The Purpose and Meaning of Sex in Judaism

Judaism approves of sex and sexual pleasure, valuing it as a means toward procreation and companionship.

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The second purpose of sexual relations is companionship, which the Torah seems to regard as an even greater justification for sexual relations than procreation. In Jewish tradition, the belief that “it is not good for man to be alone” is as important if not more important than the command to “be fruitful and increase.” The Torah uses the term yada—“to know”—to indicate a sexual relationship. Sex is thus considered more than a mere biological act; it involves intimate knowledge shared by two human beings.

The positive attitude of Judaism toward sexuality stands in sharp contrast with a more negative picture that developed in early Christianity. Although Christians disagreed on the nature of Adam’s sin in the Bible, it was generally believed to be tied up with sexuality. Paul particularly emphasized this attitude. According to Elaine Pagels, a Christian scholar:

“He [Paul] often speaks of marriage in negative terms, as a sop for those too weak to do what is best: renounce sexual activity altogether. Paul admits that marriage is ‘not sin’ yet argues that it makes both partners slaves to each other’s sexual needs and desires, no longer free to devote their energies ‘to the Lord’ [1 Cor. 7:1‑35].”

Admittedly, Paul was speaking to a community that believed the kingdom of God was imminent. Even after such hopes failed, however, this identification of sex with sin was further developed by the early fathers of the church, particularly Augustine, and has remained influential in Christianity to this day.

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Rabbi Michael Gold

Rabbi Michael Gold is the rabbi at Temple Beth Torah, Tamarac Jewish Center in Tamarac, Florida. He is the author of four books, and his articles have appeared in Moment, Judaism, Jewish Spectator, B'nai Brith International Jewish Monthly, and numerous other publications. He also served as co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly's committee on human sexuality.