And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, designated for a man, and not at all redeemed, nor was freedom given her; there shall be inquisition; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. (Lev. 19:20)
In Quantum physics there is a principle of monogamy of entanglement, which roughly means that if two particles (or objects) are entangled, neither can be entangled with a third particle (or object). A human parallel to this principle is obvious – if two spouses are married, neither can have any intimate relations with a third person. In other words, a marriage must be monogamous. It is because of this parallel that the physical relationship between entangled particles in quantum mechanics was named the monogamy principle, or monogamy of entanglement.
In Jewish law, Halacha, adultery is considered a capital offense. If a man commits adultery with a married woman, they both are liable to receive capital punishment.
In the Torah portion Kedoshim, which presents us with the code of holiness, we find a strange passage:
And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, designated for a man, and not at all redeemed, nor was freedom given her; there shall be inquisition; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.” (Lev. 19:20)
Why is this an exception from the rule and the adulterers do not receive capital punishment? To understand, we must delve deeper into the monogamy of entanglement.
According to the monogamy principle, if particle A and particle B are in a maximally entangled state, then neither particle A nor particle B can be entangled with the third particle C. As I explained in my post, “Ye shall be disentangled… but not disengaged,”
entanglement is not a binary relationship – two particles are either entangled or not. It’s a relationship that has a scale – two particles can be more or less entangled.
A married couple is maximally entangled and, therefore, any adulterous violation of this bond makes them liable to the maximum punishment – execution. There are situations, however, where a couple is not quite married yet. One such example is given in our verse.
As Rashi explains, the Torah is speaking here of a Canaanite handmaid, who is partly a slave and partly a free woman. Her sate is ambiguous because as a slave-woman, she belongs to two partners. One of them freed her (i.e., he relinquished his ownership share in her), and the other did not. Thus the woman is in a state of superposition of being a slave-woman and a free woman. The partner, who did not release her from slavery, betrothed this Canaanite woman to a Hebrew slave. (Torat Kohanim 19:52; Kereithot 11a). However, because the woman is in a state of superposition of being a handmade and a free woman, he betrothment to a Hebrew slave is not completely binding and she is not maximally entangled with her groom. Just as in quantum mechanics, objects that are not maximally entangled are not forbidden from entangling with a third object, so too here: the handmaid’s adulterous relations with another man does not rise to the level of a capital offense. (For the record, I do not condone slavery nor is this meant to be misogynistic or offensive in any way – this is merely an example of a relationship between people or objects which are in a mixed state to serve as a metaphor for quantum entanglement.)
Sometimes I wonder, why would Torah bring such a rare and convoluted example that seems to be totally out of context (that may even be offensive to modern sensibilities) and of only academic interest? Perhaps it is to give us a graphic metaphor for a difficult concept in quantum physics that is important to the understanding of the central theme of this Torah portion – the concept of being holy, as we discussed in the previous post, “Ye shall be disentangled… but not disengaged.”