Thou shalt not commit what?

With Shavuot on the horizon, I feel obliged to teach my kids about the ten commandments. I’m fine with that – they’re good rules. After all, who wants their kids stealing? Or murdering? And that honor your mother and father bit? Brilliant.

I’m stumped, however, about how to explain “Do not commit adultery” to my daughters. They have only the vaguest notion of what sex is. In other words, they know it takes a man and a woman to make a baby,  but they have no idea how. I’d like to capture the real meaning of this commandment in language that makes sense to them. But, I have no idea how.


I asked folks on the Homeshuling facebook page for their ideas; here are some of the better suggestions:

People who are married must be a good and faithful partner for each other.

Be trustworthy to the person you are married to.

Be honest with your husband and wife.

Do not steal someone’s husband or wife.

Don’t go on dates with anyone besides your spouse.

A few people suggested something akin to “keep your promises to your husband or wife” but I’m afraid this one makes it seem as if people who divorce are breaking this commandment, which they aren’t.

Any other suggestions?



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posted June 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

For kids, the idea of adultery can be put into terms about cheating and respect for peers. We don’t take extra money from the Monopoly bank when your sister goes to the bathroom. We don’t look under the bed for her diary. Etc. Yes, these can also fall under “stealing” but adultery is really about the ability to trust one another with the intangible parts of ourselves – our words, our love, our egos…

I’ve been thinking about this and it led me to re-read a book by Shmuley Boteach. I’m not a huge fan of Boteach, but I found two paragraphs relevant for the discussion of the Ten Commandments with kids in his book “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Judaism”:

“[…] There are no rewards or punishments provided in the commandments. There aren’t even rationalizations of them. God does not say ‘Do not steal. After all, you would hate it if it happened to you.’ There is no room for argument or rebuttal. Rather, He simply says that these ten things must be observed. Period. This is My world and these are the rules. Just do it.”

“[…] The Ten Commandments were delivered by God in the form of two separate tablets, each equally indispensable to the other. The first deals with laws concerning the belief in, and absolute respect for, God. The second deals with morality and prescriptions against indecent behavior. The message: without both the set is invalid. Without God there cannot be goodness. Without goodness, the belief in God becomes a farce.”

Hope this helps some.

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted June 2, 2011 at 1:39 am

I usually put it in terms of “respect marriage.”
– Not just the person you’re married to, because respect comes and goes
– Respecting MARRIAGE suggests a sacramental union where God is present between the partners – a union which is the building block of Jewish society.

I wouldn’t bring up the idea of cheating so much as emphasizing the positive: building families centred on Jewish values, the “bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael” that every nearly-married couple is believe to create.

Hope this is helpful!

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted June 2, 2011 at 1:43 am

One final thought: “respect marriage” works for me where other definitions do not because people are flawed. You can’t always respect your partner. But you can always respect God, who creates the ideal of marriage.

For what it’s worth, I don’t like ANY of the suggestions you picked:
“People who are married must be a good and faithful partner for each other.” / “Be trustworthy to the person you are married to.”
– so, nu? What happens when (inevitably) we fall short?
“Be honest with your husband and wife.”
– who shouldn’t we be honest with???
“Do not steal someone’s husband or wife.”
– oy! You want to raise this with kids in the room? Plus, young kids are probably most likely to picture kidnapping, not fornication.
“Don’t go on dates with anyone besides your spouse.”
– again, not really a good one for young children… and it involves drawing some pretty concrete lines about what is and is not a date; better for a discussion in their teens…

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    posted June 2, 2011 at 7:07 am

    I agree with you. They are imperfect at best, and confusing at worst.

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Bible Belt Balabusta

posted June 2, 2011 at 7:07 am

My favorite is still the short and sweet version from Ten Good Rules (by Susan Remick Topek): “Married people should love each other.”
It’s too succinct for grownups, perhaps, but for young kids it seems to work. Especially when paired with a picture (as in the 1991 edition book) of two people who look happy and complete.

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posted June 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

That is a tough one. We have always told them that they can only marry one person. For teens, I would explain more. My kids ask if they want more details. They have never questioned this one, so I left it alone. I think with young kids it is always best to keep it simple. When they are ready for more, they will ask. In terms of marriage, I have also told them that my husband is my best friend in the whole world. This is language they can truly appreciate.

I think stressing the essence of the groupings of the commandments, those between a person and G-d (the first four) and those between people, is very important. The Torah provides a code of conduct and helps us navigate our relationships. As we approach certain relationships, further specific details will be provided. A child who grows up with a strong relationship with G-d and a deep understanding of friendship and how we behave with others, will have no problem transferring these concepts to the marriage relationship when the time comes.

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posted June 3, 2011 at 10:40 am

Adultry is not just about sex, it is all about lust and true love for one’s mate. As are all the commandment, it is about selfishness, me first, what I want over all else.
I would explain it as being true and faithful, in heart and mind to one’s spouse.
You can be faithful in body, but not in mind and only G-d would know, however, that is not the spirit of the law and it is the spirit of the law that is most meaningful, it is where the heart is that is more important than where the flesh is or is not. You can keep the law with the flesh but be constantly breaking it in your heart.

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posted June 6, 2011 at 9:33 am

(and yes, I am Christian) we use the wording “Do not break your marriage” with young children.

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Molly @ Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce

posted June 12, 2011 at 8:14 am

When I was a child, my parents told us that we could only love one person and be married to one person. I fought mightily to keep my bonds of marriage together, but my ex decided to leave. Now that I have had time to reflect upon it, I do believe that fidelity is extremely important in a marriage (and he was less convinced of that) but I also do believe that there are times when being apart is better for all involved. Constant fighting and white knuckling are not good for anyone involved.

Thanks, Amy, for pointing out that we who divorce don’t break our promises per se. Sometimes circumstances change and new and different promises are made.

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