Sex & Sexuality 101
Judaism and Sexuality
Judaism has an overwhelmingly positive attitude toward sex and sexuality. Procreation is a fundamental Jewish religious obligation, but it is not the only religiously validated purpose of sex. Jewish tradition recognizes sexual companionship and pleasure as important and good. Nonetheless, Judaism forbids many sexual relationships and considers adultery and incest among the most severe religious transgressions.
Traditionally, Judaism only approves of sex between a husband and wife, but the Torah does not list non-marital sex among the numerous sexual offenses discussed in Leviticus 18. The positive attitude toward marital sex seems to account for rabbinic disapproval of non-marital sex. Jewish marriage is referred to as kiddushin, from the Hebrew word for “holy,” and sex within the context of this relationship is also considered holy. In addition, the Torah prohibits sex with a menstruating woman (a prohibition that continues until the woman immerses in a ritual bath or mikveh) and this applies to both married and unmarried women.
Traditional Jews who abide by these rules consider it inappropriate for a non-married woman to immerse in a mikveh, making non-marital sex even more problematic. However, because the Torah does not forbid non-marital sex, there are traditions--particularly the biblical notion of pilegesh or concubinage--that have been invoked to validate non-marital sex. The various non-Orthodox denominations have--to varying degrees--discussed the application of Jewish sexual values to non-marital sex.
The Torah explicitly forbids male homosexual activity, though it says nothing about homosexual orientation or lesbian orientation or acts. Later Jewish authorities prohibited sexual activity between women, though it never received the level of condemnation associated with male homosexual behavior. In recent years, many Jews have become increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional Jewish position on homosexuality.