Premarital Sex and the Torah
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
Conservative Catholic and Protestant Christianity have been seen as prudish in regards to their view on sex and the abstinence of such until marriage. But what is the Jewish view and what does the Torah say regarding sex before marriage?
It may come as a shock to most that the 613 Mitzvot of Torah says absolutely nothing about premarital sex. Nothing!
Why do you suppose this is? For the answer I believe we have to look at history, time, place and culture. Back in the days of the Tanak (Old Testament) in the Middle East within the confines of a Hebraic culture premarital sex was virtually a non-issue because once puberty hit at 12 and 13 years of age one was considered an adult and was eligible for marriage and so the raging hormones could be satisfied right away within marital bonds. There was no awkward teenage period we have in the Western world and culture today where the young had to curb their sexual libido.
Back then the culture was set up that young children were more mature than children of today, sheer survival and the hard and demanding life of the Middle East forced youngsters to grow up fast and so you transitioned from childhood to adulthood very fast with no adolescent stage in between. This shouldn’t seem all that strange, for only 100 years ago many of our grandparents and great grandparents married at 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age! This is unlike today where society and culture has produced teenagers that are still very immature and it would be utterly foolish and irresponsible for them to marry and so we teach and encourage them to remain abstinent from sex until marriage. Sex is not just pleasurable and natural to our nature, it is a holy act according to G-d and Torah (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5-6, Eph. 5:31). Virginity is seen as a once in a life time gift one saves for ones spouse as a sign of self-control, restraint loyalty, fidelity, commitment and love. The act of sex itself was used to seal a marital contract, to make valid a marriage and so though pre-marital sex is not mentioned in the Torah, because of culture and what sex meant in that day and time implies that it is only for marriage. Sex comes with hefty responsibility where children can be conceived as a result, and we all know how children are one of the greatest responsibilities in life. I do not think personages of the times of the Tanak would look favorably upon pre-marital sex for the very reasons I just cited.
A woman known not to be a virgin was looked down upon and not desirable for marriage, many became prostitutes because no one would marry them. The Torah implies premarital sex is wrong because a woman after consummating the marriage didn’t soil the marital sheets with her blood was seen as evidence of not being a virgin.
"If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, 'I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,' then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
"The girl's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find your daughter a virgin." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.
Physiologically, only the human female has a distinctively perceived sign of virginity, the hymen. The presence of such in the backdrop for ‘evidence of virginity in of brides. Here in the verse cited above we see ‘the evidence of the girl’s virginity’ was ‘the garments’. The gown brides wore for the very purpose of giving proof that they were a virgin. Here we find the physical proof a torn Hymen will generally produce: blood. This is symbolic of oneness, the covenant of blood.
“Many people are surprised to learn that the Torah does not prohibit premarital sex. I challenge you to find any passage in the Jewish scriptures that forbits a man from having consensual sexual relations with any woman he could legally marry. It's just not there!...
This is not to suggest that Judaism approves of pre-marital sex or promiscuity. Quite the contrary: traditional Judaism strongly condemns the irresponsibility of sex outside of marriage. It is considered to be improper and immoral, even though it is not technically a sin. In fact, to prevent such relations, Jewish law prohibits an unmarried, unrelated man and woman from being alone long enough to have sexual relations. But these laws come from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, not from the Torah….
While premarital sex is considered sinful by the rabbinic community, the rabbis also recognize the human desire for sexual interaction. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is to be reserved for their union upon marriage when they become one with God. Several centuries ago, rabbis deemed the age of eighteen the proper age for marriage. This custom was put into effect to mitigate the desire for premarital sex. The only limits placed on sexual activities in the Torah are prohibitions against adultery and incest.
In biblical times, a man was not prohibited from having sexual relations with a woman, as long as it led to marriage. The Bible never explicitly states a woman and man may not have sexual intercourse prior to marriage; therefore, no sanction was imposed for premarital sex, but it was considered a violation of custom.