Jewish Feminists, some background information?

I’m writing a piece on sexuality in Islam that encompasses historical “unlawful consummation” of love (or lust or what-have-you). The Qur’an does not command stoning for adultery (but 100 lashes to the fornicator or adulterer); however, there are circulated hadith that the Prophet Muhammad commanded a stoning of an adulterous man, which is often cited by Muslims as a defense of the punishment. In researching this hadith I read that the commanded stoning was a result of a constitution signed by the Jewish tribes in Medina during the time that the Prophet was their political leader. The constitution dictated that the Prophet would remain the political leader of Medina as long as the Jewish tribes were free to practice their religion and worship God according to their own scripture rather than that of the Qur’an, and that upon dissentions in the Jewish community, Judaic law is the law that would be enforced rather than Islamic law. Bound by his legal obligations to the Jewish community when confronted with punishing the man, the Prophet consulted Jewish scholars, who informed him that the punishment is stoning. The Prophet commanded this punishment to be enforced.

So here’s the thing: obviously I will be writing it if it is true–I will not be writing it in a way as to perpetuate a false or distorted understanding of Jewish law, or without a remark that states clearly Jews don’t stone people to death for adultery (anymore–I think?) with logical Talmudic support and a brief annotation of Jewish feminist exegesis of correcting (if there is any correction) or clarifying the interpretation. I understand that, like the Qur’an, the Torah has suffered from centuries of patriarchal bias (and by the time the Prophet made that command Judaism was already a very old religion subjecting it to misinterpretation), and while I don’t at all doubt this story is true I would be irritated with anyone who entertained this as a scapegoat to defend Islam. That wouldn’t just be irresponsible; it would actively contribute to the oppressive system of disregarding the work of Jewish feminists engaging in the same reclamation of institutionalized religion. (AND DAMMIT WE WILL GO DOWN TOGETHER! and such)

What is the punishment for adultery according to Judaic law as interpreted by Jewish feminists linguistically derived from the Torah? Has this law too become distorted from misinterpretation, or is the application sound and correct? A very brief exegesis I can cite when recounting & referencing this event (or otherwise directing me to useful sources) would be much appreciated. You can leave it in the comments, or email me (because I might ask for your full name.)

Thanks a million!

12 thoughts on “Jewish Feminists, some background information?

    1. Oh yes! Thank you. Apparently there is a long history of modification as I suspected.

      In the patriarchal days the Adultery of the wife required no proof, for whenever the head of the family suspected her, he could kill her.

      Geez! I wish it specified when exactly these “patriarchal days” were though (technically ALL DAYS!) so that I could decipher in what direction the laws were modified.


      1. From context, that paragraph seems to be talking about Biblical times, and specifically the time before the revelation at Sinai (giving of the Torah).

        In general, the Talmud required two witnesses to a crime, who then present identical testimony, having warned the suspect that what they were about to do was a capital crime before they did it. So in this case, contemporary feminist interpretation didn’t have a lot that they needed to do. However, Rabbi Judith Hauptman has a good chapter on the Talmudic understanding of the Sotah ritual (so not specifically known adultery, but it’s related) in her book “Rereading the Rabbis”, if that’s of help.

        That encyclopedia article seems like it has a lot of good source material- but if you’d like another translation of any of it, or background or relation to the bulk of Jewish tradition/law, I’d be happy to help. Let me know.


        1. It does seem to be talking about Biblical times. Thank you! (This isn’t relevant to what I’m writing really but I think the two witnesses need[ed] to be male, so there might be some contemporary feminist work there?)

          I was also thinking that perhaps I’m projecting the Islamic understanding with which I’m familiar–that doesn’t differentiate approaches based on time periods–onto Judaic law, which in this case change regarding whether there’s a death sentence seems to be accepted based on era (whereas with Islam any such change may be considered bid’ah.)


    2. Steve

      Nahida I was watching this the other day

      And it was Mentioned how Joseph must have protected Mary because women like her would most often be put to death in Palestine. And how it is the same way there today (I think the show was produced in 2001).

      Nahida, of course women have always had it worse off when it has come to the inequality of how society treats transgressions of sexual norms. Anyone who would say otherwise is totally uninformed. You are so heroic Nahida. This evil has been going on from the beginning and still goes on today.

      You don’t have to see the whole show but check out the part at 21:40 into the program.


  1. Although is is true that stoning was the punishment for adultery, but stoning could only be carried out if there were two adult male witnesses who could testify not only that they witness the adultery but also that he had warned before committing adultery that it as against the law and that he would be stoned if he did so.


    1. I know the basics. What I need is somewhat of an exegesis.

      Adultery in traditional Judaism applies equally to both parties, but depends on the marital status of the woman (Lev. 20:10). Though the Torah prescribes the death penalty for adultery, the legal procedural requirements were very exacting and required the testimony of two eye-witnesses of good character for conviction. The defendant also must have been warned immediately before performing the act. A death sentence could be issued only during the period when the Holy Temple stood, and only so long as the Supreme Torah Court convened in its chamber within the Temple complex. Today, therefore, no death penalty applies.–Wiki

      Still I suppose this will do anyway–I can just write it as to mention the prescribed difference in contemporary application.


      1. Steve

        Wiki can never be considered a source, Nahida. Didn’t the wiki say where that information came from in footnotes? If so go to the source itself and quote from there. Wiki can be a tool in that way, but unlike an actual encyclopedia it should never be cited itself as a source.


        1. LOL I know Steve I was just demonstrating how basic that information is. I was hoping for something deeper (that I suspect wouldn’t be so widely accessible) but I can probably derive something from it.


  2. I believe that adultery was considered as between a married woman and a man but if a married man slept with another woman, it was not considered a crime and quite acceptable because of polygamy (which appears to give the green light to fuck any woman he sees), making sure that he benefitted from having no stigma or responsibility or shame whilst condemning a woman. It was a wrong comitted against the husband, only now I believe that women can have a court on her side for her husband committing adultery. Furthermore, if she was suspected of it, he can decide with no proof. According to the Talmud, 2 witnesses must see the evidence and they must also give them warning. Like that’s going to work. The ultimate penalty was death for both her and her lover, either stoning or strangulation. Later divorce instigated by the husband was the replacement. There was also a test he gave to see if she was or not, in the book of numbers

    ‘”The Test for an Unfaithful Wife

    11 Then the LORD said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

    16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the LORD cause you to become a curse[b] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

    “‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

    23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[c] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

    29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”



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