The Bible makes no provision for the treatment of captives taken in war. Captives were considered as slaves, and as such were subject to all the laws that govern the relations between the master and his non-Jewish slave (); (see Slaves). In the early wars of Joshua with the seven tribes that inhabited Palestine, there could be no captives of war, as the Israelites were commanded to destroy all the people, even the women and the children (Deut. xx. 16-18). In later days the descendants of such Canaanites as escaped destruction Solomon considered not only tributary to himself, but also bond-servants who had to serve the Israelites at any time in whatever capacity they might be needed (I Kings ix. 20, 21; Maimonides, "Yad," Melakim, vi. 1).
According to the Deuteronomic law (Deut. xx. 10-18), the Israelites were commanded to destroyall male adults of a conquered people. In some instances, however, Israelitish kings showed unusual mildness to their captives. Ahab released Ben Hadad of Syria on very generous terms, after the latter had suffered a humiliating defeat on the battlefield (I Kings xx. 34). At the instance of the prophet Elisha, the king of Israel dismissed a Syrian army which had been taken by stratagem (II Kings vi. 20-23).
Female captives were also subject to the same laws as the female non-Jewish slaves. A peculiar exception to that general law is the case of the "yefat to'ar" (, Deut. xxi. 10-14). An Israelitish warrior who had intercourse with a captive might take her for a wife, after having permitted her to mourn for her parents a full month. If he then refused to marry her, he could not sell her into slavery, but must let her go free.
In Rabbinical Literature
The Rabbis saw in the law regarding female captives a reluctant concession to the passions of man, and therefore looked upon such an act unfavorably. They treated it as an exception and limited it in the following manner:
One who takes possession of a female captive during war may not cast her off; but, if she be willing to accept the Jewish religion, her captor must keep her in his house for three months, this being the accepted interpretation of "yeraḥ yamim" (Deut. xxi. 13), and then marry her. If at the end of the three months he did not wish to marry her, he must not sell her into slavery, but must send her away free. Should she be unwilling to accept the Jewish faith, he may continue to keep her for twelve months and use peaceful persuasion; but if at the end of that period she is still steadfast in her determination, he must send her away free. At no time may the captor employ compulsory measures to force her into the Jewish faith. If he belongs to the family of Aaron, he can not marry her, as the Jewish law prohibits a Kohen from marrying a proselyte (Yeb. 48b; Kid. 21b et seq.; Maimonides, "Yad," Melakim, viii. 2-7).
Bibliography: Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. War; Spitzer, Heer und Wehrgesetz der Alten Israeliten, Griechen und Römer, ch. xix., Vinkovcze, 1879.J. Sr. J. H. G.
Source: JewishEncyclopedia.com: Captives