9 Tamuz 5781 / Saturday, June 19, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chukat
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Kedoshim: False Love    

Kedoshim: False Love

Indulging in premarital sex equates love with receiving physical pleasure. Since such “love” is based on taking rather than giving, it rarely endures…


Parshat Kedoshim

Parashat Kedoshim describes the special laws which preserve the holiness of the Jewish people, through which they distinguish themselves from the rest of the nations. “Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall to harlotry, and the land become full of lust” (Vayikra 19:29). According to Rashi, based on Sanhedrin 76a, this verse refers to a person who hands his unmarried daughter over to have intimate relations not for the sake of marriage. Rabbi S. R. Hirsch adds that this prohibition applies to every extramarital and premarital intercourse. Similarly, Aryeh Kaplan explains in Waters of Eden that according to the Torah's definition, harlotry includes all forms of premarital sex, and has nothing to do with payment for the act.
The prohibition against premarital sex undoubtedly differs from what is accepted in modern secular circles. Even certain singles who consider themselves modern orthodox may be tempted to succumb to the Western standards of acceptable social behavior in this respect. People might defend themselves saying, “We are no longer youngsters, and we need to have a life.” Wanting to enjoy the pleasures of life, they rationalize that they must “try out” their partner before being ready to commit themselves to marriage. This attitude stands in sharp contrast with the holiness which G-d expects of His Chosen People. Actually holiness itself is related to separateness. The first time the word “holy” is used is when G-d set aside the Shabbath from the six days of creation and sanctified it (Bereishit 2:3). Therefore, living a holy life implies being able to keep apart in spite of the appeal which the loose life entails.
The word for marriage in Hebrew is “kedushin” which literally means holiness. Marriage is a holy institution because it is first and foremost a sacred union, based upon spiritual and emotional affinity followed by physical congeniality (not vice versa). The belief that it is necessary to test sexual compatibility before committing oneself to the other in marriage assumes that the physical aspect is the primary component of marriage and that the other components will come about in its wake. When people get married mainly for the sake of pleasure, it is no wonder that divorce is so common. As soon as the initial attraction wears off, there is little left to bind the marriage partners together.
If we believe that the soul is our essence and the body is only its vessel, it follows that all we need to check out before marriage is spiritual compatibility. When a wife was selected for Yitzchak, the emphasis was on virtuous character. As Kli Yakar explains, when a person possesses the character trait of lovingkindness, then all the other good qualities can easily be attained. In the same manner, when there is closeness of spirit between two people, then physical compatibility can be achieved. It is interesting to note that the verse describing the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah reads, “She became his wife; and he loved her” (Bereshit 24:67). This clearly indicates that love comes after marriage. The reason is that love is the result of two people dedicating their lives to the building of a spiritual union. This is congruent with Scott Peck's definition of love in his book The Road Less Traveled. He writes that love is to extend oneself for the sake of the spiritual growth of someone other than oneself. Conversely, indulging in premarital sex is based on the assumption that love is characterized by receiving physical pleasure. Since this kind of love is essentially selfish, based on taking rather than giving, it is unlikely to endure.
Regarding our original verse where the father is prohibited from profaning the holiness of his daughter, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch points out that the term “do not profane” assumes that the daughters of Israel possess an innate holiness, which is subject to profanation. He writes: the Torah presumes an inborn greater degree of chaste modesty and morality in women. In general it is not from women but from the degeneration of the male sex that morality sinks. If the Law succeeds to save the morality of the men, the moral nature of the women will by itself keep it within the limits of decency.” Most women seek the kind of relationship which focuses on the spiritual rather than the physical. We yearn for stability and permanence in order to build a nurturing and lasting attachment. It is our responsibility not to let any corrupt influence in society or extraneous pressure pervert the innate modesty and holiness of the Jewish woman.
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum is Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. This article is an excerpt from her book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, reviewed by The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, Voices Magazine, Good Reads, and Wordpress/JewishPress and more. To order this book, click here.

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