Project Genesis

Women's Issues

Ritual Purity

Premarital Sex II

My 18-year old son maintains that the Torah does not specifically forbid premarital intercourse. Since all things not specifically forbidden are allowed, then intercourse is allowed, he says He pointed to the case of Esther and the Persian king, which is not condemned. Is this in fact what the Torah teaches?

The Torah says in Leviticus 20:18, “If a man has intercourse with a woman who is ritually impure from her menstruation, he has committed a sexual offense with her. He has violated her womb, and she has revealed the source of her blood; both of them shall be cut off from among their people.” This refers to any woman who has gotten her first menstrual period or who has reached the age where it’s normal for her to get her period, and to her status of impurity until she undergoes purification in a kosher mikvah, a ritual pool. This applies whether she is married or not; the Torah makes no distinction. It includes not only intercourse but also any intimate, physical contact. The consequence of such a relationship is to be “cut off” – karais in Hebrew – a most severe punishment. Also, as one of the three cardinal sins, the other two being idolatry and murder, one is obligated to give their life for it if threatened with the choice of transgression or death.

As with all forbidden relationships in the Torah this carries an additional prohibition of “yichud” – private seclusion with the opposite gender. The Talmud (Avoda Zara, 36b) derives this from the verse, “If your brother, the son of your mother, entice you.. (Deuteronomy 13:7).”

According to many opinions, Maimonides (Ishus 1:4) among them, there’s an additional prohibition of “There must not be any prostitutes among Israelite girls. Similarly, there must be no male prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23:18).” These opinions understand that a prostitute is not only a woman, or man, who has relations freely and indiscriminately, but one who has any relations without marriage.

There’s also a positive command in Deuteronomy 24:1 that says, “When a man has taken a wife, and married her…” The Hebrew word used here for marriage is “U’Boalah,” meaning to have relations with her. This requires that people must marry first (See Maggid Mishna on Maimonides ibid.).

The above is only if it’s a Jewish woman. If it’s a Non-Jewish woman there are other problems. Read the story of Pinchas and Zimri in Numbers 25. In short, what happened was God brought a plague upon the Jews for behaving immorally with the Moabite women and worshiping their gods. Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, had public relations with a Midianite woman, and Pinchas took a spear and killed Zimri and the woman in full view of the Israelites. Pinchas is then given the honor of priestly service for his zealousness. Pinchas carried out the law of which the Talmud in Avoda Zara (ibid.) writes, “...the zealous may strike him.” The severity of this act is apparent from the fact that Pinchas was permitted to carry out justice without bringing the defendant to court.

The case of Esther and the Persian king Achashveirosh that you mentioned is actually condemned in the Talmud (Megilla 15a) from the verse in Esther 4:16. Esther says to Mordechai, who the Talmud understands to have been her husband, “ will I go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I am lost, I will be lost.” The Talmud says, “Just as my father’s house has lost me, so will I be lost from you.” She will “be lost” from Mordechai in that she’ll be prohibited from remaining married to him (See Talmud Sotah 28a and Numbers 5:11-31 for more on this prohibition).

Your rule is correct that if something is not specifically forbidden it is allowed. What’s difficult very often is being able to find whether it’s specifically forbidden or not. For that we have to study with an open and objective attitude and talk it over with a study partner or someone more knowledgeable from time to time. I wish you much success in your Torah study and lifelong search for the truth. If you find the truth sooner than “lifelong”- well, that’s even better!

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

No Follow-ups »

No published follow-up questions.

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


Powered by WordPress