Jewish Views on Premarital Sex
Interestingly, the Torah does sanction one type of non-marital sexual relationship: concubinage. A concubine or pilegesh is a woman who, though involved exclusively with one man, does not receive the legal benefits of marriage. In biblical times, concubines were kept in addition to a wife or wives. In recent centuries, Jewish authorities have, for the most part, dismissed the validity of concubinage. An interesting exception is the 18th century legal authority Jacob Emden, who suggested re-instituting the practice. Today, liberal authorities like Arthur Waskow are once again exploring the viability of this concept.
Other liberal authorities have pointed out the need to develop a new sexual ethic to address the reality of premarital sex. Waskow, a leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, suggests altering our expectation of marriage to "make it easy for sexually active people from puberty on to enter and leave marriages." Even the Conservative and Reform movements, who still stress the ideal of marital sex, acknowledge that Judaism's position on human sexuality is not consonant with the trends of contemporary life. Both denominations have suggested that premarital sexual relationships--where they exist--should be conducted according to the ethical principles that govern married sex: namely with the respect due to all humans as beings created in the image of God. In addition, Conservative rabbi Elliot Dorff has stressed the importance of modesty, fidelity, and health and safety in non-marital sex.
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