Never Marry Your Grandmother

“My boyfriend is driving me crazy! Does he want to get married or not?”

“My husband and I were both thrilled when I became pregnant. But when I mention the baby, he sometimes gets this terrified look on his face. Is he happy about our baby nor not?”

The answer is…drum roll please…Both! The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote,

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold

two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time,

and still retain the ability to function.”

People are complicated and since most of the joy in life as well as most of the problems come from dealing with others, it is helpful to gain greater understanding into human relationships, particularly between men and women.

Take a look at Scripture’s list of prohibited sexual relationships. It starts with close relatives and ends with bestiality. (Leviticus 18:6-23)

Pretty straightforward. Except, we are perplexed to discover that one and a half chapters later the entire list is repeated. This time, however, it starts with adultery and ends with close relatives. (Leviticus 20:10-21) Is it repeated to help folks with short memories?

No. The purpose of the Torah is to teach us how the world REALLY works and that includes understanding sexual relationships. Relationships between men and woman are complicated because they are driven by complex and often conflicting forces.

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals relationship secrets while resolving the problem of the two lists in two almost adjacent Biblical chapters. It turns out that the lists are similar but not identical. They list the prohibited sexual relationships in different sequences, thus hinting at the two chief forces driving sexual attraction.

The first list in Leviticus 18, encapsulates our innate drive for reproduction. It is not just women who experience ‘baby-hunger.’ While women tend to experience it earlier (playing with dolls offers a clue) men also eventually yearn for the immortality that a child can confer. Most men want their children to be like them. The first list starts off with the relationships that would theoretically most appeal when reproduction is at the forefront of men’s minds.

The surest way to conceive children who resemble oneself would be to reproduce with a mate from one’s own family. While this sounds strange to our ears, focus on the concept rather than picturing it. So this list mentions prohibited family members first. It concludes with alternatives less tempting to someone focused on reproduction such as another man’s wife in which case the child would belong to someone else. Finally come homosexuality and bestiality where no offspring can possibly result.

The second list expresses men’s urge for sexual pleasure. It offers its own sequence in descending order of appeal. Most attractive is another man’s wife. Many men perversely find themselves attracted to married women whom they would totally ignore if the same ladies were single.

Forbidden fruit powerfully attracts so it constitutes the first prohibition in Leviticus 20:10. Continuing to look at the world through the eyes of a man who is only interested in a sexual relationship with no other component whatsoever (like reproduction or companionship and growth) we find the powerful sexual attraction of homosexuality and even of bestiality. These prohibitions are next in the list. (Leviticus 20:13-15) Finally, given that most men are not sexually titillated by close relatives, the list ends with those.

Now the two lists no longer suggest redundancy but, taken together, they reveal an exhilarating glimpse into reality. It isn’t surprising that relationships between the sexes frequently lead to heartbreak when not only do we not instinctively “get” each other, but we often don’t even “get” ourselves.


19 thoughts on “Never Marry Your Grandmother”

    1. Tafadzwa, My husband and I both have what to say about this – we’d like to use this for an Ask the Rabbi question. Stay tuned!

  1. Thank you for that answer to the question of fornication….I have wondered this myself . My Aunt who had gotten pregnant at 16 back in the 40’s said to us teen girls in the 1970’s , that she never felt she had done anything wrong , from the time they had slept together she WAS married in the eyes of God , the wedding later on was a formality. They had a long successful marriage and 6 kids. Are there separate words in Hebrew for fornication which is “sleeping around”, and the fornication which begins a life long commitment before a ceremony? Or is indeed the second situation not even referred to as” fornication”? I think I understand that from what your answer was , but I want to be clear that whenever the Bible mentions fornication it is specifically meaning unmarried people “sleeping around” .Karen Jones

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re welcome, Karen,
      My heart weeps for the countless good people who have assumed that they live under the shadow of sin when this was not the reality. In the Lord’s language, as you correctly assumed, these are indeed separate areas and are treated quite differently. I am sorry but I am not familiar with the Bible’s mentions of ‘fornication’ as you ask because my knowledge of Scripture is the Hebrew. I am going to make an uneducated guess here when I venture that the mentions of fornication to which you allude, are all in the New Testament.

      1. Thank you so much for your quick reply, you are right it is found in the New Testament , I have been reading up on the Greek, and believe I am understanding this word better as harlotry or idolatry ( as in ” I , ME , MY ” self centered worship ). This has given me a lot to think about . Karen

  2. Dear Rabbi,

    I have been married to the same beautiful bride for almost 32 years. I fell in love with her when I was 17 and she 18 working at Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Sadly, I soon fell in love with myself and developed that love into self loathing in short order. When I was able to break free I begged, pleaded and prayed my way back into her life. Talk about trust issues. But we have overcome and thrived thanks to our live for Hashem and all His commandments. I prayed my son’s would not be like me. They are not. Wish I would have heeded biblical advice earlier…right, story of everyone’s life.

    On a humorous note have you ever heard the Ray Steven’s song, “I’m my own Grandpa”? He is the very funny guy that brought us “The Streak” in the 70s. It’s on YouTube.

    Thanks for all your hard work,


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you for your uplifting letter Louis–
      One miracle of marriage is that it can survive ups and downs and it acknowledges human imperfection. Another is that it brings about growth that neither men nor women would achieve on their own. And you and your wife are living proof. Congratulations.
      Yes, I first heard the Ray Stevens “I’m My Own Grandpa” back when I taught this lesson to a Bible class in Venice, California and the next day someone brought in a cassette player and insisted I hear the lyrics. I did. I laughed and haven’t forgotten.

  3. Dear Rabbi,
    By now you are probably tired of hearing my personal rantings. But here goes it again. You mentioned adultry and being attracted to married women.
    I’m attracted to all women. Especially young and pretty ones. (Although at my age I find it difficult to remember why). Have I been tempted – you bet. Have I ever had the desire to cheat – you bet again. But here is the thing. When we got married I made a vowel to my bride and to God that I would keep myself to her and her alone. Plus I selfishly could not bear the thought of my children calling some other man daddy.
    People have asked us if we ever renewed our vowels. I tell them no the first ones are still in effect even after 50 years. And guess what after all these years I find that I still love her unlike I could ever love anyone else.

    Thank you, Brian

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Brian–
      Thank you for your rapturous tribute to marriage, which I enjoyed. Thank you also for your candid confession of that which most men only fleetingly acknowledge.

      1. Dear Rabbi,
        I have listened to your Madam am Adam audio cd and your teaching makes alot of sense. I do see marriage as the best level of relationship God wants for us.

        However I have noticed that fornication (having sex with an unmarried woman who you are not related to ) is missing from these verses.

        I know that lifestyle is not ideal. But what are we to take away from its omission from these verses.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Marc–
          The reason for the omission to which you allude is that the act itself, regardless of how contemporary culture tries to trivialize it, creates a spiritually unbreakable bond. One reason that virgins who marry have nearly a four times higher chance of long term marriage success is that there are no spectres with them in the marital bed. In other words, sleeping with a woman establishes a bond very much like marriage. The sin of fornication occurs not at the moment of sexual penetration but the next morning when he walks out of her life. If he doesn’t walk away and they stay together for life, there was no sin. In effect, they were married the previous night.

  4. Christopher Meyerson

    WOW, Sir, this caught my eye then had to read the whole Article. Thank you so much for the time and Wisdom Rabbi

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Christopher–
      Journalists always speak of the importance of a good headline and you helpfully confirm this.

  5. This might be the improper place for this comment — but — I also really enjoy your Enja music — Sail Away — I would really enjoy a long voyage on a tall ship — have you read about Captain Joshua Slocum or were you even able to sail the Oronoco River — as Enja sings????

    Being a dairy farmer in Southern Ontario it is amazing to me that I have this longing for the sea, and the sea involving sail. Interesting.

    Your comments regarding optimism having gratitude at it’s root — this is very much working in my life for me. I am so thankful for all the people who help me in my life. I have an ETG (Eaves trough guy aka handyman, I have a snow fellow, and on and on. And I am very blessed.

    Love to you both, Ann

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Ann–
      Always happy to read your comments regardless of where you put them. Have I read about Captain Joshua Slocum? Seriously? His 1900 book “Sailing Alone Around the World” was my constant companion while I was a teenager. I have never sailed nor seen the Orinoco River in South America but I have sailed the Fraser River in British Columbia! A longing for the sea is perfectly natural and perfectly normal, wherever you may reside.
      Sea Fever
      I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
      And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
      And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
      And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

      I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
      Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied….

  6. I have often wondered about these scriptures. Thank you so much for your insight. I so much appreciate your ministry and all you do.

    Glenn Gilbert

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Glenn,
      It is really hard to see past an often inadequate English translation without ancient Jewish wisdom, isn’t it?

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Janey–
          This is a question that we get asked quite often. If there was, you could be sure that we’d unhesitatingly recommend it. But there isn’t. You see, the Lord’s language, Hebrew is the most information-dense language and so, in order to translate with at least basic accuracy, one would need approximately four times as many words in English as there are in the Hebrew original. This would make four pages of English for each page of Hebrew. You see the problem that publishers would face. Thus basic translations are done though they capture only a small part of the meaning. Once one knows this, one knows not to regard any translation as the final word and one can manage to a degree.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart