August 22, 2019

How Does Jewish Law Legislate Sexuality?

“The Babylonian Talmud recounts a story about the third-century sage Rav Kahana sneaking under his master’s bed in order to observe him having sex with his wife. He was discovered, roundly rebuked and ordered to leave at once, but Rav Kahana defended his actions, saying that it – sex – “is Torah, and I must learn” (Berachot 62a).

Sex, like all other aspects of Jewish life, is regulated by Jewish Law. But the laws governing sex in the Bible are not the same as the laws elaborated by the rabbis in the Talmud, the main source of Jewish Law, and those are no identical with the Medieval codices of Jewish law.

Like Jewish Law itself, Jewish rules and attitudes regarding sex have evolved over time and have varied from place to place and from time to time. And like so many other aspects of Jewish life, sex has become regulated – which does not mean that the different rabbinical authorities down the ages agreed on a thing. Thus we cannot speak of “The Jewish Laws of sex” – only rules at different stages of history, which often overlap, but sometimes contradict one another.”

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