IES: Israel




ISRAEL ([1])


IndexMiddle East Israel, Israeli


Around the middle 1700s, Roger related that girls were married off at age seven or eight, well before puberty (1664, as cited by Ze’evi, 1995:p159; cf. p163, 164)[2]. Twelker[3]provides some references to age of marriage of the early Israelites [orig. references footnoted]:


“Edershi[e]m (1953)[4] argues that at the time of Christ, girls up to the age of twelve years and one day might be betrothed or given away by their father. But even then, they had a right of insisting upon a divorce if they wanted. Men were expected to marry at 16 or 17, with the age of 20 being the upper limit unless the man's studies left no time. The minimum age for marriage for a boy was thirteen (de Vaux, 1965)[5]. Mielziner (1884)[6] provides slightly different data with respect to the marrying age. He states that in the ethical teaching of the Talmud, eighteen was considered the proper year for a young man to be married. However, the legal age to become married was set at the age of puberty: males had to complete their thirteenth year while females had to complete their twelfth year. Marriages were void under these limits. There was one exception: the father could give his minor daughter in marriage before puberty, but he adds that "such contracted infant marriages were, as a rule, not actually consummated before the parties had reached the age of puberty." Some rabbis protested this practice as “a moral wrong”, but this custom prevailed, especially among European Jews during the persecutions in the Middle Ages”.


In the “Geula” neighbourhood in Jerusalem, conflicts around sexual behaviour are part of the religious repressive ethic of Geula due to the strict separation of the sexes from early age, a conspiracy of silence around topics linked to the body, an absence of formal sex education until just prior to marriage, the association of women with the evil inclination and with impurity for boys, and the link of sex and violence for girls (Goshen-Gottstein, 1984)[7].


Some data relevant for childhood sexual behaviour are available through studies on adolescents[8]. According to a study by Hoch et al. (1978)[9], sex education during childhood originated mostly from peers and literature, but was almost completely lacking at school. Masturbation started early, being more frequent for males. They found a percentage of masturbation begun before age 10 of 10.2, as compared to 5.3% found by Klausner (1961b)[10]. The cumulative figures on ages 10-12 are even more disparate: 26.7% versus 60.0%. A third study (Lancet et al., 1974)[11] found figures of masturbarche age <13y of 60.0% (boys) opposing a low 12.0% (girls).

Miner and DeVos (1960)[12]:


“Despite the rather Puritanical attitude toward the free discussion of [sexual] matters or the open display of affection, Arab children learn about sex at an early age. In fact, the contrast between the lively interest in sex and the suppression of public indications of these feelings is one of the striking features of the culture. Children are given no parental instruction in matters of sex but family sleeping arrangements provide what almost amounts to laboratory training. […] Until they are five years old or more, children sleep on the same bed with their father and mother. Under such intimate circumstances, the children inescapably become aware of parent’s intercourse. The adults are not disturbed by such cognizance of their sex life, but they consider that it is bad for even a baby to witness it. They commonly wait until the middle of the night to copulate when the children are asleep. If a child awakens, the parents will cover themselves or tell the child to turn away so as not to see them” (p56-7).


Adolescents are warned for incestuous contacts. Yet,


“While fornication is under heavy taboo, sex play is quite acceptable among siblings, until it becomes dangerously close to being a prelude to intercourse. The genitals of a baby are stroked by its brothers and sisters “to amuse and please it”, but not in public. A small child may practice self-masturbation without reprimand, although later he or she learns that such activity should only be pursued in private. Ultimately he learns that it is not approved adult behavior. Among siblings in the same bed, fondling and mutual masturbation are common practice, both homosexually and heterosexually. Such activity, of course, is restricted to the bed. When early adolescents are first separated in their sleeping arrangements, “they are told that they must no longer play with one another. In touching his sister’s breasts, a boy might get ideas. […] At a time when a boy’s sexuality is becoming increasingly demanding, he is cut off from his sisters and pubescent girls by new sleeping arrangements, paternal vigilance, and the seclusion of girls to their homes. Most of his waking hours he now spends outside of the home, surrounded by unaffectionate, adult males. Homosexual relations with brothers and other boys are extended to include fellatio and sodomy. Bestiality with goats, sheep, or camels provides another outlet. These practices are not approved but they are recognized as common among boys. They are strongly taboo as adult behavior, although it is not unknown for a taleb to practice sodomy with students. It is the passive role in such relations which is most shameful and I heard of one boy of thirteen who received pay for assuming it” (p58-9; see also p187).


Among first and second year female college students at the university of Tel-Aviv, Israel, “[a]ge of the first intercourse for the 108 subjects was 18.3 +/– 3.1 years. It is of interest to note that among the 11 virgins, (excluded from the study), all reported being traditional or orthodox Jewish observers”[13].


“[In 2000] Israel has lowered the age of consent for gay sex from 18 to 16, in line with that for heterosexuals. The penal code was changed in July but the move was not publicized until Nov. 1 [2000] when gay activists realized that gay teens were unaware of the change. Homosexual relations also were legalized for 14- and 15-year-olds as long as their sexual partners are not more than three years older than they are”[14].





Speaking of the child-rearing philosophy of the kibbutz movement in the 1930s and 1940s, Biale (1997:p195-6, notes omitted)[15] notes:


“One of the chief theorists of this philosophy was Shmuel Golan, an early disciple of Meir Yaari at Bitania. In Golan's writings and those of other educational theorists, one senses the almost irreconcilable tensions between utopianism and puritanism, although these contradictions are papered over with "scientific" jargon, frequently adapted from Freud and his disciples. They understood psychoanalysis as teaching the necessity of freeing the child from sexual neurosis. Influenced by such disciples of Freud as Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, they held that patriarchal, capitalist society represses the sexual instinct since the child is an extension of the father's private property. The kibbutz would create an erotic utopia by freeing sexuality from the constraints of property. For Golan, however, erotic utopia did not mean anarchism; sex for the purpose of transient physical pleasure was no less pathological than bourgeois repression. A utopian educational system must be based not on the instincts but on scientific rationality. Borrowing from the behaviorist interpretation of Freud, Golan insisted that parents exhibit little physical affection, including hugging and kissing, toward their children. To liberate the child from guilt over sex, it was considered necessary to neutralize sexual attraction during all periods of childhood. Children must sleep apart from their parents to avoid being traumatized by any exposure to adult sexuality. But the main instrument for neutralizing sexual obsession was overexposure, the exact opposite of traditional Jewish or, for that matter, bourgeois repression. Nudity was thought to lessen sexual stimulation rather than encourage it. Communal, coeducational showers, which in some settlements continued through high school, were based on the theory that constant exposure to the naked bodies of the opposite sex would create a more natural attitude toward sexuality. The underlying assumption of this theory was that children should not regard the genitals as differing in meaning from any other organ of the body, a view that corresponded to the medieval depiction of Adam and Eve before the Fall. By affirming nakedness as the way to restrain sexual desire, this utopian theory unconsciously resurrected the belief that sex in the Garden was devoid of unseemly lust. The child-rearing philosophy of the kibbutz movement therefore tried to demystify eroticism utterly; the consequence was often to suppress sexuality altogether. Adolescents were expected to refrain from any sexual experimentation since their education made it ostensibly unnecessary. Under the guise of eliminating guilt and repression, the new philosophy found its way to a different form of renunciation, in which openness became the instrument for suppression of sexuality”.


As is narrated in work by Neubauer (1965:p31)[16], masturbation could be practised openly until age nine; after this age, privacy was urged upon. Rabin (1965:p33-4)[17] stated that despite the freedom with respect to viewing the body of the opposite sex, kibbutz taboos and prohibitions with regard to sex play and sexual contacts are “strict and unrelenting”, not unlike brother-sister taboos in the conventional family. Spiro (1959 [1976:p219-28, 275-82])[18] gives a detailed account on sexual development in the Kibbutz. According to this numeric study, sex training is “probably the most permissive of all behavioral systems”. Unlike parents, no observations document nurses’ interference with child sexual behaviour. Spiro (1956:p112-3)[19]:


"Children are discouraged from engaging in sexual experimentation, but they are taught in school about sexual matters in an objective way. The high school youth are also discouraged from engaging in sexual experiences, as well as from forming romantic attachments, not for reasons of sexual morality, but because it is felt that such experiences divert their energies and interests from their intellectual and social activities. On the other hand, the sexes share common rooms in the dormitories from infancy through high school graduation and they share a common shower until they enter high school. In the not too distant past, showers were shared in the high school as well, but this practice was abandoned by the children themselves."


Faigin (1958)[20] reported of a study of “sex training” carried out in 2 settlements, the children ranged in age from 19-38 months. On the basis of 2389 questionnaires, added to 32 “intimate diaries” and letters, Wolman (1951)[21] observes that in boys “[m]asturbation is the focus of sexual conduct during [pre-adolescence]. […] masturbation precedes feelings of love or any physical hetero-sexual contacts”. In girls, for some reason, “the exact statement of onset was extremely difficult”. Petting before age 14 was indicated by 13% of boys (compared to 33.7% in Kinsey’s highest education level). [The interpretations of the author, apart from his particular use of the English language, fraud with interpretations referring to previous American material.  His arguments on self-restraint, restraint by public opinion and by the home seem debatable.]

Irvine (1952:p272-4)[22] does not provide specific observations on sex rearing. Significantly, Shtarshall and Zwerdling (1997)[23] are likewise not very specific on childhood sexual socialisation, or sexual behaviour.


Talmon (1964:p205-6)[24]:


“Attitudes to childhood sexuality are permissive and sexual manifestations in young children are viewed as normal. Living and sleeping quarters are bisexual during this stage. Children of different sexes sleep in the same room, shower together, play and run around in the nude and there is a considerable amount of wrestling, tickling, exploring, soothing and caressing between them. This close contact between the sexes continues until the second or third grade, and then decreases with age. Gradually, a sense of sexual shame emerges, and a growing distance between the sexes. Showers are taken separately. Sleeping arrangements are reshuffled; from the fourth grade on room occupancy is unisexual. All group activities remain bisexual but friendship becomes unisexual. The onset of puberty brings about a conspicuous increase in sexual shame and the development of considerable hostility between the sexes. Girls take great pains to hide their nudity when undressing and keep to themselves as much as possible. [etc.] Much of this tension stems from the differential rate of sexual maturation. […] This hostility continues until the age of 14 or 15 and then recedes, as the boys catch up with the girls […]. Attitudes toward adolescent sexuality are more restrictive than attitudes toward childhood sexuality. The educational ideology upheld by both teachers and parents maintains that adolescents should refrain from sexual relations until they finish secondary school. It is felt that preoccupation with sexual matters prevents full concentration on school activities and has a disruptive effect on the peer group and on the student society. […] Seductiveness, coquetry and flirtatiousness are strongly discouraged. Sex does not loom very large in the lives of these adolescents”.  




Additional refs.:


§         Antonovsky, H. F., Kavenaki, S., Lancet, M., Modan, M. & Shoham, I. (1980) Adolescent Sexuality: A Study of Attitudes and Behavior. Lexington, Mass./Toronto: LexingtonBooks

§         Antonovsky, H. F., Shoham, I. & Kavenaki, S. (1980) Gender differences in patterns of adolescent sexual behavior, J Youth & Adolesc 9,2:127-41

§         Lancet, M., Modan, B., Kavenaki, S., Antonovski, H. & Shoham, I. (1978) Sexual Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practice of Israeli Adolescents, Am J Public Health 68,11:1083

§         Rappaport, T. (1992) Two Patterns of Girlhood: Inconsistent Sexuality-Laden Experiences across Institutions of Socialisation and Socio-Cultural Milieux, Int Sociol 7,3:329-46

§         Gruenberg, E. (1955) Child marriage in Israel, Harefuah, Jan 16;48,2:33-4




Freitler and Kreitler (1966)[25]examined the birth theories of children of parents from diverse nationalities, including Israel. Some (significant?) differences were found between Oriental and Western children.




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: May 2005





[1] General remarks on sexual development in Maruani, G. (1983) L’enfant du kibboutz, Genitif 5,4:66-73. See also Kaffman, M. (1977) Sexual standards and behavior of the kibbutz adolescent, Am J Orthopsychia 47,2:207-17; Kaffman, M. (1962) Hashtana shelo midaat bekerev yaldey kibuts [Unconscious enuresis among kibbutz children], Harefuah 63:251-3 [under the age of seven masturbation common].

[2] Roger, Eu. (1664) La Terre Sainte [etc.]. Paris; Ze’evi, D. (1995) Women in 17th-Century Jerusalem: Western and Indigenous Perspectives, Int J Middle East Stud 27,2:157-73

[3] Twelker, P. A. (1998) The Biblical Design for Marriage: The Creation, Distortion and Redemption of Equality, Differentiation, Unity and Complementarity. Deerfield: TrinityInternationalUniversity [from]

[4] Edersheim, A. (1953) Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the of Christ.Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans

[5] [?]

[6] Mielziner, M. (1884) The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce in Ancient and Modern Times and its Relation to the Law of the State. Cininnati: Bloch Publishers and Printing Company

[7] Goshen-Gottstein, E. R. (1984) Growing up in “Geula”: Socialization and family living in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish subculture, Israel J Psychia & Relat Sci 21,1:37-55

[8] Antonovsky, H. F. et al. (1980) Adolescent Sexuality: A Study of Attitudes and Behavior. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath & Co.; Hoch, Z., Kubat, H., Fisher, M. & Brandes, J. M. (1978) Background and sexual experience of Israeli medical students, Arch Sex Behav 7,5:429-41; Hoch, Z., Kubat, H. & Brandes, J. M. (1979 [1976]) Results of the sex knowledge and attitude test of medical students in Israel, in Gemme, R. & Wheeler, C. (Eds.) Progress in Sexology. New York: Plenum Press, p467-82; Lancet, M., Kav-Venaki, S. et al. (1974) Sexual Knowledge and Behavior of Israeli Adolescents. Paper presented at the Second International Symposium on Sex Education, Tel-Aviv, June 26

[9] Op.cit.

[10] Klausner, S. Z. (1961b) Sex life in Israel, in Ellis, A. & Abarbanel, A. (Eds.) The Encyclopaedia of Sexual Behavior, Volume 1. London: W. Heinemann, p558-66

[11] Lancet et al. (1974) op.cit. Cited by Klausner (1961b), op.cit.

[12] Miner, H. M. & De Vos, G. (1960) Oasis and Casbah. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Also quoted by Edwardes (1967:xiii), op.cit.

[13] Barak, Y., Stein, D., Ring, A., Ticher, A. & Elizur, A (1997) Patterns of First Intercourse: A Survey Among Israeli Women, Biological Rhythm Research 28,1:36-41

[14]Wochner, R. (2000) Israel Lowers Age of Consent forGay Sex, EuroLetter 84:11 [ILGA Europe]

[15] Op.cit.

[16] Neubauer, P. B. (1965) Children in Collectives. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas. See also p83-6

[17] Rabin, A. I. (1965) Growing Up in the Kibbutz. New York: Springer. Cf. Rabin, A. I. (1958) Some psychosexual differences between kibbutz and non-kibbutz Israeli boys, J Project Techniq 22:328-32

[18] Spiro, M. E. (1958) Children of the Kibbutz. Cambrigde: 1975 rev. ed. Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press. See also Fox, J. R. (1962) Sibling incest, J Sociol 13:128-50, see 136-7

[19]Spiro, M.  E. (1956) Kibbutz: venture in Utopia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press [eHRAF 2005]

[20] Faigin, H. (1958) Social behavior of young children in the Kibbutz, J Abnorm & Soc Psychol 56:117-29

[21] Wolman, B. (1951) Sexual development in Israeli adolescents, Am J Psychother 5:531-59

[22]Irvine, E. E. (1952) Observations on the aims and methods of child rearing in communal settlements in Israel, Human Relations 5:247-75

[23] Shtarshall, R. & Zwerdling, M. (1997) Israel, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Vol. 1. Quoted from the online edition

[24] Talmon, Y. (1964) Mate Selection in Collective Settlements, Am Sociol Rev 29,4:491-508

[25] Freitler, H. & Kreitler, Sh. (1966) Children’s concepts of sexuality and birth, Child Developm 37:363-78