Ask the Rabbi: Sanctions for adultery – Ask the Rabbi


Q. I am aware that adultery is forbidden in Judaism, but what are the sanctions against a person who cheats on their spouse?

A. The Biblical law concerning adultery (Ex. 20:13, Deut. 5:17) clearly establishes the principle of marital faithfulness. Husband and wife must be able to trust each other. Cheating on a spouse may be thought to be fun, but it undermines the fabric of one’s marriage.

It is all very well for someone to say, “I’ve forgiven my husband (or wife)”. But it’s not so easy, and things can never be the same again.

In the Torah the attitude to adultery is plain:

“If a man commits adultery with a married woman, if he commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Lev. 20:10).

1907 oil painting.Russian Jewish divorce proceedings, by Yehuda Pen.

Today, when there is no death penalty in Judaism, there should be a gett for the woman who has committed adultery and, according to many authorities, the man who has committed adultery should also give his wife a gett.

The man and woman who have been adulterous are not permitted to marry.



Q. Why do some circles oppose the study of secular subjects?

A. The view of Maimonides in the fifth chapter of his “Sh’moneh P’rakim” – Eight Chapters on Ethics – is that subject to certain safeguards, so-called secular subjects are good and useful.

He says science and medicine promote health of mind and body; mathematics and physics sharpen the mind and train it to distinguish logic from illogic; aesthetic studies help to relax the soul and senses.

However, anything that might undermine the Torah is not permitted. Thus, a Jew may not read books of idolatrous philosophy unless for the express purpose of being able to refute them.

Maimonides would certainly agree that subjects which undermine Jewish moral principles are not permitted.

The opponents of secular studies fear, however, that one’s Torah study might take second place to secular education, and suffer.

Even Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great proponent of “Torah Im Derech Eretz” (the combination of Jewish and general culture) warns that if general culture does not bring a person to Torah but seeks to replace it, it is not the path that leads to the Tree of Life (Commentary on Gen. 3:24).



Q. In some prayers for particular people, the name of the person is given as “P the son (or daughter) of P”. What does the “P” denote?

A. The “P” is short for “p’loni”, “a certain person”.

The root is “peleh”, “a wonder”. God is called “oseh feleh”, “He who does wondrous things” (Ex. 15:11).

From this root comes a verb that means “to be distinct”, as in Ex. 33:16 (“v’niflinu”).

Eventually there arises a word “p’loni” which means “such and such”, as in I Sam. 21:3, “m’kom p’loni”, “such and such a place” (cf. II Kings 6:8), or “so and so”, sometimes linked with “almoni”, presumably because of the rhyme.

In the Book of Ruth, Boaz calls to a kinsman, “Sit here ‘p’loni almoni’, i.e. such and such a person” (Ruth 4:1).

Boaz would have known his kinsman’s name (it might have been Tov: see Ruth 3:13), but the text suppressed it, in the view of the rabbis, because the kinsman was reluctant to do a mitzvah.

Louis Finkelstein suggested that sometimes when rabbinic literature used the word “p’loni” they were hinting at the name of Philo, the Hellenistic philosopher, whose views they knew but did not approve.

The notion that Philo can be read into rabbinic material is, however, not very likely.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at


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