“I made a mistake.” “It was all so fast.”
Sadly, as a rabbi, I have seen far too many families shattered because of shortsighted pursuits of pleasure. Often good people, why are they acting in such a destructive manner?
It only takes one moment. Only one moment before an entire life’s foundation can be shattered and moral potential cut short. The lures of forbidden romance, so often the stuff of lurid paperbacks and soap opera pabulum, are not often discussed openly in a manner that speaks to the moral character of our friends, family, and colleagues. Yet, it is important to consider the consequences of an affair, the ramifications it has on society, the harm it causes familial structure, the pain it causes one’s partner, and the irreparable damage it causes to one’s life journey.
We are overdue for a collective conversation about one of the greatest social ills of our time; one we are all aware of but less are adequately prepared to handle. Families are tragically broken every day from infidelity. The moment one decides they will accept or reject seduction is a momentous one. A tempting opportunity is presented with a co-worker, friend, or prostitute, and a lifetime spent learning ethical decisions is at stake.
A moment of self-indulged pleasure can result in a lifetime of lingering disasters. Sometimes — heroically — families get put back together but more often than not, family units are destroyed. Most will, in theory, say they are opposed to committing adultery. But what is needed is that every man and woman in a committed relationship be prepared for how they will reject a seducer. Ethical commitment isn’t enough. If one knows they struggle with temptations in general, they should meet with a counselor to prepare themselves. Further, one must remove fantasies from one’s mind to ensure that in a moment of test, one doesn’t stumble and God forbid act upon one. Television and film that fosters fantasy and reinforces immoral norms must be avoided.
Extramarital sex has — historically — been a man’s game, since the male sexual desire has been stereotypically assumed to be uncontrollable. Yet, a recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center has shown that the number of married American women having affairs has nearly doubled over the last decade, much to the contravention of the perceived norm. Today, 21 percent of men admit to having such affairs while 14.7 percent of women now admit to having them. The actual number is presumed to be significantly higher. What does this say to the moral character of our society? Sadly, this phenomenon is present in our religious communities as well even among those who claim to embrace the centrality of the Ten Commandments and to love their life partners.
From a religious perspective, an honest and loving marriage is central to the continuance of the Jewish faith. The perpetuation of the ancient values consecrated between the marriage of the spiritual and mundane is paramount. Violating these norms perverts the sacred duty we are tasked with during our temporal existence. Thus, we have to do all we can to preserve the collaborative holy covenant that strengthens our families and our society.
To avoid the consequences of a society that turns a blind eye to the normalization of adultery, we have to be cognizant to protect our own marriages. Adultery, as one of many causes of failed marriages, must be rejected through the dual tasks of ethical conviction and spiritual commitment. We must cultivate moral accountability, caring for our spouses and children legitimately, and upholding the Jewish commitment to monogamy and the shared covenant of love and devotion.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of nine books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.