I am sure that most readers are a sick of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky story as I am but I saw a news item recently that used that episode to shed an interesting light on how adultery is viewed according to Jewish law.
At the height of the scandal, a Jewish scholar wrote a defense of Clinton that argued that he had not in fact committed adultery, and that Jews should stay loyal to him especially since King David, who is viewed as a great hero, did much worse things.
“According to classical Jewish law, President Clinton did not commit adultery; adultery is defined as a married man having intercourse with a married woman, and Monica Lewinsky is single,” said the Jan. 27, 1999, e-mail that ended up with White House adviser and political fixer Sidney Blumenthal.
“From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David?” Susannah Heschel wrote.
“King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
I am by no means a biblical scholar but I had noticed that whenever the Bible mentioned cases of adultery, it was always the case that the woman was married while the man’s marital status seemed immaterial. I suspect that a married woman is seen as ‘belonging’ to her husband and that by having sex with her, the man was using property that did not belong to him and that was the real offense.
Any rabbinical scholars out there who can shed some authoritative light on this?