The seventh of the ten commandments is Lo Tin'af, do not engage in adultery. But the Talmud tells us that we may break all commandments to save a life, except those against idolatry, murder and sexual immorality (Gilui Arayot). The latter includes many things besides adultery: incest, bestiality, homosexuality, etc. Why is the 7th commandment restricted to adultery?

Although the mishna in Avot says that we do not know the value of each commandment, implying they must be treated as if they had equal value, the big three and the big ten are generally treated as the most important. So you expect the 3 to be included in the 10.

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    Why do you expect there to be a correlation between sins which require one to give up one's life, and sins appearing in the ten commandements?
    – Joel K
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 12:16
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    The Mishna in Avot (2:1) is referring to positive Mitzvos, not prohibitions. We do know the relative importance of Averos by the severity of the prescribed punishments.
    – simyou
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 14:56
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    The latter five commandments seem to be specifically focused on victimizing one's fellow, in this case, the husband. The other arayot seem to be focused more on the perversions themselves, i.e. without there even necessarily being a victim.
    – Loewian
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 15:21
  • If you're asking "why does it say ניאוף specifically and not לא תגלה עריות" then +2! Are you?
    – Al Berko
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 15:24
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    Can you support your claim that "the big ten are generally treated as the most important"? To the best of my knowledge, there are no ramifications in Halakhah to Commandments being inside/outside the "big ten" (especially to the extent there is with the "big three"). As I understand it, the daily reading of the Ten Commandments (outside the Temple) was abolished, so that they wouldn't be treated as more important that the rest.
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


The "big ten" are basically category headers for the major categories of Mitzvos (see Rashi on Shemos 24:12). Stealing is the archetypal example of property crimes, and "Do Not Steal" is the main prohibition is the larger category of property crimes and respecting others property, generally. Adultery is the archetypal sexual sin, and it serves as the header for the full category of all sexual sin.

  • Why is it archetypal? It's actually not typical at all, because an adulterer is usually having relations with someone he could have relations with if she became divorced. Most sexual sins involve having relations with someone you can never be with (like your sister or aunt). Commented May 20, 2019 at 15:33
  • @Daniel maybe because it's the most common since it's more commonly desired
    – Double AA
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 16:19
  • @Daniel, you seem to understand sexual laws as being about perversions, and I agree that adultery is not a sexual perversion. I think this premise is incorrect, and sexual law is about respecting natural/social/personal sexual boundaries, and not about suppressing perversions.
    – simyou
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 10:16

According to many commentators (Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, Sforno) לא תנאף does not only mean "Do not commit adultery". It ALSO includes any type of prohibited sexual acts.

According to the Talmud (Niddah 13b) the verse also includes proscribes male masturbation.

תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל "לא תנאף", לא תהא בך ניאוף בין ביד בין ברגל

Rashi (ibid.) ביד - מוציא זרע לבטלה

[See also Bach (EH 23, s.v Assur)].

See also Iggros Moshe (EH 1:68, ד"ה ועיין) who posits that merely touching the male organ, in a manner that leads to arousal, is proscribed under the prohibition of לא תנאף, which includes לא תנאף ביד, even if there is no seminal emission.

  • Are there other opinions? I am puzzled by the fact that Lo Tin'af it's ALWAYS translated as "No adultery". What is the Hebrew root, etymology and plain meaning of "tin'af"? Commented May 20, 2019 at 23:03
  • I'm not responsible for other people's proposed translations. I brought three classical commentators, who extend the meaning to any type of prohibited sexual acts. Moreover, the Talmud (Niddah 13b) regarding masturbation, is clear in support of a broader reading of the verse. Commented May 21, 2019 at 14:42

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