In Judaism, adultery is considered one of the most grievous sins.

Print this page Print this page

Laws of adultery continued to be developed in talmudic times. The unfaithful wife was dealt with extensively in a talmudic tractate called Sotah (the faithless wife). Before the penalty of death could be administered, the rabbis stated in the Talmud, a number of strict requirements needed to be met, including such necessities as the crime having to have occurred before two valid witnesses and a warning that must be given to the couple concerning the punishment for the crime in very specific terms. The probability of carrying out the death penalty was, therefore, quite remote

Marrying a person born of an adulterous or incestuous union and having sexual intercourse with him or her was a criminal offense punishable by flogging. The offspring of a forbidden sexual relationship is called a mamzer, usually translated as bastard. In Jewish law, though, the mere fact that a child is born or conceived out of lawful wedlock does not make him a mamzer and he is not an illegitimate child, i.e., one whose status or rights are impaired. The Bible says that a mamzer shall not "enter into the assembly of God; even unto the tenth generation shall none of his progeny enter into the assembly of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:3). "Enter into the assembly" is the biblical idiom for marrying into the Jewish community; the "tenth generation" is a large number indicating an infinite time.

It is also for this reason that the rabbis made every effort to solve all cases of the mamzer. The Talmud implies that the biblical verse (Deuteronomy 23:3) that states the mamzer may never marry into the Jewish community refers to "tenth generation" rather than forever, because in the future world mamzers will be purified.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.