The Numbers: 13 Project
in that a man has had carnal relations with her unbeknown to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her — Numbers 5:13
Adultery is wrong. It is a sin. There is nothing frivolous about it, and it is not a victimless crime.
Throughout my career as a rabbi, I have listened to a variety of people try to explain to me why the affair they were having was not really adultery. One guy tried to suggest that according to the Bible only women could commit adultery. Another guy told me his paramour was in a loveless marriage and only the formality of dissolution was missing from ending the relationship. A woman insisted that she and her lover were meant for each other, but he would maintain his promise to provide an intact family for his children, etc. I wasn’t having any of it, and I told them so, flat out, and it turned out that not a one of them did a better job convincing themselves than convincing me.
Hey, I am not heartless about certain circumstances. I know that there are occasions when incapacity brings an abrupt end to intimacy but not to love and that the healthier partner seeks solace with someone else, even sometimes with the encouragement of the spouse. Certainly, the sexist laws of divorce in our tradition ought to be interpreted out of existence to free the woman anchored to a spiteful husband. I am not as judgmental in those circumstances but being understanding is not the same as offering the approval of Jewish tradition.
I read the statistics and I know that there is a likelihood that many of the people reading this column have violated the exclusivity of their marital commitments. Please don’t gather from my intransigence that I find you irredeemable. You have dealt with your own shame and, if you were discovered, with the painful process of restoring trust (or losing it altogether). I suggest only one thing: don’t do it again.
And here is the reason. A person willing to betray the most intimate of relationships will not hesitate to betray the less intimate of relationships. If you sleep around outside your marriage, you will do all sorts of lesser transgressions to cover it up. You will justify lying to your children, your parents, your friends. You will divert money to your endeavor.
And if you get away with it – especially multiple times – you will develop a smug belief that you can get away with any deception and, what’s more, you are entitled to get away with those deceptions.
A serial adulterer should not be entrusted with moral authority. Such a person has none.
I expect that you would not be surprised to hear those words from the pulpit of any good fundamentalist preacher of any religious tradition. (Well, you might be surprised to be in that kind of house of worship, but if you were there…you know what I mean.)
I am not a fundamentalist, but I have believed these things about serial adulterers for a long, long time. I believe them strongly enough to declare that I have never considered betraying my wife whom I love with deep devotion.
I believed these things before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. And I believe them now. Anyone who has been surprised at the way the president has tossed integrity, principles and friends under the bus has not been paying attention to the man’s marital life. Anyone who is shocked, shocked at the underhanded business practices, stiffing of contractors and unfulfilled promises before he took office never listened to him on the Howard Stern Show. And anyone who wonders how a person elected to the most honored and powerful position in the world could violate his commitment to protect and defend the Constitution isn’t thinking about hush money, catch-and-kill news stories and grabbing them…oh, you know.
If he betrays his wife, whoever she may be at the moment, then he will betray you. And he has.
I know about all the other presidents, men of big appetites and presumptions of their own aphrodisiacal qualities. With maybe one exception, we haven’t had one of those guys in a couple of generations. And if I am wrong, at least they were not boastful about it.
Adultery is wrong. It is a sin. There is nothing frivolous about it, and it is not a victimless crime. Its victims are named Ivana, Marla, Melania and [your name here].