Ethics: "Outing" an adulterer. Part One.

“Heartbroken” discovered that not only was her “divorced” lover married, he was simultaneously cheating on her with another-other woman.  

When Heartbroken broke off the relationship, he said terrible things about her.  She felt guilty, her self-worth was “in the toilet,” and he had given her a sexually transmitted disease.  She wanted to “call him out to the other women he is involved with,” and asked a national advice columnist what to do.  The columnist urged her to immediately seek counseling, to focus on her own physical and emotional healing, and not to contact the other women.

Jewish ethics would call for different advice.  Counseling and attention to self-healing, definitely.  As Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”  (Ethics of the Sages/Pirkei Avot 1:14).  Our health is not less important than anyone else’s.  And I can imagine that Heartbroken contacting the “other women” could indeed delay and quite possibly impede her recovery. 

But, we cannot “’stand-idly by’ while our fellow’s blood is being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16), nor place a “stumbling block before the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14).  (The condition of blindness being equated to ignorance of important information).  Jewish ethics imposes an affirmative duty to warn others of potential harm, even when secular law would allow us to do nothing and remain silent.

Although Jewish ethics does not obligate us to expose ourselves to substantial risk of harm to protect others, we must certainly do whatever we can to protect others while simultaneously protecting ourselves. The second part of Hillel’s maxim was “But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

Clearly, both the man’s wife and the “other, other woman” – and, likely, future women -- are at risk of being infected with a SDT and/or being deceived and “heartbroken.” If, in the opinion of Heartbroken’s counselor and/or physician, it would substantially jeopardize her health or recovery to personally warn the other women, warnings should nevertheless be accomplished in other ways. 

One possibility would be to retain an attorney, private detective, social worker or psychologist to contact the wife and other-other woman.  Another might be to send them information (with convincing evidence) anonymously.  Consideration would need to be given to the man’s potential reaction to being “outed,” including possible retaliation.  Still, the presence of some physical risk, difficulty, or emotional pain does not absolve us of responsibility to protect others. 

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb