Adultery in Jewish Culture and Halacha
We are searching, in this ongoing Blog discussion, how the Universal Kingdom Promises of a Restored 12-Tribed Kingdom of Israel can be accomplished through a Marriage Reconciliation which had been Divinely promised but which is forbidden by Torah. Such a Re-marriage would require that HaShem takes back His ‘Harlot Bride’ whom He divorced and exiled from the Promised Land 2700 years ago (refer previous discussions in this Blog here below).
The matter is especially complicated by the Scriptural premise that once divorced, the husband cannot take back his divorced bride after she has been married to another husband.
Deut. 24:4, “…after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before HaShem; and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which HaShem thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. “
In an attempt to answer this question and thus resolve the problem by justifying the Divine Promise of re-marriage, a Scriptural interpretation is proposed by some commentators, that “she never married another husband”- which allows HaShem, as the first husband, to take her back.
This is a shallow observation and justification though in the light of the Divine Declaration why HaShem divorced the House of 10-Israel (while He never divorced the House of Judah). Here are the reasons:
- The Divorce was based on the Divine accusation of her being a Harlot, an adulteress. HaShem Himself declares in
Jer. 3:1, ““If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers— would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.
- Jer. 3:9, “And it came to pass through the lightness of her harlotry, that the land was polluted, and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks.”
So, HaShem’s reason for divorcing her is because of her harlotry – she was an adulteress. The question now is: Will He take back an adulteress? Does His Torah allow Him to take back a harlot? Whether she married a lover or not, HaShem holds it against her that she “lived as a prostitute with many lovers.”
It is her adultery that He holds against her. What does Torah determine about that?
Jewish interpretation of Torah in regard to Marriage and Divorce
This is a broad and controversial issue in Jewish Rabbinic Law interpretation. You can follow this by seeking Jewish Rabbinic Sources through Google. These abound. Be in for a shock – for Jewish Law interpretation for Marriage and Divorce was favourable towards men and harsh against women – even when innocent. Generally, Jewish women have no say regarding the Divorce – the man decides. It is a highly controversial topic in Judaism – but the tide is changing. Reform and Conservative Judaism have been reforming much of the negative rulings. But, amazing, orthodox Chabad Judaism overturns almost the entire one-sidedness of traditional Halacha in this regard. Ref. www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/560111/jewish/The-Wifes-Grounds-for-Divorce.htm
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It is not easy to find a Rabbinic Halachic ruling specifically on the question of remarrying an adulteress – which is the question under discussion here regarding HaShem taking back His divorced ‘adulteress’ or not. What is emphatically clear though from these Rabbinic interpretations is the enormous, vile heinousness of adultery by a married woman. A fine source about the cardinal evil of adultery in the marriage can be found in a detailed article by The Jewish encyclopaedia. Accordingly, adultery by the wife in a Jewish (Biblical, Torah) marriage is one of the few evils punishable by death thru stoning.
It could be, that Rabbinic answers are not easily obtainable because of the obvious great evil of such adultery in marriage. The act of adultery cancels all considerations for continued marriage or re-marriage of the adulteress with the faithful husband. He is forced to divorce her and is not allowed to take her back in re-marriage. (This is according to the letter of the Law, while Rabbinic approach goes to great extents to try and preserve potential peaceful family relationships).
The sacred nature of marriage is emphasised by Rabbinic sources which are reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of any legitimate union coming from a betrayal of the marriage bond through adultery.
The following further restrictions are therefore forthcoming from the act of adultery:
- Prohibition of a marriage between an adulterer and their lover – regardless of whether the adulterer is the husband or the wife – even if she has been ‘freed’ from the first husband by divorce or death of her husband whom she betrayed thru adultery (Soṭah 25a; Yeb. 24b).
- The adulteress may not subsequently remarry her original husband even if her new husband died or given her a writ of divorce.
- It should also be noted, that she is forbidden to remain married to her first husband
- No one may remarry his divorced wife if he divorced her on suspicion of adultery.
- A child born from such extramarital intercourse is a ‘mamzer’ and may not marry an Israelite.
NOTE – While some cultures define ‘adultery’ as any sexual relations outside of a formal marriage (even by unmarried persons), Torah and Judaism confines it to the Marriage relationship only – and traditionally, mainly applying to adultery by the wife). Ref.
Yet, even this, HaShem promises to overrule by lovingly taking His stray Bride back! Refer last week’s Blog together with the Rabbinic commentary for that week on Bechokutai – – God wants to ‘walk’ with us IF we respect and conform to His Covenant.
- ”HaShem’s Eternal Promise of the Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel”
- Walking with God – Parashat Buchokutai
The reality of her Guilt
After all, we are dealing here with a Metaphor. Though 10-Israel was really regarded by HaShem as His Wife (next to Judah), it was not about any physical sexual adultery that He discarded her. Ancient 10-Israel was involved in rejection of and rebellion against His Torah as interpreted by His Mechoqeck (mandated Lawgivers, the spiritual leaders of Judah). HaShem defines it in Scripture as: She has lived as a prostitute with many lovers and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks.” (Jer. 3:1 & 9). It was 10-Israel’s idol worshipping under the influence of anti-Judah leaders like King Jeroboam, Ahaz, Jezebel, etc. which earned them rejection by HaShem and thus subsequent divorce and exile.
Thus, HaShem regards breaking of His Covenant and resistance against His Torah on the same level as adultery – a cardinal evil which deserves the Death Penalty.
This still leaves us with the awesome consideration why and how HaShem plans to receive her back, despite this evil.
Surely, ONLY repentance by the Rejected Bride and her return to His Ways (Torah Laws, Statutes, Precepts, etc ref. Ps . 119) can account for such a great Loving urge by the Most High? Thus, no less than a total spiritual renewal, a spiritual ‘re-birth’.
In our next Blog discussion, we will review how the Biblical principle of election by God of an ‘elect’ nation, 12-tribed Israel, fits into His overall Plan for humanity general with regard to His planned Universal Kingdom He intends establishing. Does this election of the Israelite nation who is bound to Him by Covenant (‘marriage contract’) relationship – provide them with an advantage over the other nations – or perhaps special obligations?
To be continued – Please share your feedback
Independent research scholar. He works tirelessly as an activist promoting Israel and settlement of the Land of Israel, and as Webmaster and co-ordinator of Kol HaTor. Read More.