Double Mitzvah – Yitro

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Maya B. Alma. Maya B. Alma is Jewrotica’s new Double Mitzvah columnist!

Check out last week’s column, Double Mitzvah – Beshallach.

Rated PG-13

I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.
Jimmy Carter

The would-be President, campaigning in the pages of Playboy magazine in 1976, cops to adultery of the heart, and it becomes a memorable quote. He is referring to a passage from Christian scripture, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:28). He’s also in the midst of making a larger point about pride, and not judging people, as the context of the quotation makes clear. Still, in light of this week’s parashah, Yitro, which includes The Ten Commandments, it’s interesting to think about the question: is it wrong to merely want what is forbidden?

Two of the ten commandments deal with matters of sexuality. The seventh seems straightforward enough: “You shall not commit adultery.” This was understood in ancient times to refer to intercourse between a married woman and anyone other than her husband, and that definition continues to be referred to by some people (including, in the not-too-distant past, a different US President) to wiggle out of the offense (because the woman wasn’t married, or the sex didn’t include intercourse). A modern, egalitarian, and common-sense approach rejects those loopholes, and most people today would agree that breaking one’s commitment to fidelity with a spouse — no matter with whom, and no matter how — amounts to adultery.

But adultery, however we define its scope, implies action. The reinterpretation of the seventh commandment to include “adultery of the heart,” put forward in Matthew’s Gospel and quoted by President Carter, is not a commonly held Jewish interpretation. Halakhah, generally speaking, is concerned with what we do, and not merely what we might entertain in our thoughts. Even commandments to “love God” or “love your neighbor” are understood through a Jewish lens as implying certain behaviors, and not merely attitudes.

So what of the tenth commandment? “You shall not covet…” certainly seems to be an attempt to legislate an attitude: that of desire. At least, if we understand the word chemed, usually translated as “covet,” to refer to something that takes place entirely within a person’s thoughts. But even here, there’s some disagreement. Dr. Joel Hoffman makes an interesting case for seeing even the tenth commandment as legislating in the realm of action, with chemed being a near synonym to “take” or “steal.” If he’s right, then both the seventh and the tenth commandments seem to leave plenty of room for all sorts of things to happen in our heads….provided we don’t act upon them.

Ah, but is it really that simple? Think whatever you want about whoever you want, and act just this way? Human sexuality is so much more complex than that. It defies two-word answers. With that in mind, I’ve frequently taught Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s take on the Ten Commandments, reformulated as vows. They appear in his book Minyan: Ten Principles for Living a Life of Integrity. Here’s what he has to say on the seventh commandment; I think it’s a pretty good sex ethic, overall, and offer it to Jewrotica readers with my hearty recommendation!

Do not engage in sexual misconduct.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate sexual responsibility and not to engage in sexual relations without compassion and commitment.

I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children and adults from sexual abuse and to eliminate sexually transmitted disease.

I vow to honor my body and the bodies of others by treating all beings with respect and dignity.

I vow to hallow pleasure and the senses by seeing the wonder of life within and around me.

I vow to uphold the holiness of sexuality by never degrading it, myself, or another through violence, ignorance, or deceit.

May your days be filled with holiness of the very best kinds!

Jewrotica is a spankin' new project with the power to provide a voice for Jewish sexual expression and meaningful conversation. Jewrotica is an online community-in-the-making and a database of delicious and grin-inducing Jewish stories and confessions. Join us!