Sexual Immorality – Giving Up One's Life
I read that all the Torah's commandments "can be broken to save a life" except for three. I think I understand two of the three:
1) Idolatry - this would threaten the very fabric of Judaism and therefore cannot be allowed.
2) Murder - you cannot take one life to save another, because every human being is infinitely valuable. In the words of the Talmud, "who knows whose blood is redder?" (Though it is permitted to take a life in self-defense.)
The one that is really puzzling me is #3: Sexual immorality like incest and adultery. Why is this so serious? I'm not suggesting it is a "good" thing, but if sleeping with your brother or another man's wife would save a life... why not?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let's start with the premise that a stable family structure is the primary foundation of healthy society. Societies in which the family unit is falling apart are societies in trouble.
What is the prime cause of the breakdown of the family unit? Sexual promiscuity -- e.g. adultery causes divorce, teen pregnancy produces unwed mothers, etc.
Given that the sex drive is the strongest human drive (second only to survival itself), human nature, left undisciplined, will allow sex to dominate personal and societal life. One look at Hollywood tells us this is true.
Perhaps an even starker example is in antiquity, where society was highly sex-centered. Almost all the polytheistic religions begin with the gods engaging in sexual activity in order to create the world. Temple prostitutes, temple orgies, and fertility rites were regular features of almost all religions. In classical Greek civilization, pederasty (man-boy) was viewed as the highest form of love. As a result, Greece was a misogynist society where women were relegated to the very bottom of the social ladder and birthrates plummeted.
Such a society could not sustain itself – and ultimately decayed and crumbled.
The Torah believes that only when sexuality is channeled within the committed bond of marriage, can society hope to escape this destructive obsession with sex. Jewish law requires a person to control himself physically and focus his sexual and emotional energy on his spouse exclusively. Judaism was therefore unique in the world when it came out and forbade homosexuality, pederasty, bestiality - and held marriage as the ideal state.
It is not overstating to say that the Torah's laws changed the world and made the creation of Western civilization possible.
As a way to guard this ideal, the Torah prescribes strict deterrents, and the obligation to sacrifice one's life rather than transgress. It is only this "absolute" prohibition which can convey the absolute importance of sexual morality. And that is why there are no exceptions, for any reason at all.