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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q8.21 TOC Sect. 9 >

Question 8.23 :
What does Judaism say about premarital sex?


The Torah typically frowns on premarital sex. Some extreme statements have even been made, for example, Reish Lakish has stated that even one who sins with his eyues may become an adulterer (Lev. Rabba 23); however, this never became accepted. However, this attitude led to many of the traditional separations between man and women, such as men not walking behind women, men and women being separated on festive occasions and in public parts, and even separate days for visiting cemetaries.

However, this question is not focusing on the traditional separation, but the attitude towards premarital sex. The literature makes it clear that virginity for the female was prized. Intercourse with an unmarried girl generally fell under the concept of Zenut, which was prohibited. If an act of intercourse was intended as an mode of lawful bethrothal, it was considered to be a lawful betrothal (Mishna Kid. 1.1). Although the act was prohibited, children born of such liaisons were free of any blemish, and there was no question of their legality (Kid. 4.1,2; Yev. 100b). Nachmanides was lenient about such illicit unions, and was willing to overlook them (Isaac b. Sheshet, quoting Nahmanides, 6, 398; also 425 and 395).

What about sexual relationships between those who were engaged and might live together for some time. This has been prohibited by tradition (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 55.1). In early times, such intercourse was reported as unobjectionable in Judea, but not in the Galilee (Ket. 7b, Ket. 12a). As for the children, some felt they should be declared Mamzerim (Yev. 69b; Kid. 75a), but this view was never adopted.

Note that the discouraging of sexual relations outside of marriage is a property of all Jewish movements. The Reform Responsa on the subject explicitly states:

On the question of informal heterosexual relations outside marriage between two consenting single adult individuals, we can then come to the following conclusions. Such relationships were prohibited and discouraged by authorities throughout the ages. Little was done when such relationships took place between two engaged persons, except in puritanical periods. Other sexual relationships between single adults were prohibited, and every effort was made to enforce such prohibitions. These prohibitions were equally strong upon the man and the woman. In times of lower moral standards, authorities were occasionally permissive or simply looked the other way. Generally, the effort to enforce high moral standards succeeded, and the responsa call attention to the failures. In our own period of loose standards, it would be appropriate to do everything within our power to encourage higher standards for both men and women. We should do whatever we can to discourage casual sexual relations.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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