A non-married Jewish man, in a seriously committed relationship with the woman whom he loves with all his heart and plans to marry, made the biggest mistake of his life and committed one physical incident of infidelity with no emotional component, and which did not include any form of intercourse, but did involve pleasureful contact, when he was solicited by another woman, and acted in this way in a moment of weakness.
If that man later confessed most of the pertinent details of the incident to his significant other, but minimized the full extent of the physical contact in his confession by lying about it, would Jewish ethics and values indicate that he must confess the rest of the details, and also that he lied to his significant other in the earlier confession?
The S.O. has already moved forward and forgiven him for what he has revealed. Is the rest of the information irrelevant if the woman knows that she was betrayed and nearly the full extent of the contact?
This man wants nothing more then to remain 100% committed to their relationship with all his mind, body and soul, but feels like he has kept something from her that she deserved to know and is suffering from guilt.
Is this genevat daat (stealing the mind - deceit/deception/fraud)? Does this fall under preserving shalom bayit (peace in the home)?
At this point further confession will only lead to more hurt, mistrust, pain to the innocent partner and deterioration of the relationship, with little benefit from the additional information to either party, and only feed her doubts.
What should this man do, and can he repent and do teshuva for his unfortunate conduct? He has shown genuine remorse and vowed to never betray his significant other ever again.
It first bears mention that Jewish law does not recognize a “seriously-committed relationship with a woman” one deeply loves and plans to marry. Marriage is marriage, and there is a prescribed formula for the Jewish marriage that creates a mutual set of obligations. I notice that no mention was even made of an “engagement,” also known as “a ring and a date.” Thus, as emotionally compelling as the relationship might be and sounds like it is, it ultimately has no official status under Torah law. Essentially, whatever inappropriate physical actions were perpetrated with the other woman, the same violations pertain to those same acts being performed with his special friend. Jewish law views both sins as identical, even if the romantics among us would disagree.
That being said, the question remains is there an obligation under Torah law or Jewish ethics to fully reveal his sins to his beloved, down to their last seamy detail? I think not. The Rambam (Laws of Repentance, II:5,9) states that one must appease the friend he has wronged by saying he “did such and such to him” and to plead for forgiveness. But it suffices to reveal the general nature of the wrong – which our questioner herein already did – as long as the basic details reveal to the wronged party the nature of the wrong and the need for forgiveness.
It reminds me of the famous dispute between the sainted Chofetz Chaim (Rav Yisrael Kagan) and the equally sainted Rav Yisrael Salanter, ethical giants both. The Chofetz Chaim had written in his eponymous book on the laws of slander that one who disparages his friend must confess to him that he indeed slandered him, and if the victim is unaware of what was said, the slanderer must inform him.
Rav Yisrael Salanter, asked to give his approbation to the book, refused because of this one law, saying that telling someone the substance of the slander embarrasses him even more, and we are not allowed to assuage our consciences on someone else’s account. The Chofetz Chaim refused to retract the opinion (based as it was on one opinion in the rishonim, the medieval authorities) and Rav Salanter, basing himself on another medieval authority, refused to approve the book!
Indeed, if further details will embarrass the victim more, my mind leans to Rav Yisrael Salanter’s view. And generally, we are allowed to shade the truth to increase domestic peace and harmony, although obviously that would not include lying about persistent misconduct. Here, as long as the special friend is aware of the nature of the offense – and she is, some sexual misconduct – that should suffice, along with his genuine contrition, commitment never to stra again, and – if she agrees to marry this character – setting a date certain for their marriage.
Jewish ethics have implications beyond the Jewish world. Torah speaks to Jews specifically, but also to humanity. The notion of the Noahide laws, a basic set of morality that applies to all humanity, means that Judaism even conceives of Torah as commanding all humanity in certain basic behavior. I would argue that Torah and Jewish ethics generally has a broader ethical voice to offer the world. Rabbi Saul Berman, for example, has long argued for the exceptional human quality of Torah ethics. Each life is sacred and we cannot sacrfice one life for another.
In this particular area of interpersonal relationships, Judaism does speak. Adultery is a deep human betrayal. It is for this reason that the Rabbis teach that an aduterer must cease her adultery and leave her marriage. She is forbidden to both because of the deep irreperable betrayal that has occurred. However, this applies only after marriage and only when there is intercourse.
In this case, there has been great harm and it appears great healing. There has been a process of change that suggests this man would not do such a thing, given an equal or greater temptation, again. I am concerned about the ongoing dishonesty. A process of repentenance includes taking full responsibility for what you have done. If he is misleading his partner in an active way for his own benefit, than yes, that sounds like an actual lie, even more than genvaat daat. On the one hand, Jewish ethics have no requirement to use truth as a bludgeon, but it does require that we tell people the information they need to make informed decisions in their lives. If he is open that they had a physically intimate experience but didnt go into details in order to spare his partner pain, fine. But if he glossed over the details to imply that less happened than actually did, I feel he needs to be more open. For the relationship to continue, trust needs to be restored. That can only happen when each partner is fully open with the other. She also may have had the opportunity to ask more and chose not to, knowing it would only be hurtful. In that case, he is right to omit the details. There is a famous Mishnah that instructs wedding guests to always say the bride is beautiful, even when she is not. That is, we don't tell brutal truths that only hurt. However, we are commanded to stay far away from dishonesty, meaning we cannot withhold or distort information that can lead to injury. From what you say he seems to be in the former category, but I would urge him to really think and sit with what he has done and said and make sure that he is comfortable that his omissions are only to avoid her further hurt and not to minimize his failings so she will stay with him.
What is also unclear from the question is whether the woman is Jewish. If she is, than another consideration is how to share moral and spiritual traditions. Especially after an encounter like this, finding a way to have a shared spiritual identity seems essential. Healing can be found in community; shared ethical learning can help inform future conversations and actions. I would urge the couple to look for ways in which they could share Judaism and participate in Judaism to elevate themselves spiritually and morally, and to create contexts in which they can togeher share worries and fears.
You ask a number of questions, and I will only begin the process of addressing them. The ultimate answers must come from that particular man involved, with assistance from either a therapist and/or a local Rabbi.
The question that gets to the core is, “Would Jewish ethics and values indicate that he must confess the rest of the details, and also that he lied to his significant other in the earlier confession?”
(Remember that ethical questions are different from moral ones. Moral questions differentiate right from wrong actions based on some external set of standards. Ethical questions make distinctions between things that one ought to do or ought not to do, given a particular set of circumstances. Both actions can be objectively right, but one pathway will lead to better relationships or a better outcome than the other.)
The asking of this core question suggests that the man feels a tremendous amount of guilt about his concealing some of the details about his “infidelity,” even though she has forgiven him. This man, therefore, has to judge whether he can live with the guilt of not disclosing these details, and whether his world will be better if he made these further disclosures.
Further for his consideration, and perhaps more important, is the future of communicating within his relationship. It’s not simply the information concerning this past indiscretion that has me concerned. Rather, his not disclosing the correct details in this current instance is a possible sign that similar incomplete communication may take place in the future. In other words, the pattern is now set for obscuring future matters from his spouse or sigbnificant other, and both of them should be working on clear, complete, and candid ways of speaking to one another.
This is not to suggest that a full confession take place. You are correct that there are occasions where doing things to promote sh’lom bayit makes sense, but this is a judgment call on your part. You need to think about weighing the benefits of disclosure against the benefits of concealment, and then make the decision and live by it.
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