Adultery in Jewish Law
Taste of Parasha
“They did not listen to Pharoh and they gave life to the children.” Yocheved and Miriam did more than just disobey the command of Pharoh. They extended themselves on behalf of the Jewish children. These midwives would pray that every child would be completely healthy. This can all be derived from the words ‘and they gave life to the children’, so why does the Torah add, “and they did not listen to Pharoh”? The Medrash teaches us that this is referring to their refusal of an entirely different request made of them by Pharoh. Pharoh had seduced them to have an intimate relationship with him. Their refusal to him put them at risk for their own lives, yet they did not succumb. They were willing to take the risk of the consequences for saying, “No” to Pharoh. This is an example of the great mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. In regards to all Mitzvoth, we are commanded, “V’chay bahem,” to live with them, meaning they are given to us to live with them and not to cause us to die because of them. Only in reference to idolatry, adultery, and murder are we obligated to give our lives rather than transgress one of these cardinal sins.
Taste of Talmud and Halacha
What is the reason that one may never violate these three cardinal sins, even on the consequence of death? We might suggest that it is because they are such severe sins that the Torah does not allow us to violate them under any circumstances. Alternatively, despite the general principle of, “v’chai bahem” perhaps the Torah wished to give us an opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem by choosing to die rather than violating the Torah, and it chose these three mitzvos to provide that opportunity. The Ba’al Ha-Ma’or argues that the only reason for the rule of ye’hareg v’al ya’avor (give your life rather than transgress) is, that the gentile’s intention is to make the Jew violate them, and one must therefore die, “al kiddush Hashem” (in sanctification of G-d’s name). If his intention is for his own pleasure, however, even these sins would be permitted. For example, Queen Esther was taken by force to the palace, and this was public knowledge, but since Achashverosh acted for his own pleasure, Esther’s actions were permitted. According to this argument, although the general rule of, “ye’hareg v’al ya’avor” is to create a kiddush Hashem, the only situation in which this makes a difference is by adultery or incest, which may be compelled either for the purpose of pleasure, or, to force the Jew to violate the Torah. Idol worship will always be ye’hareg v’al ya’avor, because the coercer in this case never acts for his own benefit; the point is always to have the Jew commit a sin. Conversely, murder, is always for the coercer’s benefit, so it must be forbidden for a reason other than kiddush Hashem – the severity of the aveira. The Nimmukei Yosef and the Milchamos Hashem argue on the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, asserting that all three prohibitions carry with them the command of “ye’hareg v’al ya’avor” for the same reason – their severity. Because they are such terrible sins, there is never a loop hole to do them; the rule of v’chai bahem only applies to aveiros that are not as severe. The aspect of kiddush Hashem noted by the gemara results because one demonstrates willingness to die rather than violate the Torah, but that is not the impetus behind the rule. Accordingly, the intention of the coercer makes no difference in a case of adultery; it is forbidden, regardless, because of its severity. It is interesting to note that on the one hand, the Rambam stresses that the rule of ye’hareg v’al ya’avor is a fulfillment of the mitzva of kiddush Hashem, as the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or indicates, while on the other hand, he stresses that the rule applies even if the gentile’s intention is his own pleasure, as the Nimmukei Yosef and Ramban argue. The Rambam is offering a middle ground – once we are commanded in the mitzva of kiddush Hashem, these sins are prohibited under all circumstances, because of their severity, as well.