Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Marriage, sex, virginity, and even celibacy, in the Talmud

LAST WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Virgins, ‘Partial Virgins,’ Sodomy, Bestiality, Prostitutes, Marriage, and Forbidden Sex. In the patriarchal society of the Talmud, a woman’s body is always under the supervision and scrutiny of men.
In last week’s column, I wrote about the surprising frankness with which the rabbis of the Talmud address sexual matters. In America, we are used to regarding religion and sexuality as opposites or enemies, constantly coming into conflict over issues like abortion and homosexuality. This must be, in part, a legacy of America’s Christian heritage, for since Paul, Christianity has placed a high value on chastity and asceticism. Still, while we may regard the Talmud as comparatively sex-positive, the rabbis were not advocating free love. As we saw in this week’s reading from Tractate Yevamot, they drew a tight connection between sex, love, marriage, and procreation. According to Rav Huna, in Yevamot 61b, “Any intercourse that does not increase [i.e., result in children] is nothing other than licentious sexual intercourse.”

Incidentally, Ben Azzai, one of the four rabbis who entered Paradise (the one who died there), gets a mention in this week's column. It seems he never got married.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.