Hey Rabbi’s – be there before it gets to the Beth Din

I am writing to appeal to you to please speak to your Rabbis about the issue of adultery. Since adultery is legal in many countries – as opposed to murder – our entire society tends to sweep it under the carpet. There is an attitude amongst many Rabbis that since one must judge favourably one must assume that every Jew would consider murder and adultery on the same level, you know that this is surely not the case.

If one was suspected of murder (and not convicted) I am certain that not only a Rabbi would pay special attention to the case and ensure that there is clear separation of the suspect from any other directly concerned parties, so why is this not considered with adultery. All my interactions with Rabbis have simply pointed any question of adultery towards the Beth Din. I feel that it is essential for community Rabbis (especially young ones with no personal experience of divorce) to be MUCH MORE sensitive to concerns of adultery and to take more accountability and responsibility. I am sure that should they try to place themselves in the position of a spouse that was aware of their partner committing adultery that they would be more considerate, but this seems outside of their realm of consideration.

One can use the example of Loshen Hora which I have been told by esteemed business ethics Rabbi Meir Tamari explains is often poorly understood even by Rabbis. In the laws of Loshen Hora it includes the obligation to warn the business partners of a Jew if one is aware that the Jew has committed multiple person to person aveiras. This example explains the importance of taking responsibility and accountability to make ones own judgements at an appropriate level, and the sensitivities of doing this without the need of judgement by the Beth Din. As you have explained the Beth Din can only make a ruling that relates to adultery if the couple wish to get married, if they are purely living together (openly or in secret) I suggest the community Rabbis have a role to play and cannot turn a blind eye (imagine a murderer who has not yet been convicted yet – although all evidence shows proof of the killing and the man does not admit or deny to the killing – does the Rabbi treat the murderer with the same support that he would the family who has lost a member).

I think it is important to raise an example in this case. I am aware of a Rabbinic family who hosted two married people (without their spouses and with the ones children) for a Shabbos lunch, together with another family as well as their own. Now this Rabbinic family has had direct experience of adultery at the highest level yet their answer when approached was “we did not know”. This is not a sensitive answer for the spouse whose children were at the Rabbis house with their spouse and the lover. The story gets worse, when the Rabbi was asked by the spouse to ensure that the Shul did not seat the lovers together he accepted this request reluctantly. Unfortunately this request was not taken seriously and at the High Holy day services they were seated next to each other (in earshot, and touching distance with only a movable mechitsa between) and again the spouse complained. Yet again the Rabbi claimed that he was not aware. The Rabbi did nothing and Yom Kippur arrived and the lovers were still seated next to each other (against the wishes of the spouse). Six months later the Rabbi delivered a drosha talking about how totally inappropriate it is to avoid the pledge card at the Yom Kippur services. When questioned about this the Rabbi explained that anyone could be an exception to any mussar and stood by his position. I do consider this Rabbi as most learned in Torah, it was below him to allow these things to pass without doing teshuva.

I believe that this reflects a very poor understanding of Yiddishkeit. In my experience a learned Jew not only has to understand the details of all the mitzvot (and in this case the Rabbi has not – and can not – provide any reference to giving Tzedakah on Yom Kippur as a Mitzvah, certainly not recognised by the Chofetz Chaim or any main stream literature), but also an understanding of the priorities of the Mitzvot.

Because adultery is legal in many geographies, especially in these geographies it should be elevated as a critical Mitzvah by the Rabbis, not only or even primarily from a mussar perspective but as a counsellor and leader. Any community that has separation and divorce must accept that adultery is often a cause or outcome, almost inevitably. This must be an essential element of the divorce counselling role of community Rabbis. There are many experienced Rabbis that will be able to shed more light on this than I and I am sure all will agree that it is not primarily a Beth Din issue but for the sake of the community and its members, Teshuva in the community and for oneself in the eyes of Hashem is of highest concern (and much more serious than not pledging money to the Shul on Yom Kippur).

This post was inspired by Amira Young @LaDivorceeVita who shares her view on “The Rabbi’s Way”. Thanks Amira 🙂

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