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Mike Pence and Dining with Other Women

Mike Pence and Dining with Other Women

The VP won't eat alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of condemning him, I think we should applaud him.

by

The blogosphere erupted with the news that Vice-President Mike Pence won’t eat alone with a woman other than his wife and won’t attend events where there is alcohol without her there. Some people think this reflects some antiquated sexism. I think it shows is a respect for and commitment to his marriage.

“You and the Vice-President have something in common,” I told my husband. “You have the same rule about not eating alone with another woman.” This is not because we share a “pretty radically retrograde mindset” that “doesn’t respect women as humans with thoughts and skills to contribute but rather sees them primarily as sexual temptations…” as a Slate article put it. It's because my husband has too much respect for me and our marriage to risk compromising it, even in the slightest.

It’s because from the Torah perspective (I can't presume to speak for the VP so I can only share our views), we want our marriage to be the best possible. We want to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as we say under the chuppa), like the only two people on earth who only have eyes for each other. In order to attempt to create this type of reality, we have to establish rules and guidelines. Like Mr. Pence, ours prevents my husband from dining alone with other women. I’m not sure what exactly is lost by this, and the gain seems obvious.

To those who argue that this suggests a negative disrespectful view of women, let me add that the same rule applies to me (and I’m assuming to Mrs. Pence as well). I would not go out for dinner alone with another man. Is it because it’s too tempting and men are only objects to me? No one would seriously make that claim. On the contrary; once again, it’s because my marriage is too important to risk even a small amount of damage, even a frisson of feeling or connection with someone else.

We don’t want to put ourselves in situations of temptation, not because we are unrealistically afraid but rather because we are realistically so. We see the damaged relationships all around us. We see the mistakes, the unanticipated consequences of seemingly innocent behaviors.

Our society has become very casual about relations between the sexes; it doesn’t always lead to inappropriate behavior but there is definitely a cost. Workplace romances, online affairs – and while there are no guarantees in life and the Talmud reminds us that we can’t be sure of ourselves until the day of our death, I certainly want to stack the odds in my favor.

When my husband teaches (non-religious) married men, he tries to warn them away from looking at other women. “The first look is instinctive; the second is a choice,” he tells them. And that choice can lead to problems, even if it’s just thinking about women other than your wife. Thoughts lead to action so we want to exercise control our thoughts as well.

The Mishna teaches us to build a fence around the Torah. When something is very precious to us, we go to extra lengths to protect it. Big mansions reside behind large walls or gates with extensive (and expensive) security. Fancy jewelry is kept in a safe. Presidents have the secret security.

In Jewish understanding, we build fences to protect our spiritual lives, not just our physical ones. And we certainly want to protect our marriages. Not dining alone with someone of the other gender to whom we are not married is just one of the many ways in which we tell the world (and ourselves!) that our marriage, our relationship is too important to be tampered with. We need to police our own actions and thoughts.

Instead of condemning Mike Pence, I think we should be applauding him.

 

April 1, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 40

(27) Mary, April 14, 2017 7:10 PM

Scandal

Not in the terms used now for a great huge scandal but in RCatholicism we call anything that may be construed to look like sin as "Scandal"
My husband uses this quote
"Don't bend over to tie your shoes in another man's watermelon patch"
as momma says ' It just won't look right'

(26) Ronald Padawer, April 10, 2017 2:41 PM

Diplomatic Obligations

Does this mean that if Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany, needs to have a private dinner with Mike Pence (or even Donald Trump) alone to discuss vital state issues, it would be sinful? What if they didn't want Melania present? What if the discussions were about critical aid to Israel? Should he then recuse himself?
What about the private dinners Golda Meyer had with Lyndon Johnson (a known womanizer.)? If Hilary Clinton had been elected president, would it be Halachaly wrong for her to have had private dinners with other heads of state?
I think your generalizations of private dinners are off the mark - unless the person is basically "unclean" anyway. It is a matter of character and conscience.

(25) Karen, April 7, 2017 4:21 PM

Meant to keep women out of the room

If Mike Pence, as VP of the United States, can discuss political strategy alone with a man at dinner, then he must also be able to discuss political strategy alone with a woman at dinner. No more, no less. If he cannot fulfill that aspect of his job, then he should not be in that position. He is free to practice his religious restrictions however he pleases as a private citizen, but they should not be a crutch on which he leans in order to keep women away from the table, so to speak.

Alan S., April 10, 2017 10:34 AM

This is not meant to keep women out of the room...

I like your even handed style. However, reality is reality, and the solution is simple. If he needs to discuss political strategy with a woman, then he should have his wife or another person, male or female, but preferably female, at the dinner table. If he were a gay man, he might not be comfortable talking political strategy alone with another man.
This is the same reason that the overwhelming majority of doctors have a nurse or assistant in the room when they see a female patient -- especially gynecologists. And this is the same reason that most women patients prefer female gyn's. Reality is reality.

(24) Hebroot, April 6, 2017 3:24 PM

Pence's behavior

The basic question regarding Mr. Pence's philosophy about being alone with other women in a private sitting, such as dining, is to be respected. First because it's a personal choice. Second, because it show a great deal of respect for his wife, Third, because it shows a great deal of insight and wisdom about human nature and the temptation factor. Fourth, because it shows a great deal of respect for God , who makes a man and a woman (basar echad), one flesh. Fifth, because such an attitude allows a great deal of respect for both womanhood and manhood. Sixth, uhhh, awh, gee, We don't need to bloviate do we? If only the great and mighty king David had not seen Bat-shevah, from a roof top, and invited her to come to his place, .......Oh well, thank God for Psalm 51.

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