Why is a wife who engages in extramarital relations guilty of adultery, while a husband who does the same is not?

  • 5
    Are you asking about the definition of adultery, or are you asking why polygamy is prohibited and polyandry isn't?
    – Double AA
    Nov 22, 2013 at 19:07
  • 1
    Patelo, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your question here! You could make the question stronger by editing in where you know about this difference from Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 22, 2013 at 20:11
  • 1
    I assume you are asking why a married woman who has extramarital relations with a man who is not her husband is guilty of adultery, whereas a married man who has extramarital relations with a woman who is not his (or anyone else's) wife is not guilty of adultery. Is that correct? It's a good question, but it's not entirely clear if that's what you're asking.
    – Seth J
    Nov 23, 2013 at 23:23
  • @DoubleAA polyandry is when a wife has more than one husband, more than one wife is polygyny, and polygamy is the general expression which just means more than one spouse but not gender specific
    – Dude
    Aug 29, 2016 at 17:04
  • 1
    @PateloACohen Your premise is slightly incorrect. If a woman commits adultery (G-d forbid), both she and the man she did it with are guilty of the same severe sin and subject to the same punishment.
    – SAH
    Sep 19, 2017 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


welcome to J.SE.

For whatever reasons, Judaism originally allowed a man to have more than one wife, whereas a woman could only be married to one man. Therefore, as soon as a woman was married, having relations with any other man would automatically be "adultery." However a married man could in theory run off and marry some other woman in addition to his first wife; we'd call this "polygamy", not "adultery." So even if there was no marriage between them, we couldn't call it "adultery" because there was no rule of "no other women" on this man.

Clearly, if a married woman has consensual relations with a man who's not her husband, both of them are deemed equally guilty and have equal punishment.

Now today Judaism has banned polygamy, and a couple goes in with the understanding that it's just one man and one woman in this marriage. A husband who cheats on his wife with a single woman has done a horrible, disgusting thing and will answer to G-d for his actions, but we can't technically call it "adultery" the same way if the genders were reversed.

  • 1
    Eh. Yes, he could marry another wife, but to say that therefore an extramarital affair is not adultery is a leap of logic you haven't explained.
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2013 at 19:31
  • 1
    @msh210 It's all semantics
    – Double AA
    Nov 22, 2013 at 19:37
  • What's your reasoning for "clearly...." I'm a bit unclear what you're saying/why.
    – andrewmh20
    Mar 15, 2015 at 1:11
  • 1
    Andrew, he is quoting the rule as it appears in the Torah. The point is not that the woman is the one to be punished. The point is that a married woman is prohibited to anyone else while a man is not. But anyone transgressing is punished, both people involved.
    – HaLeiVi
    May 29, 2015 at 2:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .