Women: “Don’t touch the merchandise”
Saudi Arabia and many Moslem countries are notorious for their communal treatment of the fairer sex. Women have been burned alive for what they deem immodest dress; and what westerners would consider as criminal, brutal and barbaric acts are commonly perpetrated against women in the name of Sharia Law, modesty and family honor.
Jewish law, in contrast, is a world apart in its treatment of the issues of modesty and family purity. While the biblical punishment for adultery and incest are a harsh and final death penalty, it rests on the rigorous requirements of bringing qualified witnesses, proper warning to the parties involved, and serious judicial deliberation. According to Mishnaic accounts, the death penalty was rarely enforced (once in 70 years was considered a lot).
Probably because of the difficulty of proving or assessing any marital infidelity, God instituted another approach to the problem that was in effect during the time of the Temple: Sotah.
Numbers Chapter 5 states:
“Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him; and a man could have lain with her carnally, but it was hidden from the eyes of her husband, and she became secluded and could have been defiled – but there was no witness against her – and she had not been forced; and a spirit of jealousy had passed over him and he had warned his wife…”
The Torah goes on to elaborate the conditions that trigger the Sotah ceremony, how it’s performed, the deadly results if she is guilty and the positive results if she is innocent.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno identifies a progression of three steps from the above verses as to the degeneration of the Sotah candidate:
- “shall go astray” – she dresses immodestly
- “commit treachery” – she kisses and hugs men besides her immediate family
- “have lain” – outright adultery
For those that grew up in more permissive cultures and homes, one would assume that steps 1 and 2 have no correlation with adultery. In the modern western world, modesty is a relative term and we are witnessing less and less of it every day. Hugging and kissing members of the opposite sex are normal social conventions in many groups, almost the equivalent of a formal handshake.
Sforno, having grown up in Italy, the land that is credited with the development and popularization of the cheek kissing greeting, does not pull his punches though. Not only does he consider kisses and hugs an affront to the wife’s husband, he also states that it is a “desecration” against God himself.
May we always know who to kiss (and who not to), and may modesty always guide our lives in and out of the home.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,
To my grandmother, Zahava Rosenthal on the occasion of her 87th birthday this Shavuot. A woman of great modesty and love. Happy Birthday! Feel good! Hugs and kisses! J