Chief Rabbi to Singles: No Pre-Marital Sex, And We Really Mean It This Time!

The latest “trend” in premarital sex amongst modern Orthodox singles has garnered Chief-Rabbinical condemnation:

In an attempt to stem a trend of quasi-condoned premarital sex among young modern Orthodox men and women, Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has issued a prohibition against allowing single women to use mikvaot (ritual baths). In a letter dated January 24 and addressed to the rabbis of the Land of Israel, Metzger warns of a trend in which young modern Orthodox men and women use mikvaot to circumvent one of the severest prohibitions connected with sexual intercourse.
“It is absolutely prohibited to allow a single woman to immerse herself in a mikve,” wrote Metzger. “And it is an obligation to prevent her from doing so.”

The JPost article explains the halacha [Jewish law] involved in the issue but the basic gist is that by going to the mikva, single women make it (debatably) more halachically okay for themselves to have sex (see here for one single woman’s confession about engaging in this practice). Rabbi Metzger maintains — and surely the majority of other Orthodox rabbis would agree with him — that regardless of whether premarital sex can be technically acceptable from a Torah law perspective, it’s still completely unacceptable from his perspective, that is, the perspective of Rabbinic law, which banned premarital sex for its own sake — it is bad, wrong, forbidden in and of itself, not just because of technicalities involving menstruation.

The debate over the merits and demerits of premarital sex, however, should be regarded separately from the debate over mikva use amongst single women. The latter is more nuanced and, as such, bears some similarity to the debate over abstinence-only vs. comprehensive sex education (a debate largely held in the Christian v. secular arena that has recently opened up in the Jewish conversation).

Most educators on both sides agree that teenagers should not be having sex, but comprehensive sex educators acknowledge that they might, and in the event that they do, should be given the means to protect themselves. Proponents of abstinence-only education, on the other hand, say that giving kids information about contraception and STD prevention will only encourage them to have intercourse.

Similarly, the Rabbi Metzger camp says that premarital sex is prohibited and that we should not in any way enable single men and, especially, women to have sex. Perhaps Rabbit Metzger believes — naively, many would say — that the prohibition of niddah bears so much halachic weight to that it will deter women — unable to release themselves from its clutches without using the mikva — from having sex. Allowing unmarried women to use the mikva is only encouraging illicit behavior.

But others, like Prof. Tzvi Zohar of Bar-Ilan University, argue that some singles are probably going to have sex anyway, and the community should not prevent them from doing it in the most halachically fit way possible. To continue the sex education debate metaphor, shouldn’t we give people the means to protect their souls, as it were, rather than dismissing them completely as sinners whose sins can’t be mitigated?

To take the argument even further, why shouldn’t consenting adults who are fully aware of the relevant halacha have sex in whatever way see fit?

And that is, of course, what makes this debate completely different than that over sex education. We’re talking about adults, not children.

I’m not arguing that mikvas should put up a welcome mat inviting in single women, and they certainly don’t. The practice is already banned. Rabbi Metzger was just reiterating the ban, since apparently people had stopped listening. Even still, it’s been my understanding that mikva ladies do not knowingly allow single women in. But a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy seems more befitting of adults, who have the right to make their own decisions. From a halachic perspective, it’s certainly better than unmarried women having sex without going to the mikva, and it’s better then single Jewish men “sowing their wild oats” with non-Jewish women, who are halachically “safe” from the laws of niddah.

But this insistence on barring single women from using the mikva brings up an unrelated but perhaps even more important question. Why can any man or boy use the mikva whenever he wants to spiritually purify himself while women are only allowed to use it within the very specific context of niddah? There’s no good reason why, if I’m feeling in need of a little spiritual cleansing, no matter what my age or marital status, why I shouldn’t be able to use the mikva.

The only reason is fear of what bodily defiling such a spiritual cleansing might lead to. And that fear — why is there so much fear? — results in rabbinic authority’s unwillingness to give women control over their own bodies.

–Rebecca Honig Friedman

4 comments on “Chief Rabbi to Singles: No Pre-Marital Sex, And We Really Mean It This Time!

  1. Tanya on

    I don’t have very much to add to what you have said, which I very much agree with– other than to say that this feeling of exclusion, of not being a full part of religious Jewish communities because I am single, young, a woman, not traditionally raised, etc. was the reason why I did not become observant when I became involved in several communities a few years ago. While I loved the feel of much of the community, and enjoyed learning more about my heritage, I couldn’t get over the being looked-down upon and excluded because of things that were a fact of my birth.

  2. Miryam Batya on

    For me the duscussion is moot. The written Torah prohibits a woman from engaging in pre-marital sex, period (no pun intended). Sex is reserved for marriage, kedoshim. Upholding the laws of niddah cannot sanctify violation of Torah. What will we say next…that a woman should not commit adultery, but f she does than going to the mikvah will make it okay? Nonsense.

    One point made n the article that resonates with me, however, is the use of the mikvah for spirital cleansing. I see no reason why women’s use of the mikvah should be restructed to the fulfillment of the laws of niddah.

  3. SGoldstein on

    You appear to have missed a large portion of the article. Judaism does not only make cases for people who will follow ever law properly. Our religion regularly states all the cases in the manner of “It is improper to do X. If you do engage in X, then remember it is still improper to do Y. With the knowledge that these are both banned, here is how one would atone for X, and here is how one would atone for Y, since people are going to slip up. The point is not to validate pre-marital sex, it is to elaborate upon the range of all cases. Why should a woman who is violating the mitzvah regarding pre-marital sex be held back from fulfilling the mitzvah or niddah? That’s the argument being given in the first half of the article. It may not be applicable to you, but it is definitely applicable to a large population of 18-23 year olds.

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