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Torah and Promiscuity

Question: I heard that according to the Torah, a man can have sex with a prostitute, if she is not Jewish. Is this true? And if so, are Jewish women allowed to have sexual intercourse, according to the Torah, with non-Jewish men?I know that it is nowadays outlawed to have sex outside of marriage, but is that based on Rabbinic rulings, or on the Torah itself?

Answer: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on this subject. The Torah itself most certainly forbids any form of prostitution and/or sexual promiscuity among Jews, whether or not both partners involved are Jewish. There are two clear Torah verses stating this:

“Do not defile your daughter to make her a Zonah [see below for explanation], lest the land become lewd and the land become filled with immorality.” (Leviticus 19:29)

The Classic commentary of Rashi explains the word “Zonah” to mean an unmarried woman who is available to many sexual partners. This is whether or not she receives payment for this act.

In another verse, we find that this prohibition applies equally to both men and women:

“There shall not be a Kedeshah [see below] among the daughters of Israel, nor shall there be a Kadesh [see below] among the sons of Israel. You shall not bring the pay of a Zonah nor the exchange for a dog to the House of the L-RD your G-d for any vow, both of them are an abomination to the L-RD your G-d.” (Deuteronomy 23:18-19)

Rashi here explains that a Kedeshah is a woman who is “Hefker” – not given boundaries, and is set aside to be a Zonah, as we explained above. Many secular scholars misinterpret this passage, claiming that since the term “kedeshah” is linked with the word “kedushah” (holiness), they wrongly assume that the Torah here only forbids “Temple prostitutes” that were common in devotion to ancient idols. Although the Torah is clearly prohibiting such acts as well, Rashi shows clearly that the word  Kedushah means “set aside”, not only in a religious sense. Thus, we see that the Torah forbids “secular prostitution” as well as “idolatrous prostitution”, and that the Torah was not only trying to keep us clean of idolatry (despite the claims of secular “Bible scholars”), but of all sexual immorality in any form. From these verses, we see that a Zonah is any woman who has multiple sexual partners outside of the context of marriage, and that the state of being a Zonah is a direct prohibition from the Torah.

Thus, if either party is not committed to a monogamous relationship, then it would be the Torah prohibition of Zenus.  (Please note, that one also needs to take into consideration the laws of Nidda – there  is the Torah prohibition of niddah.)

The Torah prohibits intermarriage in Deuteronomy 7:3. As far as a man sleeping with a non-Jewish woman, without marriage, this is prohibited by the Torah as well as a prohibition of Kares (Severance of the Soul). In Malachi 2:11-12 it says “He who sleeps with the daughter of a foreign god, the L-RD will cut off that soul”. If a man is caught in the act of sleeping with a non-Jewish woman, he is to be killed on the spot, according to the Torah, with no court proceedings. The misunderstanding that someone told you is a total misunderstanding of this law. The prohibition is clearly from the Torah, however, the court does not have the power to kill someone after the fact (only a zealot on the spot, like Pinchas in Numbers 25:8), and thus the Rabbis instituted a rabbinical punishment of lashes for someone who was caught after the fact. The punishment of lashes is rabbinical, but the prohibition is from the Torah.  Thus we see it is totally forbidden from the Torah for a Jewish man to sleep with a non-Jewish woman, whether or not she takes money for the act.

A major source for most of the above is Maimonides “Hilchos Issurei Biah” – Laws of Forbidden Relationships, especially chapter 12 in regard to relations with non-Jews. If you know Hebrew, you can see it for yourself here.

From all of the above, we see clearly that all sex between Jews and non-Jews is prohibited by the Torah. We also see that most premarital sex between Jews is directly prohibited by the Torah, and the few cases that are not are prohibited by the Rabbis and consequently prohibited by the Torah (see Deuteronomy 17:11).

Just on a quick note of Philosophy behind this matter – the reason G-d made these rules is because He loves us. Those relationships that the Torah forbids are not fulfilling, and always lead to sadness. Hashem, in His endless love for us, wants us to be the happiest and most fulfilled people we can be, which can only be achieved through Torah, which includes the Torah’s prescription for happy marriage, which includes a sex-life that follows Jewish law.

With blessings for Holiness and Happiness in Torah,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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