Does the bible condone adultery?
The 1999 memo of Susannah Heschel that ended up with President Bill Clinton’s domestic policy advisor, Ruby Shamir, excusing the President’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as not being adulterous by virtue of “classical Jewish law” is bizarre. What was Heschel – who is the daughter of the magnificent and eloquent Abraham Joshua Heschel – thinking? That President Clinton is Jewish? That he could use the Torah to excuse unfaithfulness? That the American people would somehow buy her argument about Biblical versus classical adultery? And that having an affair in the Oval Office as President of the United States was not so bad given that “King David” who “had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, murdered… was condemned and punished” but “was never thrown off the throne of Israel?”
Personally, I have no interest in rehashing the Monica Lewinsky episode which should be laid to rest. Through his foundation President Clinton is engaged in saving lives across the world and deserves to have the conversation turned away from the affair.
But with the Clinton presidential library releasing 10,000 new documents, including the memo from Heschel which argued that “President Clinton is guilty” not of adultery but “of the common sin of onanism [masturbation], a sin that probably afflicts the consciences of most Jewish men at one time or another,” a response is essential lest anyone conclude that Judaism is lax on husbands who cheat with single women.
Heschel – if the memo is accurate – is not the first to use Judaism to minimize the sin of faithlessness in marriage with a single partner. Many husbands over the years have tried to make the same argument and there was even some perverse book written in the name of Jewish law a few years back that falsely argued that Judaism allows concubinage.
I still remember the time when a husband called my office and asked for counseling. It turned out that he lived with his thirty-something wife in a sexless marriage and given that the couple had three kids they were loathe to divorce. He came to see me to receive a second opinion about advice given to him by, he said, a scholar who told him he was allowed to have sex with women so long as they were not married.
This advice is an abomination to Jewish faith and values.
The Biblical definition of adultery as pertaining to a married woman relates solely to punishment the act incurs. It does not in any way allow for a husband to cheat on his wife with any other person.
To the contrary. Judaism views the sin of marital unfaithfulness as the most serious breach of marriage involving as it does unsanctioned sexuality, deceit, injury to an innocent party, violation of the exclusivity of the marital bond, and an often mortal blow to its intimacy. Worse, unfaithfulness is even more harmful as a marital sin of omission than commission, depriving a marriage of the necessary investment of love and erotic attraction and channeling it to another. The man who is not pursuing his wife is neglecting his wife. No marriage can long survive the distraction of a stranger.
Many mistakenly believe that ancient Judaism endorses polygamy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bible says clearly that God created Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Eve, and Clara, and Bridgette. From the very beginning the monogamous foundation is set.
Abraham was not, as is often misunderstood, polygamous. For most of his life he lived monogamously with Sara. He had no desire to live differently. It was his wife who pressured him to take her maidservant as a concubine because she was barren.
Isaac was always monogamous with Rebecca.
Much is made of Jacob’s four wives but the Bible is clear that he was romantically in love with and wished to marry only Rachel. He was swindled by his father-in-law Laban into a union with Leah and later his two wives gave him concubines to father more offspring. But Jacob’s clear desire was to be monogamous.
The only real example of polygamy in the Bible is the kings of Israel, especially David and Solomon. Both are criticized for the monumental errors they made with women. David is the most famous example. His kingdom never fully recovered for his sin with Bathsheba.