ט׳ בתשרי ה׳תשע״ח (September 29, 2017)

Sanhedrin 76a-b: Leading to Licentious Behavior

While Jewish law encourages sexual relations only within the framework of marriage, is there any real prohibition against unmarried, consenting adults engaging in relations?

The Gemara on today’s daf points to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (19:29) that teaches that a man should not give his daughter to harlotry and suggests that it refers to someone who gave his daughter for sexual relations outside the framework of marriage. How to understand this teaching is the subject of a disagreement between the rishonim. According to the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Na’ara Betula 2:17) any act of sexual relations outside of marriage is forbidden; others limit the prohibition only to cases where there is a specific forbidden sexual relationship that exists, but consensual sex between two people who are permitted to one-another would not be forbidden – although even so, it would be prohibited to make oneself available to anyone for casual sex.

Other approaches to this pasuk are suggested in a baraita brought by the Gemara. Rabbi Eliezer applies it to a case where a father arranges for his daughter to marry an old man; Rabbi Akiva applies it to a case where a father leaves his daughter unmarried even when she has become a (an adult who is old enough to marry).

The Sefer Ḥasidim points out that the problem with arranging a marriage for a girl with an old man would apply only if it were done without her consent. If she agrees, however, there is no reason to refrain from such a marriage. Others suggest that the only problem would be if the old man could no longer engage in marital relations, causing her to be dissatisfied and engage in adultery. According to the Iyyun Ya’akov, the problem in Rabbi Akiva’s case would only be if the father has already accepted kesef kiddushin – a full agreement of marriage – on his daughter’s behalf, but he is not allowing her to complete the marriage. This could lead her to engage in licentious behavior.

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