Modern Times


By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published September 05, 2003, issue of September 05, 2003.
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“Technically, Alice, according to the Torah, it’s not adultery.”

Alice yanks her elbow from his hand, walks down the synagogue steps, crosses the street to a park bench, sits. Bob follows, but as he sits beside her, Alice angles her body away.

“Alice,” he says, touching her shoulder.

She jerks free.

“Carol’s Jewish,” he says, “if that helps.”

“Well that makes all the difference. I’ll tell you what, Bob — invite her for Shabbes dinner. She and I can take turns lighting your candles.”

“I don’t need crude sarcasm.”

“And of course everything’s about your needs.”

Bob fidgets with the lapels of his medium-weight suit jacket. “It started as just a physical thing. We didn’t mean for it to… evolve.”

“You… you…,” Alice says, slamming a fist down onto her skirt-covered thigh. “Adulterer!”

“Not according to the Torah, Alice, not really. That’s kind of why I chose today to tell you. It’s not adultery according to the Torah.”

She turns to face him. “What idiocy are you talking? You wear your yarmulke in bed with her? That makes it kosher? The Union of Orthodox Rabbis stamped a hechsher on her shapely — ?”

“Alice! Stop being a TV sitcom.”

“It’s either sitcom or murder mystery, Bob. Take your pick.”

“You’re in shock. I understand,” he continues. “Look, we just read all about this in today’s Torah portion.”

She stares at him, shakes her head, squints in disbelief. “You’re going to quote Torah to excuse infidelity?”

Ki Tetze,” he says, “prohibits a man from having relations with a woman who’s married or engaged. Carol’s totally single, so it’s not adultery.”

“But you’re married, Bob!” Alice blurts. “For 30 years you’re married! To me!”

“Not a problem for Ki Tetze.”

“Just for me.”

“That’s what the Torah says, Alice.”

Alice thinks for a moment, then, “The Torah also says, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.’ Does that mean it’s okay for me to covet my neighbor’s husband?”

“Now that’s an interesting point, Alice. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“For three decades I’ve wondered why the Almighty denied me children. Now I understand. He’s kept me barren to spare our children the shame of this moment!”

“Which brings me to another point, Alice. A delicate one, I know.” He shifts on the bench. “I don’t mean to hurt you…”

“Of course you don’t, Bob. This is all about me and my feelings.”

“The Torah allows a man to divorce his wife if she’s barren.”

Alice stares into space, then nods her head slowly. “Of course.” She continues nodding, “It’s always the wife’s fault when there are no children, right?”

“In our case, Alice, that happens to be true. Carol’s going to have my baby.”

It is this that makes Alice gasp, that triggers her tears. She wants to halt them, not to give Bob the satisfaction, but they flow nonetheless. What can she say? With which defense, with which revenge argument does the Torah arm a betrayed wife? “You know, don’t you,” she murmurs through salty wet lips, “that Ki Tetze condemns a bastard to alienation from the congregation for 10 generations.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, that’s archaic. Besides,” says Bob, “my child won’t be a bastard if I’m married to his mother.”

Alice stops crying. Alice stops feeling. “I see,” she says. “Now I truly understand.” She sits quiet and still. “Divorce. I see. Of course.” Then, “By all means, Bob. Anything for a child.” She stands. “Well. We’ll say good-bye here and now. Send the get Federal Express.”

“Alice, I don’t want to rush you, but…”

“I understand, Bob. We can’t take any chances — 10 generations of alienation is a long time for your offspring to be missing services. And by the way, Bob, that linen and wool blend suit you’re wearing — a no-no according to Ki Tetze. And here’s another Torah nugget I noticed today: If a bride’s not a virgin on her wedding night, she’s supposed to be killed. Carol needs to know that so she can pack appropriate stoning-wear for the honeymoon.”

“Alice, you’re ridiculous.”

“Actually, Bob, you’re the one who’s ridiculous. Although I must say I admire your comfort in picking and choosing from the Torah. I can learn from you.” Alice turns away from her husband one last time, takes measured steps across the street, climbs the synagogue steps. She hesitates at the doorway, then enters the synagogue alone.

Daniel M. Jaffe, the editor of “With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction,” lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.

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