Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Let's Lie To Our Husbands And Wives Now, Shall We?

I was recently reading Daniel Z. Feldman's The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations (the expanded edition). While I applaud the idea of a book focusing upon how halakha holds value even if it's not referring to a shiur of matzah, I found the concept of lying for the sake of peace (or lying for shalom bayis) to be disturbing, as usual. I suppose that is because the scenarios presented would never evoke peace in my home, but rather anger at being deceived. Case in point:
    Ironically, it may be suggested that the more constricted understanding of this dispensation, that it is the lesser of two evils rather than a complete abrogation of the prohibition of falsehood, may recommend a more expansive application in some sense. If the pursuit of peace is powerful enough to overwhelm the injunction against lying, as expounded at length by the Rama in his responsum noted earlier, it may also be that it is likewise effective in overwhelming other precepts of the Torah when necessary. Alternatively, if the principle is enacted only because it utilizes a loophole in the laws of falsehood, there is no basis to extrapolate to other areas of Jewish law.

    R' Shimon Greenfield (Responsa Maharshag 3:65) considers the case of a woman who, in her youth, had given birth under circumstances less honorable than those in which she now chooses to live. Currently married, she has just borne her husband's first son. The husband, unaware of the more unsavory aspects of his wife's past, enthusiastically awaits performing the mitzvah of pidyon ha-ben. Is the husand to e informed that it is not necessary, irrespective of the substantial damage that will be incurred to marital harmony? Or, is a sham religious ceremony to be countenanced? R. Greenfeld, cognizant of the imperative to maintain peace looming large, allows the pseudo-ritual, while providing advice on the avoidance ofthe transgression of pronouncing an unwarranted blessing. R. Ovadiah Yosef (Responsa Yahbia Omer, vol. 8, Yoreh Deah 32), in a similar instance, goes as far as to allow the blessing. R. Yosef's eventual successor in the Israeli Sefardi Chief Rabbinate, R. Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, discusses yet another case in his Responsa Binyan Av 2:54. A similar issue concerns the unjustified insertion of the phrase betulta da, signifying a virgin, into the public reading of a ketubah at a wedding (Feldman 95).
Here is what I would like to know. How did this situation arise in the first place? Why did this woman marry this man without telling him about her past? Does she think a marriage founded upon lies is a good idea? And why do the rabbanim consider it lying for the sake of peace to let her pretend this is her first child- that's a major deception being practiced there! It's totally unethical and it's also wrong to the husband, who, if he knew, would doubtless proceed differently and may not even have married the woman in the first place. I don't see how it is protecting shalom bayis to conceal information of such drastic proportions. By this (to my mind skewed) logic, one would also not have to reveal any of one's medical information or other large, important pieces of information and claim shalom bayis immunity for these lies as well. As I don't think one can lie forever, eventually this will lead to a massive sense of betrayal and resultant anger; better to tell the truth in the first place.


Anonymous said...

It is better to tell the truth in the first place. I'm with you. Great post.

devils advocate said...

If I were to guess, it seems that this woman did some very wrong things in the distant past, and she might even be a ba'alas Teshuvah. While I don't know whether she should have concealed from him from the beginning or not, there is an arguement why she should conceal that to him. The fact is, if she would have divulged that (assuming she's a ba'alas teshuvah... irrelevant) information, that probably would have broken the relationship. This might be a case where lying before, and certainly during, the marriage is appropriate because this information has no practical value whatsoever, other then a husband "deserves to know that information." Along the same lines, I don't think a woman has a responsibilty to ever tell her husband that she was raped in the past either.
A disease however has practical ramifications and can affect a marriage in a very profound way. For a woman (or man) to hold back that information from their potential spouse is incredibly irresponsible and would possibly be a mekach ta'us (mistaken "acquisition").

Chana said...

Devil's Advocate,

"Along the same lines, I don't think a woman has a responsibilty to ever tell her husband that she was raped in the past either."

I don't agree with you. I do agree in that you are correct that by virtue of marrying someone, you don't necessarily suddenly have to entrust them with every single secret you ever possessed. But especially with rape, when there may have been repercussions and there might now be certain fears or touch sensitivities in place, it's incredibly important (I would think) for the husband to know so that he will be able to help her accordingly. The same goes for someone who was sexually abused or molested. (For a brilliant book that demonstrates this practically, see Miss America By Day.) I would hope that when one is marrying one's husband and trusting him with one's body, one would also be able to trust him with one's whole self and not find it necessary to hide behind a screen of lies.

I also don't think that simply because one is a Baa'las Teshuva that makes one's past life totally irrelevant and not subject to discussion. What is a marriage if it does not allow for openness?

Anonymous said...

If I understood correctly, the case was (or at least could have been) something like this: she told him that she was BT and had a very messy past, and he was okay with that and didn't ask further questions about it. When the baby was born, the husband just started going "oh mazel tov wow a firstborn boy quick let's do a pidyon haben!" -- and the wife doesn't know how/if/when to burst his bubble. Not that she ever made an attempt at deceiving him.

Though I admit there's a very fine line between "deceiving him" and "remaining silent while he deceives himself."

Adam, no longer in the Caribbean said...

My question is what happens when he finds out the past? Secrets don't stay secrets forever. How is he going to feel knowing he was deceived wrt performing a pidyon haben? I would image him thinking about what else she is withholding, thereby leading to a slippery slope of distrust and accusation. Me thinks such a relationship will end up with a get being writ.

Irina Tsukerman said...

And if your spouse can't accept you knowing that information, maybe you shouldn't be together in the first place!

BT said...

My wife and I are Baalei Teshuvah. We are old enough to have children who are older than most graduate students.

When we dealt with these issues when we were dating, we decided that we needed to disclose to each other WHAT we had done in our pasts, but not with WHOM. We have lived in the same city for many years before we started dating. This policy spares potential discomfort. Neither of us is very good at being "poker faced".

Dorron Katzin said...

One of Faye Kellerman's books deals with an FFB who had a child out of wedlock that was adopted. Her parents tried to deal with the problem by marrying her off to a Levi.

commenter said...

I agree that the deception should not have occurred in the first place, and that there should be disclosure of important information before marriage. However, the shaila that the Rabbi in question was dealing with is not whether the information should have been disclosed before marriage, but what to do now that it hasn't been. The principle of shalom bayis can only be applied after marriage, so the logic used to determine whether or not to tell a husband/wife certain information would not carry over to the same situation between two people who were just dating.

EJB said...

I didn't read all of the comments, but the major difference between the cases mentioned in Rabbi Feldman's book and lying about medical history is that if the woman removed all traces of promiscuity from her nature, her sinful past will not affect her marriage in the slightest. So, it will not affect her husband in any way. If she has poor health, on the other hand, she is more at risk to chas vishalom die prematurely and leave her husband (and kids) without a wife (and mother). This will affect the marriage, and therefore must be mentioned.
Of course, this is hinged upon the assumption that the woman has completely changed her ways. I don't know how this is determined, who makes this determination, and how likely this scenario is. But, assuming she has, I hear what the Rabbis are saying.
Also, the Rabbis may only be talking about a b'di eved situation.

Mystery Woman said...

In that example, they are already married. Maybe she should have told him before they got married, but she didn't, and that's not the point here. Point is, now that they are here, with a baby boy, does she tell him...and I agree that she should not. At that point, it will do more harm than good. Why break up a marriage? What she should have done previously is irrelevant now.

Aaron said...

Excuse me, Mystery Woman, but there is no present without the past. And me thinks that a past of that magnitude must be discussed no matter what, there are no ifs or buts about it,- or the whole relationship is nothing but a sham.

Dorron Katzin said...

The question, unfortunately, is not what should have been done before the marriage, but what should be done now. I do not claim to have an answer.

Mystery Woman said...

Aaron, It should have been discussed...I totally agree with that. What I don't agree with is discussing it now, when nothing good can come of it.

ksil lo yavin said...

"honey, do i look fat in this dress?"


Chana said...


"Her sinful past will not affect her marriage in the slightest."

But her lying and covering up will!

Mystery Woman,

If you have an opportunity to continue to lie about your past or to come clean, I don't think it would be irrelevant. I think you should come clean, deal with the consequences, and begin the true part of your marriage.


The nice thing about true marriages is that the husband truly sees his wife as beautiful. Not that they don't put the time, effort and energy in to look that way, because of course they each would. But he wouldn't have to lie because in his eyes, his wife- even if she has stretch marks or has gained some weight or otherwise looks different than she did when she first married him- is beautiful.

Dorron Katzin said...

"Sheker HaChen VeHevel HaYofi..."

The Talmid said...

See this post on Bein Din L'din


I offer it without any comment.

The Talmid said...

oh, and BTW Chana,
isn't '24' so cutting edge, discussing these issues before they suddenly burst in the J-blogosphere?

Chana said...

The Talmid,

LOL. You're talking about Dana and Ortiz? That probation officer is going to get them into trouble... *smile*

a stern friend said...

Chana- This general situation is probably more common than you think. I actually know several people who were previously married but it was short-lived, no children, and the current spouse doesn't know (luckily, none of these happen to involve kohanim). Do I think it's strange? Absolutely. I could not imagine not telling my husband something that major. However, I don't think it's fair to say that when people do hide those kinds of things that their marriage is "based on lies" or doesn't have a "true foundation", or is somehow a "sham". You will one day get married and find out that every marriage is different and just because one couple interacts in a way that you and your future husband would personally not be happy with, it does not mean that their marriage is bad, dysfunctional or unhappy (obviously, I do not include any kind of abuse in this category- abuse is wrong and must be dealt with, even if the person being abused claims to be "fine").

Why do people hide these things? We can't know. And even if we did, it may not seem justifiable for us, but it is not our right to judge. I know that in one of the cases I mentioned above, the person had previously been married to a non-Jew and for whatever reason wants to keep that totally under wraps, even from his wife (I only know because I was at that first wedding as a young child). It doesn't seem to affect their lives, and it seems unlikely that he will ever cross paths with the ex again. Like I said, it seems strange and I personally wouldn't hide something like that, but I don't think we, as outsiders can judge what others do in the context of their own relationships.

BT said...

I know of a number of instances where one spouse was married very briefly and then married again. In all of these cases, the spouse knows.

Stern Friend:

How could a woman not tell her husband she was married before? Doesn't the ketubah have to be different when a woman's subsequent marriage(s)?

Anonymous said...

Stern friend said:
Why do people hide these things? We can't know. And even if we did, it may not seem justifiable for us, but it is not our right to judge.

To this I have the following :

"There is no such thing as an inconsequential lie." Whether it's a white lie, or whether it's a grandiose scheme. Any lie you tell has consequences. It has effects on your relationships, it has effects on your communication, it has effects on you mentally and emotionally, and it has effects on you physically because of the stress you're putting on yourself in being dishonest." {Honesty workshop)

TPW said...

Husbands and wives should be upfront about their past marriages/children. Period. I'm assuming that the reason for the pidyon haben being fake is that the woman had already borne a baby boy.

As for sexual history alone, I think that one should always tell the truth when his or her partner asks.

However, the need to volunteer one's sexual history depends on the situation. If the other person assumes his or her partner has a pristine past, then volunteering more details would be the ethical approach. However, if partner realizes that something might have occurred in the significant other's past but simply doesn't press the subject (for example, if someone is open about being a BT), then it is up to that partner to ask about any previous sexual history--if he or she deems it necessary to know (due to the prevalence of STDs, I happen to think it's rather important).

The Talmid said...

yeah, "Dana" & Cole Ortiz

Anonymous said...

With all do respect to the author, has it even entered anyone's mind here that perhaps there is a wisdom behind this logic that you just dont understand?? Large majority of experts in the field of marraige therapy would agree with Rabbi Feldman. Is there any reason we should take the word of young, single, inexperienced people posting on this site over the wisdom and experience of the experts?? Im not saying that because someone isnt married they can not have any opinions on marraige, but you do have to recognize that there are things you will not understand about marraige. Just because you dont understand it, doesnt mean it isnt true. It may just mean you have to be patient and open your mind to the possibility that you dont know everything and that certain ideas and undertstanding comes with age and experience that you lack.

Anonymous said...

March 10, 2010 10:40 AM said

"... has it even entered anyone's mind here that perhaps there is a wisdom behind this logic that you just dont understand?? "

Excuse me, Anon, but this is an open forum for discussion. Chana's post is well formulated and the readers state their opinions and thoughts. Why assume the negative?

Anonymous said...

I am not the one assuming the negative. It is the author and the people posting comments. Why cant people defer their judgement to those who obviously have more life experience and wisdom? Again, the overwhelming majority of the EXPERTS IN THE FIELD OF MARITAL THERAPY WOULD AGREE WITH RABBI FELDMAN (who is extremely wise himself). I just dont understand how these young and inexperienced people think they know better??

It is a very dangerous way of living life, thinking that at a very young and inexperienced age, one can only criticize views they dont agree with, instead of maybe understanding that older and more experienced people may have an understanding of life issues that they simply dont have.

Anonymous said...

Anon March 10, 2010 3:28 PM said:
I am not the one assuming the negative. It is the author and the people posting comments

Anon, once again,this site is an OPEN FORUM FOR DISCUSSION. Don't you get it?! Sheesh!

Chana said...

Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman wrote me a letter with extensive sources and explanation regarding this post which you can read here.