When the sidra sets out the laws of the sotah, the woman suspected of adultery, we say, “Quite right: marriage is sacred and no-one should be allowed to treat its obligations lightly”.
But then we wonder. What about the unfaithful husband? Is it only the wife who is liable to punishment for breaking the marriage bond? Do husbands get off unscathed?
It is all very well to try to give answers from history and to speak of the man’s greater power than the woman’s. It is all very well to say that in a (theoretically) polygamous society a man who has relations with a single woman can be taken as making her into an extra wife. It’s all very well to say “boys will be boys”. But isn’t a man duty bound to be loyal to his wife?
Hertz says in his commentary on the seventh of the Ten Commandments, “This Commandment against infidelity warns husband and wife alike against profaning the Sacred Covenant of Marriage”.
Husbands cannot exploit the words of the Torah to justify betraying their wives. So why the emphasis on the wife doing the wrong thing?
Possibly it is actually to strengthen their position in society and not the opposite.
It is so easy to escalate the social weakness of the wife. What does the sidra do? It does not automatically believe every word the husband says. If he accuses his wife of misbehaviour, she is told that the Torah will protect her. Only if she is really guilty will there be punishment. The husband must not leave his wife at a disadvantage.
What can be done if it is the wife who suspects her husband of being unfaithful? That’s why there is a Beth Din. The wife can come to the rabbis, lodge her complaint and apply for a gett. Once again the Torah protects the woman.