Question:  Is masturbation a sin?  What about pornography?

Answer: Regarding masturbation, although in traditional halacha, it is forbidden on the basis of hashkhatat zera, destroying sperm, in my opinion this reason is not compelling, and masturbation is permitted.  The traditional basis to forbid it has been the story in Genesis chapter 38 of Judah’s son Onan, who was struck down by God for “spilling his seed” on the ground.  But a closer examination of the story shows that he was killed not because he was masturbating and wasting sperm, but rather because he refused to fulfill the mitzvah of levirite marriage and conceive a child with Tamar for his older brother Er, her first husband, who had dies without having children.

Pornography is a completely different issue.  In his pamphlet, “This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend,” Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes about the Jewish value of tzniut, modesty.  While sexual activity is not shameful, corrupting, or embarrassing in Jewish tradition, it is also held by Jewish law to be reserved for private quarters.  Sexual activity is not merely an animal instinct or a biological urge - it is an act which binds a couple together emotionally, as well as physically.  Therefore, it belongs within the context or marriage, where it may it sanctified and distinguished from animal sexual acts.

The value of tzniut should affect the way we dress, as well.  We should not dress in overtly sexually suggestive or revealing ways.  We are created in the image of God, and our bodies deserve the respect of this divine value.  It is disrespectful to ourselves, our bodies, and God, to cheapen the body by putting it on display for public sexual consumption.

Pornography, which uses gratuitously sexual displays of the human body for the sole purpose of sexual arousal, therefore, is not in keeping with the values of tzniut and respect for the human body.


Question:  Under what terms then can a man masturbate?  Are man permitted to look at pictures of naked women while they masturbate?  Pornography?  In their own bedroom with their wife?  Can they fantasize in their heads?  What do the Rabbis/you say about this.

Answer: You have brought up some other issues regarding types of permitted masturbation.  Other than saying that I believe halakha does not forbid it outright, I have no other guidelines as to when and how it is permitted.  I see no reason why one may not masturbate with one’s wife, just as one may engage in a whole host of varieties of marital sexuality.  In general, halakha does not regulate our thoughts, including sexual fantasizing.

Pornography, though, is a completely different issue than masturbation.  In his pamphlet, “This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend,” Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes about the Jewish value of tzniut, modesty.  While sexual activity is not shameful, corrupting, or embarrassing in Jewish tradition, it is also held by Jewish law to be reserved for private quarters.  Sexual activity is not merely an animal instinct or a biological urge - it is an act which binds a couple together emotionally, as well as physically.  Therefore, it belongs within the context or marriage, where it may it sanctified and distinguished from animal sexual acts.

The value of tzniut should affect the way we dress, as well.  We should not dress in overtly sexually suggestive or revealing ways.  We are created in the image of God, and our bodies deserve the respect of this divine value.  It is disrespectful to ourselves, our bodies, and God, to cheapen the body by putting it on display for public sexual consumption.

Pornography, which uses gratuitously sexual displays of the human body for the sole purpose of sexual arousal, therefore, is not in keeping with the values of tzniut and respect for the human body.

As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has written in his book Kosher Sex, however, there are reasons to avoid masturbation.  It is a kind of sexual release that allows husbands and wives to becomes less dependent on one another, rather than using the sexual energy to strengthen their relationship.  With respect to singles, Rabbi Boteach mentions that masturbation wastes the sexual energy that would otherwise be used to motivate people to seek out a marriage partner.


Question:  Can Jewish women masturbate?

Answer: There is nothing within halakha that would forbid it.  In my opinion, even masturbation by men is permitted.  The traditional basis to forbid it has been the story of Judah’s son Onan, who was struck down by God for “spilling his seed” on the ground.  He was killed not because he was masturbating and wasting sperm, but because he refused to fulfill the mitzvah of levirite marriage and conceive a child with Tamar for his older brother, her first husband.

Even so, the prohibition against wasting sperm has a powerful influence in halakha, especially in the area of male birth control.


Question:  Most people say that jews have sex through the sheets. Is this true?  Please explain.

Answer: It is not true that Jews have sex through a sheet.  The misconception comes from the practices of some traditional Orthodox Jews, in which men and women do not have any physical contact, and even married couples do not touch in public.  This is wrongly interpreted to mean that Jews are prudish when it comes to matters of sexuality.

In fact, the rabbis in the Talmud discuss sexuality very openly, and other than restrictions on sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual cycle, place no boundaries on marital sexuality.


Question:  Someone told me there was something about boys and girls holding hands, and a reason why you couldn’t do it. Is this true? Are hands supposed to be some sort of holy thing -- I’d really like to know.

Answer: There are many rules regarding proper behavior between boys and girls.  Some people in Orthodox communities do not have any physical contact with a member of the opposite sex unless they are married, including holding hands.  This is not because the hands are especially holy.  Rather, it is because physical relationships between men and women are very special, and should be reserved for a married couple.

In the opinion of most Conservative rabbis, social contact between unmarried men and woman, such as shaking hands or holding hands, is not inappropriate physical contact.


Question:  According to Conservative Halakha, what is the appropriate waiting period after the menstrual cycle before a woman can immerse in the mikveh?

Answer: There is a teshuvah being written from the sexuality subcommittee of the Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards on your question, but it has not yet been discussed.  Therefore, there is no widespread uniquely “Conservative” approach to the halacha of family purity.

From the Torah, sexual intercourse is prohibited during a woman’s menstrual cycle.  During this time, a woman is considered to be in a state of “niddah,” separation from her husband.  Rabbinically, the period of niddah was extended for an additional seven clean days in which there is no blood flow.  After the seven clean days, a woman goes to the mikvah and the restrictions of niddah end.

In my opinion, based on lectures I heard by rabbis whom I consider experts in the Jewish law of sexuality, it would be permitted to go to the mikvah and resume sexual activity without waiting for seven clean days.  It will not “treif” the mikvah in any way to go early.  Thus, I know Conservative women who go to the mikvah seven days from the onset of the period, thus preserving the symbolism of the number seven in the days of sexualy abstinence.

However, until I see a teshuvah from the CJLS, I cannot recommend a specifically Conservative alternative tradition.


Question:  Divorcing, traditional conservative woman interested in going to mikveh upon completion of divorce.  Would like information on prayers, ceremony, etc.  I have never been to mikveh, but find myself wanting to do this at this time in my life.  I need advice and protocol, and have not found any data in literature I have looked in.

Answer: The basic procedure for immersion in a Mikvah is as follows:

1)  You should be completely clean before immersing.  Shower and remove all makeup, nail polish, etc.

2)  Immerse completely in the water, making sure that the water touches every part of your body.  Your feet should be above the bottom, and your entire head should be under the water.  Relax your fingers and toes, so water gets in between them.

3)  Say the berakha:  Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevilah.  “Source of Blessing are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, who makes us holy with God’s commandments, and commanded us regarding immersion.”

4)  Immerse once more, as before.

Women generally go to the mikvah after their menstrual period (after 7 days without any flow, though waiting seven days is not absolutely necessary), though you may go at another time.  Women also generally go at night, for reasons of privacy and modesty.  There is always a mikvah attendant to make sure you are completely immersed in the water, though depending on the mikvah, you may be able to bring in your own attendant or attendants.  Also depending on the mikvah, you may be able to bring in candles to light, and spend a bit more time.  You may wish to compose your own prayer or poem to say in addition to the traditional beracha.

You may wish to consult the section on Divorce from the book entitled, “Lifecycles,” edited by Rabbi Debra Orenstein.  There is some new ritual written for divorce; none of it is specifically designed around the mikvah, but it could be adapted.


Question:  Why don’t Orthodox believe in birth control? I met a family who has 7 kids!

Answer: It is inaccurate to state that “the Orthodox do not believe in birth control.”  Many persons who are very observant Jews do use birth control under certain circumstances.

Judaism believes that raising children is a mitzvah (this includes raising children by adoption, as well as giving birth), and that children are a blessing.  Although the minimum number of children is generally stated as 2 (one of each sex), it is preferable within Jewish tradition to exceed that number.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting 3, 5, 7, 11, or more children, if the woman is healthy and if the family is able to support them.

There is no question, however, that after a couple has given birth to the requisite minimum number of children, they may use birth control.  In addition, if pregnancy is threatening to the health of a woman, she is obligated to preserve of her health by using some form of birth control.

Though not all rabbis permit all forms of birth control, there is little disagreement that birth control pills or implants, diaphragms, and IUD’s are permissible.


Question:  What is the ethical standing of Judaism regarding cohabitation before marriage?

Answer: Traditional Jewish sources assume that sexual behavior belongs in a marital relationship.  At the very least, it directs leads to marriage, as in “if you sleep together, you WILL marry.”  One might argue that their are “levels” of ethical sex, with the highest being loving sex within a marriage, and the lowest being rape.  Non-married sex falls somewhere in between, depending on the degree of love, mutuality and commitment.


Question:  My name is David E. and I am currently a senior at Tarbut V’Torah High School in California. I have a project to do and I would like a Rabbi’s opinion on the topic.

1. Does Judaism allow abortion under any circumstances?

2. If so, what are those circumstances?

3. If they exist at all, do those circumstances apply to her?

4. Do her obligations to her living children come before her obligations to an unborn child?

Answer: Since this is a school project, I suspect that your teacher wanted you to do your own research!  ?  As you do your research, try looking at the following books:

Marital Relations, Birth Control, and Abortion in Jewish Law, by Rabbi David Feldman

Matters of Life and Death:  A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics, by Rabbi Elliot Dorff

God, Love, Sex, and Family, by Rabbi Michael Gold.


Question:  As I am a professional woman, soon to be 41 years old, and have yet to meet Mr. Right, I am currently undergoing artificial insemination procedures.  I am physically, emotionally and financially secure enough to be able to do this on my own and will be able to give a child a warm and loving environment.  The sperm is being donated by a friend of mine.  The question is, does “Jewish law” state anything about the last name of the child if the woman is not married?  I would prefer it has my last name of R. as opposed to the last name of my friend, D.

Answer: Halakha does not say anything about the English last name of the child.  As a non-married woman having a child (with no father involved in the child’s life), the Hebrew name would be ben/bat [your Hebrew name] only.


Question:  What is the conservative stand on homosexual marriage and can a conservative congregation accept for a family membership a homosexual couple who has had a marriage ceremony?

Answer: At this time (1996), most Conservative rabbis affirm the following policy:

1)  We will not perform commitment ceremonies for gays and lesbians.

2)  All Jews, gay men and lesbians included, are welcome as members of our congregations.

Please note, however, that there is no definitive stand or policy on your questions.  There are some Conservative rabbis who disagree with the first point, and *do* perform commitment ceremonies.

In addition, each Conservative congregation has the autonomy to fix specific policies defining who qualifies for a family membership.  A Conservative congregation may accept a homosexual couple as a family membership, but it not required by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to do so.  Alternatively, it may accept them as two single members, which in many congregations costs the same as a family membership.


Question:  Although  there are biblical injunctions against same sex relationships, is it possible for 2 women to have a relationship (lesbian), without any physical consummation?  Or are there any teachings/verses that are open to positive interpretation regarding same sex (female) relationships?  Also is there any prohibition against either woman in such a relationship being artificially inseminated in order to have a child?

Answer: (1996) Generally, the Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality have only been applied to male-male relationships.  Female homosexuality has traditionally been prohibited by the Rabbis, rather than by the Torah, based on Leviticus 18:3, “by [the laws of Egypt and Canaan] you are not to walk,” which they understand to include female homosexuality.  The only thing prohibited, for male or female homosexuality, are homosexual acts.  A homosexual orientation, homosexual feelings, or a relationship without a physical component, would not be prohibited.

There are no Biblical verses that can be understood as looking at any kind of homosexuality in a positive light, but there are modern teachings, even by some within the Conservative movement, which look at homosexuality today in a different way than was understood in Biblical times.  One of the main voices for this position is also involved in the AskaRabbi forum, Rabbi Bradley Artson.

To summarize his arguments:

The Torah and the Rabbis knew only of homosexual acts, not homosexual orientation; only of forced or cultic homosexual relations.  In ancient Mesopotamia, the sexual activity of a man was a demonstration of his power and virility - it made no different with whom he was sexually active; in Ancient Greece, sexual desire was spread equally between boys and woman, and the passive partner was invariably a woman/man/boy/girl of low social standing.  These are all sexual acts, not an orientation.  Involvement with homosexuality was not assumed to be exclusive.

In the Biblical models of homosexuality, Sodom (Genesis 19:5) and the Benjaminites (Judges 29:22), both ask for the stranger to be sent out and raped.  These stories are primarily about violating the ancient practice of hospitality to strangers, not about homosexuality.

Homosexuality today follows a different model, that of loving committed relationships.  This model was totally unknown by the Torah, so when it prohibited homosexuality, it was only prohibiting abusive sexual relationships based on differences in power.

Sexuality, as we understand it today, is part of our genetic makeup.  We are all on a scale from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual, with some falling in the middle.  There is no cure, therapy, medication, or treatment for homosexuality.  It is not a sickness.  For those who are compelled to be homosexual through their genetic makeup, homosexuality can no longer be considered ñunnatural.î

This position has not been adopted as a an official position of the Conservative movement.

Regarding artificial insemination, wide permission has been given for married couples to use all available technology to conceive children, even artificial insemination by donor sperm.  Given the uncertain status of gay/lesbian couples within the conservative movement at this time, I would hesitate to give formal permission within halakha for such a procedure for a same-sex couple.


Question:  Are there any sources, both modern and biblical, that would explain the how Tumah and Tahara relate to both blood and Kedushah?

Answer: First my quick answer, and then some references for more in-depth study.

Basically, leaky body fluids (like blood, semen and pus) and corpses are tameh, and clean flowing water is tahor.  A perfectly red cow burned to ashes and mixed with clean flowing water is also a purifying device. Kedusha is a kind of meta-concept, a directive to follow a set of mitzvot.  But there is no functional opposite of kadosh, such that one who is tahor is kadosh and one who is tameh is ?.

The first place I would begin to do serious research on this question is with the book Purity and Danger, by Mary Douglas.  It is not specifically a Jewish book, but an anthropological look at the religious systems of purity.  The points she makes can be applied to Torah, and her bibliography contains resources that you can use for further study.

The first specifically Jewish sources that come to mind are the volumes of Leviticus and Numbers of the JPS Torah Commentary series, which have some very informative excursuses, and the Encyclopedia Judaica.


Question: I am getting married this fall.  I am an observant conservative woman and though I do not plan on going to mikvah every month I really would like to go before I marry.

I am altering my cycle by one week but still won’t have the required 7 “clean” days.  I will have 1 clean day.  Is it inappropriate for me to go to the mikvah?

I am really torn about this.  I really would like the experience, but I don’t want to offend the orthodox mikvah lady or God.

Answer: You can go to the mikvah before the seven clean days are up -- you will in no way “treif up” the mikvah.

While normative halakha today is clear that one should wait for the seven clean days, it is not at all obvious that this is the only way to satisfy the Biblical/Rabbinic requirement to abstain from sexual activity during and go to the mikvah after your period of Niddah.

The Conservative movement has not yet published a recent teshuvah dealing with the issue of sexuality and mikvah, but the practice that I have come to understand and teach is to wait for one week from the onset of your period and then, assuming that their is no more flow, go to the mikvah.

I would like to encourage you to go to the Mikvah after you are married.  In addition to being a mitzvah, their is a great deal of spirituality in immersion in water, especially if you have a good relationship with the mikvah attendant or can bring your own friend to attend to you.  Also, your husband to be might consider going as well.  Some men are adopting the practice of going monthly as well, the Friday before their wives.  This emphasizes the role of mikvah in a couple’s intimate life, rather than just in a woman’s life.


Question:  What are your feelings about premarital sex?

Answer: Thank you for your patience during this very busy time of year for me.  I have prepared a more complete answer to your question.

Unlike within certain forms of Christianity, in Judaism, human sexuality is an unequivocally positive expression of love.  In early Catholicism, marriage without sex was desirable; the people with the highest religious commitment - Priests and Nuns - still may not marry.  The theoretical underpinning of this attitude towards sexuality is that marriage is a concession to the evil sex drive.

Within Judaism, however, the sex drive is both good and bad.  It is essentially a neutral impulse which can be used for good or for evil.  But the sex drive is only one aspect of ourselves as people.  For adolescents, whose sex drives are awakening for the first time, it may seem like it is the most important aspect of themselves.  But mature human beings should see themselves as whole, integrated people.  Sex is important, but should only be one way of establishing a relationship with another person.  A relationship based entirely on sex, or an expectation of sex, is one in which one or both partners see each other as tools, rather than as full human beings.

Our sexual activity should flow from our values, shaped by our Jewish heritage.  The sexual act is the most intimate physical expression of love, and demands a relationship with a similarly deep, intimate level of commitment.  The marital relationship is the only one with such total commitment.  In a non-marital relationship, no matter how committed the partners may be to one another, the fact that they have not chosen to formalize the relationship before God and their Jewish community is indicative of the less than total commitment that they have for one another.

Sexuality takes place in an atmosphere of love, commitment, and honesty.  A marital relationship, even though in a bad marriage these three components may not always be present, provides the strongest basis for providing such an atmosphere.  The marital relationship is also the best setting for the two-fold purpose of sexuality - companionship and procreation.

One final argument against non-marital sexuality:  No method of birth control is 100% effective, and although Judaism does permit abortion under a wide variety of circumstances involving the physical and/or emotional health of the mother, abortion purely as a means of birth control is absolutely forbidden by Halacha - completely immoral.  No one should engage in sexual relations unless they are willing to stay together and raise a child together.


Question:  What does the Torah, (and rabbi’s in general) say about pre-marital sex?

As a college student, I’ve encountered many different perspectives and I would love to hear specifically what Judaism says about this topic.

Answer: The traditional Jewish approach to sexuality assumes that it takes place within the context of marriage, and forbids non-marital sexuality.

Within Judaism, the sex drive is seen as an essentially neutral impulse which can be used for good or bad purposes.  How we use our sex drive, for what purpose, should flow from our most basic values, shaped by our Jewish heritage.  The sexual act is the most intimate physical expression of love, and demands a relationship with a similarly deep, intimate level of commitment.  The marital relationship is the only one with such total commitment.  In a non-marital relationship, no matter how committed the partners may be to one another, the fact that they have not chosen to formalize the relationship before God and their Jewish community is indicative of the less than total commitment that they have for one another.

It is important to keep in mind that the sex drive is only one aspect of ourselves as people.  For adolescents, whose sex drives are awakening for the first time, it may seem like it is the most important aspect of themselves.  But mature human beings should see themselves as whole, integrated people.  Sex is important, but should only be one way of establishing a relationship with another person.  A relationship based entirely on sex, or an expectation of sex, is one in which one or both partners see each other as tools, rather than as full human beings.

Sexuality should take place in an atmosphere of love, commitment, and honesty.  A marital relationship, even though in a bad marriage these three components may not always be present, provides the strongest basis for providing such an atmosphere.  The marital relationship is also the best setting for the two-fold purpose of sexuality - companionship and procreation.

One final argument against non-marital sexuality:  No method of birth control is 100% effective, and although Judaism does permit abortion under a wide variety of circumstances involving the physical and/or emotional health of the mother, abortion purely as a means of birth control is absolutely forbidden by Halacha - completely immoral.  No one should engage in sexual relations unless they are willing to stay together and raise a child together.

For a more detailed exploration of your question, I recommend the following:

“Kosher Sex,” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; and

The booklet, “This is My Beloved, This is My Friend:  A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations,” by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, published by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement.


Question:  Should I have sex if I’m only 16?

Answer: Absolutely, positively, definitely, not.  You should not be sexually active in any way, shape, or form at the age of 16.  You should also not be sexually active at the age of 17, 18, 19,  . . . or any other age until you are married.

Sexual activity carries the risk of:

1)  pregnancy - no birth control is 100% effective, and abortion for the purpose of birth control is contrary to Jewish law.

2)  disease - venereal warts, herpes, HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases that can cause sterility, severe medical problems, or death.

3)  emotional trauma - you are not going to marry the guy you have sex with tomorrow, and even if you eventually do, statistics say that you are destined for divorce.  Do you really want to get that intimate with a guy, and then get dumped?

There are no good reasons for casual sexual activity outside of marriage.  It increases the chance for divorce later on in life; it exposes you to disease, pregnancy, single parenthood, and devastating emotional consequences.  It is simply not worth it.  Sex within marriage is sacred and special -- the highest level of physical and emotional intimacy.  No one ever said, “I’m sorry I waited until I was married to have sex.”  Many people have said, “I’m sorry I didn’t wait.”

I’m curious -- did you expect me to give any other answer?


Question:  I know that the Bible does not permit premarital sex but what does it say about other sexual activities (for example oral sex)?

Answer: The Bible itself is relatively silent on the entire issue of non-marital sexual activity in general, and non-vaginal sexual activity in particular.  It seems to understand that any kind of sexual activity constitutes an act of marriage.  The only kind of sexual activity it specifically prohibits is between a man and a married woman (not his wife), two men, or incestuous relations between certain close relatives.

In Rabbinic literature, such as the Talmud, sexual activity is understood to be a part of marriage.  One of the ways that a man and woman can get married is through an act of sexual relations.  The Talmud does contain discussions of non-vaginal sex, both anal and oral.  Although there is some dissent, the predominant opinion is that between a married couple, any non-forced sexual activity is permitted.

Basically, to put it simply, Judaism believes that all sexual activity belongs in a committed marital relationship.  When non-married people engage in sexual behavior without a total commitment to each other, the sexual acts become one of two things:

1) each of them may be using the other person as a means to receive physical pleasure;

2) one partner may be agreeing to sex hoping that the other will stay in the relationship, thus using sex as a way to create a false sense of relationship.

A physical relationship should be just one aspect of a complete relationship, not the entire basis for a relationship.


Question:  I don’t get the connection between Judaism and modesty.  I go to a day school, and we are thinking of having a dress code.  What is the Jewish logic behind this?

Answer: The Jewish value of modesty stems from the Jewish view of sexuality.  We see sexuality as a beautiful and holy part of the relationship between a husband and wife.  Unlike animals, who engage in sexual activity in public, human beings make sex holy by keeping it private.  The root meaning of the word holiness is contains the idea of separateness.  There are certain sexually suggestive parts of the body which, in order to preserve the holiness of the body, should remain covered and private.  We separate those parts of our bodies from the public eye, and reserve them for our husband/wife in the privacy of our bedroom.

Certainly, dress codes depend somewhat on context.  A dress code for a beach might be less restrictive than a dress code for a school, which quite properly might seek to ensure that skirts are modestly long, and belly buttons and shoulders are covered.


Question:  What does modern Judaism say about prostitution.  Morally, is it considered wrong or evil?  If so,if someone uses a prostitute what should he or she do to make themselves good again in the eyes of God.

Answer: I am sorry that it has taken me so long to respond, but your question required a great deal of careful thought.  I decided that the best way to answer is to begin with a general look at sexuality in Judaism.

Unlike within certain forms of Christianity, in Judaism, human sexuality is an unequivocally positive expression of love.  In early Catholicism, marriage without sex was desirable; the people with the highest religious commitment - Priests and Nuns - still may not marry.  The theoretical underpinning of this attitude towards sexuality is that marriage is a concession to the evil sex drive.

Within Judaism, however, the sex drive is both good and bad.  It is essentially a neutral impulse which can be used for good or for evil.  But the sex drive is only one aspect of ourselves as people.  For adolescents, whose sex drives are awakening for the first time, it may seem like it is the most important aspect of themselves.  But mature human beings should see themselves as whole, integrated people.  Sex is important, but should only be one way of establishing a relationship with another person.  A relationship based entirely on sex, or an expectation of sex, is one in which one or both partners see each other as tools, rather than as full human beings, created in the image of God.

Our sexual activity should flow from our values, shaped by our Jewish heritage.  The sexual act is the most intimate physical expression of love, and demands a relationship with a similarly deep, intimate level of commitment.  The marital relationship is the only one with such total commitment.  In a non-marital relationship, no matter how committed the partners may be to one another, the fact that they have not chosen to formalize the relationship before God and their Jewish community is indicative of the less than total commitment that they have for one another.

Sexuality takes place in an atmosphere of love, commitment, and honesty.  A marital relationship, even though in a bad marriage these three components may not always be present, provides the strongest basis for providing such an atmosphere.  The marital relationship is also the best setting for the two-fold purpose of sexuality - companionship and procreation.

Prostitution, therefore, is not an acceptable form of sexuality.  It lacks any kind of commitment; it treats sex as a comodity, rather than as a deep expression of love; and the prostitute her (him) self is nothing but a tool for sexual activity, rather than a complete human being.

Two final arguments:  No method of birth control, short of complete sterilization,  is 100% effective.  Although Judaism does permit abortion under a wide variety of circumstances involving the physical and/or emotional health of the mother, abortion purely as a means of birth control is absolutely forbidden by Halacha - completely immoral.  No one should engage in sexual relations unless they are willing to stay together and raise a child.  In addition, it is a mitzvah to protect our bodies from illness and disease, and the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases from prostitutes is extremely high.

One who has used a prostitute repents by resolving never to do it again, and then God will forgive the sin.


Question:  Are there any specific prohibitions against pedophilia in the Torah or Tenakh or indeed in any Jewish writings?

Answer: Leviticus 18:6 is a prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s own family members.  Though children is not specifically mentioned in the details which follow, it is universally accepted that having sexual relations with one’s children is prohibited.  There are no specific prohibitions against having sexual relations with non-related children of the opposite sex.  Sexual contact between men and boys is clearly prohibited, but to find a prohibition of sexual contact between men and girls, I had to do some digging.  The Tanakh is silent on the matter, and strangely enough, so is the Talmud.  There are two reasons for this:  First, arranged marriage of young girls was common, though the consummation of the marriage could not take place until she was of the age of consent - 12 years old - and at that time, she had the right to refuse the marriage, and no formal Get would be required for a divorce.  Second, when something as disgusting as having sexual intercourse with children is not mentioned, it often means that it is understood to be prohibited.  This, however, is not a strong enough condemnation for child sexual abuse.

Even back in Talmudic times, two unmarried adults having consenting sexual relations, though technically permitted, was frowned upon, and eventually prohibited.  Today, the minimum age for consent of marriage, set by the chief Rabbinate in Israel in 1950, has been raised to 16.  Therefore, one who have intercourse with a child (with whom he cannot possibly be married) then is clearly in violation of laws of sexual intercourse.

Recently, Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote a teshuvah for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement entitled “Family Violence,” in which he very clearly states that:  “The Jewish tradition understands the Torah to ban not only sexual penetration, but any form of illicit fondling or inappropriate behavior for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire.”  His primary sources are Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, Laws of Forbidden Intercourse, 21:1 and Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 20:1.

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