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Why Prostitution Degrades Us All

In this Jewish season of farce, a lecherous ruler (King Achashverosh) is mocked for his desire to have a pretty woman (Queen Vashti) dance for his court wearing nothing but the royal crown. Truth, of course, is even stranger than fiction, as another lecherous ruler (Eliot Spitzer) has been mocked for his desire to have pretty women (the ladies of Emperors Club VIP) go a bit further than dancing. Spitzer’s behavior is contemptible and, quite frankly, I think he has richly earned the abundant scorn being heaped upon him from all corners. In all the media frenzy to cover this juicy story from as many angles as possible, however, there has been one aspect in particular that has intrigued us here at Virtual Talmud–the question of whether prostitution should in fact be criminalized or whether the type of establishment that Eliot Spitzer, um, patronized, should be legal and regulated (one of the best such analyses is at
Let me start by saying clearly that this isn’t a question of whether Spitzer’s own behavior is in any way excusable or appropriate; it’s not. The man repeatedly committed adultery and ultimately humiliated his wife and teenage daughters, exposing the hypocrisy of a holier-than-thou public figure who was blatantly violating the law.


But should his actions have been illegal? There are some compelling public policy arguments to be made about why prostitution should be legalized – that instead of laboring in dangerous conditions women in the sex-trade should be moved to brothels where they wouldn’t face the same degree of danger from violence, unprotected sex, and working the streets (although according to Monday’s Times, only one in five prostitutes actually solicits on the streets). Against this the claim is made that sex-work is inherently degrading, although it must be said that many of the (legal) options for underprivileged men and women to earn a living are pretty degrading as well.
Jewish tradition, on the other hand, is unequivocal in banning prostitution, starting with the verse, “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, that the land not become prostituted and full of depravity.” (Lev. 19:29). In legal sources, prostitution is roundly condemned as a violation of both human dignity and a threat to the structure of the family. In part this is precisely because Judaism does not treat human sexuality as something dirty or disgraceful, but as a normal part of a healthy life and one that, within the bounds of a sanctified relationship, can even be a vehicle for holiness. It is precisely this potential for healthy–and even holy–sexuality that prostitution undermines, turning sex into a commodity instead of an important part of a loving and mutually-respectful relationship. The point about threatening family structures is important as well: in countries where prostitution has been legalized such as Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands, demand has gone up: clearly more men will avail themselves of a prostitute’s services if they can safely and legally do so than otherwise would. While not every man who hires prostitutes is married or otherwise betraying a committed relationship, many surely are and it is neither ethical nor good public policy to make this sort of behavior easier.
The fact remains that there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of the legalization debate and the plight of women who are forced to choose (or are simply forced into) the sex trade cannot be overlooked. But we need to take this fact as a call for tougher enforcement and to provide poor women with more opportunities for decent paying legal jobs, rather than a signal to throw the doors open to a policy that degrades us as individuals and as a society.

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posted March 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm


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posted March 18, 2008 at 7:01 pm

I’d like to interject a bit of Judaism into this discussion if you don’t mind. Vashti, who refused to parade naked in front of the King and his friends, is not the heroine of the book of Esther. Esther, her replacement, is, indicating quite clearly what Judaism thinks of queen’s who won’t do exactly what their kings want them to do.

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Seamus MacNemi

posted March 18, 2008 at 7:27 pm

According to the way I was brought up to think, If a man degrades his wife, he degrades himself for the two are one in the marriage. I do not believe that a wife is a slave or a servant. A wife is an equal partner in the creation of a home and family

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dennis crafton

posted March 19, 2008 at 10:09 am

I agree with Leslie Fursetzer. At thew same time decriminalize marijuana. We’ll save a lot of money on law enforcement and incarceration, and we can earmark the revenue for healthcare.

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posted March 19, 2008 at 10:23 am

Eliot Spitzer is, according to current standards, unfit to govern the State of New York on account of his prostitution-related activities. At the same time, George Bush remains in office despite having killed more than one million civilians in Iraq. This says alot about what matters to us as American citizens.

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Steven Klein

posted March 19, 2008 at 10:30 am

In saying that Spitzer “committed adultery,” the author of this blog is betraying a shocking lack of familiarity with halacha.
According to Jewish law, adultery is defined as sex between a married woman and someone who is not her husband.
The woman with whom Spitzer met is not married, ipso facto, no adultery took place.

Is Spitzer despicable? Yes. Is he, according to halacha, an adulterer? No.

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posted March 19, 2008 at 10:46 am

According to Mr. Klein the halacha indicates that Spitzer is not an adulterer. But in my little knowledge of halacha which is extremely limited I believe that we have to behave respecting the laws of the land where we inhabit. And this country prohibits such illegal relationships and further defines adultery as sex between a married man or woman with someone that is not her husband or wife. So he may or not be an adulterer according to jewish halacha – I defer that judgement to jewish authorities but he is clearly an ADULTERER in America!!

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posted March 19, 2008 at 11:32 am

My understanding as a Christian:
Adultery – Sexual relations(Intercourse) between a Man and Woman…either ‘ONE’ or ‘BOTH is Married to a Third party.
Fornication – Sexual relations(Intercourse) between a Man and Woman…neither ‘ONE’ is Married.
Spitzer is guilty of Adulty, not only against ‘GOD’ but his wife and himself!!

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posted March 19, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Come down from your ivory tower. Prostitution has been going on for 5,000 years. As a country, we should not regulate morality. What a waste of resources it is to try to criminalize a non-criminal activity.
There are more arguments to justify the de-criminalization of prostitution, and for that matter marijuana, then there are arguments against it. If morality is not instilled early in life, it will be too late.

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posted March 19, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Lots of opinions here. Rich conversation with many points of view. I speak as a human being: In my deepest understanding of Right and Wrong and of our Creator, guiltwise there cannot be a difference made in men and women! What kind of G-d creates Man and Woman, loves that creation, and yet sets up two standards of conduct? Come now, Christian, Jew, Innocent-passers-by. Spitzer wrongs us all, because his actions make a farce of faithfulness. At the same time, he has placed himself above the law that he himself enacted.
Now, can we really believe that Mr. Spitzer is as-was before Heaven? I think not. And if a woman had done the same, would she have Heaven’s favor, or indifference? Would she have less? G-d help me understand if there is really a difference here in G-d’s attitude toward, or the universal consequences of, the actions of male and female.

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posted March 19, 2008 at 12:15 pm

The sentence “Now, can we really believe that Mr. Spitzer is as-was before Heaven?” in the 12:05 post by Mary should read,
“Now, can we really believe that Mr. Spitzer is as blameless before Heaven as he was before committing these actions?”

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posted March 19, 2008 at 7:36 pm

The safety (for the prostitute) of legalization, the revenue tax-wise, and the safety (health-wise for everyone involved) of legalization are good things.
Legalization would not make it OK, but it would put control factors in play.
In America we can not regulate morality. That would be against everything that our founding fathers and mothers fought and died for – Freedom from religious oppression. If we were to start dictating what moral activities people could or could not be involved in then we would also have to pick a moral code to go by, and not all religions agree (even within their own sects) what their moral codes involve.
I live in Nevada. Prostitution is legal here. The attitude towards women (whether the relationship is man-woman or woman-woman) for the most part is demeaning. Every female (married or not) is potentially a prostitute, a home wrecker, or out to snag a man with sex. I’m not saying that there aren’t men and women who feel this way without prostitution being legal, but when it is then that feeling seems to permeate everything. Just the other day I was at Vital Statistics and this woman and her sister were telling her son that he should marry a working woman so that he doesn’t have to get a job.
Morality is taught at home and, from what I see, when prostitution is legalized the morality of respect for another human being goes right out the window.
And another thing… how in the world do they dare to call those places, “Gentlemen’s” Clubs????

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M. Gelband

posted March 20, 2008 at 1:55 am

Whoever wrote this article has no kwowledge of Jewish law. Adultery as described in our Torah is a sexual act between a married woman and a man not her husband. A married man having sex with an umarried woman does not commit adultry. As a Jew, Spitzer is therefore not guilty of adultry.

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posted March 20, 2008 at 10:12 am

Unless one knows all the women involved personally, it seems slightly presumptuous to claim that none of them were married. As was pointed out in an earlier post, many “men” (I use the word loosely) fondly imagine living well on the income from prostitution without actually having to work. Since many prostitutes *are* married, and Mr. Spitzer consorted with many of them, the likelihood of his being an adulterer within the letter of Jewish law seems fairly high.

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posted March 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm

First, I believe it is wrong to treat a person as a thing. But I don’t believe everyone who buys the time of another human for sexual intimacy views him (or her) as a thing. In fact I believe just the opposite is true. I believe the more times I go with the same man for sexual intimacy, the stronger the bond is between him and me. (He may not feel that way, but I do.) On the othe hand, I also believe that the more times someone is paid for it, the more he wants the money, not the initmacy. It becomes clear over time that he ony did it for the money.
Prostitution is already legal. We pay people to sell their bodies and souls by uttering lies concerning the products they sell. I know people who have sold their souls. They are to be sincerely pitied.

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posted March 22, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Whether married, single, or anything in between, sex has reached its lowest level. It seems to be as easy to do as shaking hands. Whatever happened to teaching our young men that women are not there for their “pleasure” only. What about teaching our young women that their bodies are sacred.
Since STD’s, AIDS and HIV are on the rise it would behoove us to teach our children the folly of sex for sex sake.
What ever happened to having a little discipline when it comes to sex. Married people have taken an oath before God and witnesses to be together until death parts them. This does not give them the freedom to bed anybody that comes along as long as their spouse doesn’t know. Come on people wake up! Maybe we need to go back to the days of chaperons in order to keep our children pure and innocent.
And the sex trade with children and unwilling young people is just plain sick and perverted!!!!! These people should be prosecuted as much as pedophiles. They belong in jail where the other inmates will let them know what the children they exploited have experienced.
No matter the religion, sex outside of marriage is unacceptable. My conscience is clear, how about you???????

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posted March 24, 2008 at 3:40 pm

We have gone out of the way to highlight whether Spitzer is an adulterer or not an adulterer per Jewish halacha. What is moral or inmoral. The bottom line is that he was a prosecutor who prosecuted many prostitution rings, which is illegal in N.Y. where he was Governor. Therefore, he violated the laws that he was supposed to observe and enforce. This goes beyond religion and morality. In addition, it touches other laws such as money laundering since he tried to disguise the transactions to avoid a trace and be undetected.

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posted March 28, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Marriages were arranged in Jewish tradition until the past Century and we have not come that far yet. In some circles Marriages may still be arranges or at least approved. There are still many expectations for which Jewish life that are placed upon relationships which may interfere with true loving relationships. Women do want to control their lives. Prositutes are able to do that to a certain extent unless they have a Pimp telling her what to do and taking her money. Does that occur in Jewish relationships? We must look deep into ourselves to see how we treat others and women in order to see if we are free from thinking that we are not part of a Prostitution Ring. We all sell ourselves in our daily lives in one way or another. It is the nature of the beast.

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Steven Klein

posted April 4, 2008 at 10:31 am

Carol wrote, “Married people have taken an oath before God and witnesses…
Vows are not part of a Jewish wedding. The only statement I made at my wedding was this:
.הרי את מקודשת לי בטבעת זו כדת משה וישראל
(“ You are hereby betrothed to me with this ring in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.“)
Carol’s sentence finished thusly: “… to be together until death parts them.”
Judaism permits divorce, and we know many marriages end in divorce. If Jewish couples vowed to remain together, then all those who later divorced would be guilty of having made a false vow. We take vows & oaths very seriously, and it’s generally considered better to avoid them, rather than risk making a vow which one might later decide to break.

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posted December 26, 2012 at 7:14 am

We have laws against allowing people to degrade themselves and others. We do not allow suicide, even when family and doctors wish to participate as we do not want do devalue the sacredness of life or even encourage others to think life is disposable when loved ones are ill and inconvenient, or in pain, of “better off dead” as we know how many ways this will lead to others desires and wishes to tempt them to pressure others to end their lives. We do not legalize drug usage for the same reason. Such activity devalues individuals and society! Even China closed up their opium dens as a decay that had arrested their society. Many commentators here seem to believe a society has no right to regulate the activities of individuals…Obviously, we regulate everything! We drafted men against their wills to go to war…we tax for the armies although many would like to not pay for these things. We seem to agree on the need to coerce people to pay for roads, water, and other infrastructure. And we regulate how one can behave in public. I have heard few women argue for legalizing prostitution, but men seem to take a special interest in legalizing this! I find that hilarious…For those who want prostitution legalized as an altruistic way to let women make money you may find it interesting that it has been discovered almost all of the strippers in Portland, Oregon are “represented” by pimps. In many, many cases, it is not a woman selling herself, by a man behind her with a gun, or some other coercion. Of course, more and more reports on the world-wide trafficking of women and children for profit in the tens of millions has been commonly documented recently as well. I suppose we will see a rationale from men regarding the legalizations of such activity as an economic neccessity? I understand many men are immature and have a fantasy that women who are prostitutes love sex and cannot get enough. Maybe they believe women are not degraded if they willingly participate in their own degradation. I am intimately familiar with thousands of women of every stripe and have NEVER EVER heard one woman say, gee- I would love to be a prostitute for a day, an hour, a minute! Of these thousands of women, no one else has ever reported such an idea, a thought, a wish, a fleeting fantasy. So please, once and for all, men, disabuse yourselves of this notion. It’s simply not true, no matter how many men wish it were.

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