Aggrieved political wives have a long, sad history in this country, and in Judaism. From King David to Bill Clinton, betrayed wives have, sadly, become part of the fabric of the entitlement that surrounds powerful men. And in Judaism, figures like King David’s conquests have been, in some quarters, celebrated as evidence of his virility.
It’s a tired and offensive trope, one which undermines the sacredness of marital vows by suggesting they don’t apply to powerful men, and treats women and wives as objects in men’s lives rather than the subject of their own.
Which is why thousands of women are breathing a sigh of relief today with the news that Huma Abedin, the brilliant, accomplished wife of Anthony Weiner, is leaving him after he was caught in (yet another) sexting scandal. Abedin’s - who is a Muslim - decision to stay with Weiner, her Jewish husband, was judged harshly by many women – Jewish, Muslim and neither, who believed her choice to stay gave tacit permission to the repeated betrayals. It wasn’t an altogether fair judgment, given the two had a child together, but understandable given the visibility and lewdness of the scandal.
And the truth is, Jewish law judges men like Weiner, who repent and then knowingly commit the same sin again, even more harshly than the wives who stay with them. In Hilchot Teshuva, Maimonides suggests that there are five transgressions for which “it is unlikely that the person who commits them will repent.” (HT 4:4). The third of these is “One who looks at women forbidden to him. He considers the matter of little consequence, rationalizing, ‘Did I engage in [sexual] relations with her? Was I intimate with her?’” It’s as if Maimonides had anticipated – and warned against – betrayal by sexting.
But there’s a thin line between schadenfreude and a celebration of a person’s – even a broken person’s – downfall (and collateral damage that’s a result of that downfall). Immediately after detailing the third transgression (above), Maimonides warns that those who take pride in another’s shame forfeit our share in the world to come: “[The one who takes pride in another’s shame] tells himself that [he himself] has not sinned, for he did not…humiliate…[the other]. He merely constrasted his [own] good deeds against the deeds or wisdom of his colleague in order that, out of comparison, he would appear honorable, and his colleague shameful.” (HT, 4:4)
This applies even – especially - in the case of Anthony Weiner when the urge to judge (and feel self-righteous) is overwhelming. What women like Abedin need now is all as much compassion – and as little judgment – as we can muster. There are very few of us who haven’t forgiven someone we loved who did not merit our forgiveness. This doesn’t make us worthy of others scorn and self-righteousness – it simply makes us human. Maimonides knew that, and we should too.
Rabbi Jordie Gerson works as a full-time Rabbi for Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado. She is an accomplished writer and speaker with a blog at the Huffington Post religion. Follow her on Facebook.
Huma Abedin Deserves Our Compassion, Maimonides Would Say