SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Relating to the opposite sex

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In these past days, we have been learning about Jewish morality in the area of sexuality. Knowing the moral codes of the Tora is essential to protecting marriage and faithfulness. Today I want to finish the study of this commandment with one last reflection.

We have explained that sexuality in Judaism is sacred and exclusive. The sanctity of this act has to do with the framework where it takes place: marriage.

There is another element that also belongs exclusively to the relationship of husband and wife, of utmost importance, and of which much less is spoken. Let’s see. The first time the Tora describes a sexual relationship, it says: “And Adam KNEW Eve his wife.” This knowledge is not physical but emotional and is conducive to sexuality. Therefore, it should also be reserved for the husband-wife relationship and should not take place outside of marriage.

Adultery often occurs without premeditation. That is, feelings between two people might develop without one realizing it. As we have often explained, the Jewish strategy to protect marriage loyalty is to set certain barriers or preventative measures, such as Iyhud, i.e., not to seclude with another woman or another man, other than one’s spouse, or to avoid physical contact with the opposite sex, etc. We must also be aware that when we relate to people of the opposite sex, we must maintain an emotional distance, knowing that adultery usually happens as a consequence of a previous emotional connection.

Good relationships between human beings begin with “respect”. I can not relate to someone, to my neighbor for example, if he does not respect me, or if I do not respect him or her. Respect is the most primary requirement of every human relationship. Then, when that relationship grows a little more, we would be talking about “cordiality”, which is one level above respect. In a relationship based on cordiality, there is positive communication, a good understanding and a healthy exchange of ideas. Then the relationship can reach the next level. And this is where the Hakhamim teach us to be careful. The next level is a level of “emotional trust” or “emotional closeness” (in Hebrew, qirub da’at). In a relationship of cordiality ideas and thoughts are exchanged, but in a relationship of emotional trust feelings, secrets and more private information is exchanged. This relationship, which may not necessarily have to do with the sexual at the beginning, is a more intimate relationship. KNOWLEDGE (da’at), and as we saw in Adam’s case, it usually leads to the next level: intimacy. For example, when a young couple begins the dating process, they treat each other with respect, then with cordiality, and then if the relationship grows, a more intimate, more emotional, and more trusting “knowledge” of each other will unfold. When this happens, it is a good indication that the couple can go forward, towards marriage.

Now we can understand better the warning of the Rabbis of Musar (Jewish ethics) regarding qirub da’atwith people of the opposite sex. What can happen if a married man starts an emotional relationship with one of his employees? If he shares with his secretary, for example, the problems he has with his wife? What happens when a married woman reaches this level of emotional trust with her dentist, her coach, her teacher, etc.? Of course, this “emotional relationship” does not happen overnight. It had to have passed first for respect and then for cordiality. And somehow, perhaps unconsciously, it reached a higher level.

To protect conjugal fidelity one must be aware of the levels at which a human relationship develops. And a married man or woman should always keep respect and cordiality towards every human being, but they should avoid reaching a level of an emotional relationship when they relate to people of the opposite sex.

Faithfulness is the basis of the Jewish family. Protecting fidelity guarantees our marital happiness and the emotional stability of the people we love most. Protecting fidelity involves the self-imposition of certain codes of behavior and interaction with people of the opposite sex. An awareness and the application of certain “boundaries”. This will avoid men and women getting into situations that are more difficult to control.