cut, her nails (cf. 2 Samuel 19:25), - both customary signs of purification (on this signification of the cutting of the hair, see Leviticus 14:8 and Numbers 8:7), - as symbols of her passing out of the state of a slave, and of her reception into the fellowship of the covenant nation. This is perfectly obvious in her laying aside her prisoner's clothes. After putting off the signs of captivity, she was to sit (dwell) in the house, and bewail her father and mother for a month, i.e., console herself for her separation from her parents, whom she had lost, that she might be able to forget her people and her father's house (Psalm 45:11), and give herself up henceforth in love to her husband with an undivided heart. The intention of these laws was not to protect the woman against any outbreak of rude passion on the part of the man, but rather to give her time and leisure to loosen herself inwardly from the natural fellowship of her nation and kindred, and to acquire affection towards the fellowship of the people of God, into which she had entered against her will, that her heart might cherish love to the God of Israel, who had given her favour in the eyes of her master, and had taken from her the misery and reproach of slavery. But her master becoming her husband, she entered into the rights of a daughter of Israel, who had been sold by her father to a man to be his wife (Exodus 21:7.). If after this her husband should find no pleasure in her, he was to let her go לנפשׁהּ, i.e., at her free will, and not sell her for money (cf. Exodus 21:8). "Thou shalt not put constraint upon her, because thou hast humbled her." התעמּר, which only occurs again in Deuteronomy 24:7, probably signifies to throw oneself upon a person, to practise violence towards him (cf. Ges. thes. p. 1046).
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