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Virginia E. Johnson (1925-2013) was a psychologist, sex researcher, and codirector of the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation, St. Louis, Missouri. She is one-half of the team known as Masters and Johnson, whose research in sexual dysfunction and therapeutic counseling is as familiar to the layperson as it is to the medical community. They have scientifically analyzed the physiological changes that occur in the male and female bodies during sexual stimulation.

In 1959, Masters and Johnson began to apply the knowledge gained from their research by treating couples for sexual inadequacy. Their focus on symptomatic treatment, rather than on underlying psychological problems, was facilitated by a therapeutic team of one male and one female counselor. Johnson developed an exercise to reestablish the physical relationship of the couple through nondemanding touching called "sensate focus." According to Masters and Johnson the success rate among the couples they treat is dramatically high.

Masters and Johnson established a postgraduate course in their therapeutic techniques at Washington University and developed workshops for nonmedical professionals on human sexual functioning. Their early books Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy were written for the medical community; nevertheless, they became best-sellers overnight. Johnson convinced Masters that their research should be made available to the general public, and as a result they became regular contributors to Playboy and Redbook magazines.



Masters, W.H., and V.E. Johnson. Human Sexual Inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Masters, W.H., and V.E. Johnson. Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Masters, W.H., and V.E. Johnson, in association with R.J. Levin. The Pleasure Bond: A New Look at Sexuality and Commitment. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

Masters, W.H., V.E. Johnson, and R.C. Kolodny. Crisis: Heterosexual Behavior in the Age of AIDS. New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Masters, W.H., V.E. Johnson, and R.C. Kolodny. Masters and Johnson on Sex and Human Loving. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.


Repairing the Conjugal Bed. Time, 25 May 1970, pp. 49-52.

Wilkes, P. Sex and the Married Couple. Atlantic, Vol. 226 (Dec. 1970), pp. 82-92.

Hilary Stemberg


Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989) became a media sensation in December 1952, when information about her change of sex became public. The Hearst press, which contracted for her exclusive autobiography, headlined the story, and Dr. Christian Hamburger, the surgeon in charge of the case, later reported that he was flooded with communications requesting sex change. Jorgensen's trailblazing path of surgical transformation was followed by many others, and there was a growth of organizations and medical specialties to deal with surgical change from male to female and female to male.

Christine Jorgensen's was not the first recorded surgical sex change. One of the earliest such cases was that of Sophia Hedwig in 1882, and later there were others, the most famous of which was probably the case of the Danish artist Einar Wagener, who became Lili Elbe. It was Jorgensen, however, who achieved worldwide notoriety and in a sense popularized the potentialities of what came to be known as transsexualism.

Technically, Jorgensen had not immediately been transformed into a woman by surgical means, since Hamburger only removed the testicles and penis and did not attempt to construct a vagina, a surgical procedure that was perfected later. Hormone therapy was also in its infancy, but such details did not seem to matter to the press or to Jorgensen. A few years after her return to the United States from Denmark, where the original surgery took place, she had a vaginal canal constructed with a skin graft taken from the upper thighs, and with the improvement of hormone therapy, she eventually became a glamorous, curvaceous woman.

Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., on May 30, 1926, in New York City. He served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1946, a brief career much publicized at the time of the operation. For a time, he studied photography but left that pursuit to train as a medical technician. Convinced that he should have been born a woman, he began taking the female hormone estradiol while a medical-technician student, and, pleased at the result, he set off for Sweden by way of Denmark (his parents' native country), where he heard sex changes were possible. He never reached Sweden, since he found Hamburger in Denmark, and the end result was to make him, later her, known throughout the world.

On her return to the United States, Christine Jorgensen went on the stage, playing on the notoriety she had achieved and in the process becoming a well-known stage personality by which means she earned her living. In 1967, she wrote her autobiography, and in 1970 a movie was made about her, with John Hansen in the tide role.

In spite of her success, she devoted large amounts of her time to helping other transsexuals and served as a role model and inspiration for those who followed her. She died in California on May 4, 1989.


Bullough, V.L., and B. Bullough. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

Hamburger, C. Desire for Change of Sex as Shown by Personal Letters from 465 Men and Women. Acta Endocrinologica, Vol. 8 (1954), pp. 231-42.

Jorgensen, C. Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. New York: Eriksson, 1967.

Vern L. Bullough


Modern sex research dates from the first half of the 19th century. The early research was motivated predominantly by concerns about problems (or at least what were perceived to be problems) related to sexuality, such as contraception, prostitution, homosexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases. It was not until very late in the 19th century that efforts were directed toward understanding what were considered to be the normal expressions of sexuality. As in other fields, the emergence of serious scholarly work eventually led to the establishment of professional journals wherein research results and other scholarly writing about sexuality could be published.

There has been one major difference, however, between the field of sexology, the scientific study of sexuality, and most other fields. Until recently, almost all professionals whose work related to sexuality were trained in an established discipline, such as medicine, psychology, history, biology, social work, or education. They were not trained as sexologists; in other words, an independent, multidisciplinary specialty of sexology did not exist. Thus, most writers published their work in the already existing journals of their own field. Although several specialized sexuality journals were established during the first 100 years or so after the initiation of modern sex research, not until 1965 was one published that still survives today.

The first of the specialized sexuality journals was Jahrbuch für Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, published in 1899 in Germany and devoted to the topic of homosexuality. A more generalized journal, Zeitschrift fur Sexualwissenschaft, followed in 1908. Among the well-known writers who published in the early issues of the latter journal are Freud, Adler, Stekel, and Hirschfeld. Another journal, Sexual Probleme, was soon integrated with Zeitschrift fur Sexualwissenschaft and published as Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexual Politik. The Zeitschrift fur Sexualwissenschaft again emerged in 1914 and was published for nearly two decades before it, and all other sexological work in Germany, was terminated by the Nazi regime.

For a number of years during the mid-20th century, Norman Haire, another of the pioneers in the field, edited ajournai called the Journal of Sex Education in conjunction with the British Sex Education Society, but the journal ended with Haire's death in 1952. At about the same time, A.P. Pillay, the Indian sex researcher, edited the International Journal of Sexology from 1947 to 1955, but that, too, was abandoned following Pillay's death.

Although there are currently many journals whose primary focus is some aspect of sexuality, it remains true that professionals often prefer to publish their work in the disciplinary journals of their field. This is particularly true for scholars who are not doing the majority of their research or scholarly writing in the area of sexuality. A primary reason for this preference is that the disciplinary journals almost always have larger audiences and are frequently judged to be more prestigious by other professionals in that field. Moreover, it remains the case that those who study sexuality are often viewed with suspicion by many of their peers. In contrast, professionals whose work in sexuality is central to their careers are more likely to become committed to the field of sexology, to belong to professional organizations in the field, and to publish in the sexology journals. One consequence of this situation is that anyone wishing to review the literature on a specific topic in sexuality may find it necessary to search journals not only in the sexuality field itself but in several of the disciplinary fields as well.

The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (SSSS) was formed in 1957, after an earlier effort in 1950 had been unsuccessful. It brought together a diverse group of professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, gynecologists, historians, and even lawyers. Among the explicitly stated objectives of the organization was the eventual publication of a scientific journal. By the mid-1960s, the directors of SSSS judged that enough original sexuality research was being generated to warrant the creation of its journal, the Journal of Sex Research. Thus, the first scholarly journal in the United States devoted exclusively to sexuality, and now the oldest continuously published journal specializing in sexuality research, began publication in 1965. Today, this interdisciplinary journal publishes mostly research reports, but it also contains theoretical articles, literature reviews, clinical reports, debates, and other forms of scholarly discourse. Book reviews are also published on a regular basis. Although articles may be authored by individuals from any scholarly discipline, the work of social scientists has dominated the publication throughout its history, probably in part because each of its editors has been a psychologist.

The second general sexology journal to emerge was the Archives of Sexual Behavior, first published in 1971. Although it is the commercial venture of a publishing firm, it is also the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research. It, too, is an interdisciplinary journal, with contributions accepted from all academic disciplines. Nevertheless, work in the biological and social sciences has predominated. Of the general sexuality journals, the Archives more than any other has published the work of the biological scientists.

In 1990, SSSS launched the Annual Review of Sex Research. This development represents a significant milestone for sexology, indicating its growth and maturation to the point that periodic reviews of the literature in the field are warranted.

In the two decades or so following the publication of the Journal of Sex Research and the Archives of Sexual Behavior, numerous other periodicals, nearly all more narrowly focused, have begun publication. Another general journal has appeared recently, published in Canada and called the Annals of Sex Research. Over the years, a number of the more specialized publications have lasted only a short time; however, in some cases work published in extinct journals remains valuable, and issues of these journals can still be found in top-quality university libraries.

Among the specialized journals, the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy focuses on issues relating to sexual functioning and sexual dysfunctions or problems. It often contains reports on the effectiveness of therapeutic or counseling techniques, and it is the leading American journal in its field. It is closely associated with the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. The journal Sexual and Marital Therapy is published in England and deals with the same general topics.

The Journal of Sex Education and Therapy is the publication of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). As the name suggests, its contents are directed primarily to practitioners, although empirical studies are also published in this journal if they deal with educational or clinical issues. SIECUS Report is the publication of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States. The focus is sexuality education. It does not publish empirical research; it contains analyses or commentaries by leading people in the field. It also regularly includes book reviews and resources for professionals working with specific populations. A similar publication is SIECCAN Journal, a publication of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. This journal does include some research articles.

The Journal of Homosexuality has been published since 1975. It is an interdisciplinary journal, publishing research results, book reviews, and other scholarly writing pertaining to issues of sexual orientation. An even more narrowly focused journal dealing with sexual orientation issues is the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy.

As the field has grown and more professionals from various disciplines have begun to do scholarly work pertaining to sexuality, a number of disciplinary journals addressing sexuality issues have appeared. The oldest of these is Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, published primarily for members of the medical profession. Its content, however, is diverse, including many articles of interest to professionals who are not physicians. Also closely allied with the field of medicine are the journals Sexuality and Medicine and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

The Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, first published in 1988, focuses on psychological variables and their relationship to aspects of human sexuality. A subsequent entry into the field is the Journal of the History of Sexuality. Sexuality and Disability deals with issues related to the sexuality of disabled persons. The Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality is that field's publication focusing on sexuality.

During the 1980s, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) emerged as a major concern among sexuality researchers from nearly all the disciplines. Several journals devoted to AIDS have been founded, and additional AIDS-related journals will probably continue to appear during the remainder of the 20th century. Among the new publications are the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, AIDS Education and Prevention, Multicultural Inquiry and Research on AIDS, and the Annual Review of AIDS Research. Numerous journals, particularly in the health-related fields, have published a considerable amount of AIDS research, as well as other sexuality research, in the recent past. Among these are the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the American Journal of Public Health, Health Education Research, Health Education Quarterly, the Journal of American Colley Health, and Psychology and Health.

As suggested earlier, and as the AIDS-related research illustrates, many journals that are not exclusively or primarily sexuality journals publish articles containing sexuality-relevant material sufficiently often that they deserve note. A number of these journals emphasize the family or interpersonal relationships. Among them is Family Planning Perspectives, the publication of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation. Its focus is on issues related to reproduction and contraception. The Journal of Marriage and the Family, published by the National Council on Family Relations, has existed since 1939 (although not originally under that tide) and has included many articles involving aspects of sexuality and the family over its history. So, too, has the Journal of Divorce. Similarly, Lifestyles, originally known as Alternative Lifestyles, contains articles about sexuality or articles in which sexuality variables are of major relevance. Other journals of note in closely allied areas are the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. The latter regularly contains research relating issues of gender to sexuality.

In medicine, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association often publish work concerning sexuality. So, too, does the British journal Lancet and the Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

Many psychology journals contain numerous important articles about sexuality. Most notable among these are the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, and the Journal of Social Issues. Closely related is the journal on aging Maturitas. Many journals in the fields of sociology, anthropology, and history also occasionally include sexuality research articles.

A number of journals focusing on sexuality are published outside the English-speaking countries. Included among them are Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung, Nordisk Sexologi, Sessualità, Revista Latinoamericana de Sexología, and Rivista di Sessuologia.

Finally, brief note should be taken of other periodicals devoted to or including substantial content about sexuality. They include popular magazines, such as Psychology Today and the exclusively sexually oriented Forum. From time to time, newsletters of various organizations also appear. Noteworthy examples are "Sex Over Forty," "Contemporary Sexuality," the newsletter of AASECT, and "Family Life Educator."


Bullough, V.L. The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex: A Brief History. Mt. Vernon, Iowa: SSSS, 1989.

Haeberle, E.J. The Jewish Contributions to the Development of Sexology. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 18 (1982), pp. 305-23.

Clive M. Davis
Sandra L. Davis


Attitude Toward Sex
Prohibited and Encouraged Sex
Love and Marriage
Sex for Pleasure

Judaism is the collective name for the religious rites, beliefs, and practices of the Jews. But Judaism is more than a religion; it is a total way of life. For that reason, some consider it to be more like a civilization than like a religion defined mostly by dogma and belief. Further, the Jews have lived among and interacted with more civilizations than almost any other group. The practices of Chinese Jews, Jews of India, and Jews of the American Wild West are very different in important ways.

Even in one place, the variations are great. The Jews of Jerusalem in the year 100 C.E., and the year 1000 C.E., and today represent vastly different life-styles, yet all are considered Jews. The result is that there are many different Judaisms with many different views of sexuality, but certain themes tend to dominate over time. If we emphasize later views and themes nearer in time to the modern period, it is not because they are in some sense more Jewish but only because they are closer to us and to how we live.

In America, for instance, there are now three major Jewish religious communities, the Orthodox, the Conservative, and the Liberal or Reform. The Orthodox, who hold that the Torah or Pentateuch is word for word and letter for letter the work of God, tend to seek detailed and strict observance of the laws based on the Torah. The Reform movement holds the Torah to be a divinely inspired work but a product of human beings, and it reserves the right to evaluate, criticize, and modify the book and to change or even dispense with some of the laws based on it. The Conservatives, while allied with the Reform in their view of the Torah, tend to seek a somewhat greater degree of conformity to traditional observances.

It is therefore just as arbitrary to take evidence only from the Bible or from the Ashkenazi legal codes, for example, as to cite only modern Western liberal Jewish authorities. Inevitably, any brief survey of Judaism and sexuality will be arbitrary because not every view can be cited, let alone given its proper perspective.

Attitude Toward Sex

At the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, the first recorded divine commandment to humankind was "Be fruitful and multiply." Judaism has generally understood this to indicate that sex, both for procreation and for pleasure, is a blessing and a gift. It is to be used wisely, to be sure, and not for control, debasement, or promiscuity. There are restrictions on it and on its use, but there is little embarrassment traditionally attached to sexual matters.

The book of Leviticus, for example, is filled with references to prohibited sexual relations and activities, and yet it is precisely the section of the Bible traditionally chosen to begin the instruction of little children in biblical Hebrew: "Let the pure little ones begin with the study of the laws of purity." This was a wise pedagogical decision, because such legal material is repetitive, uses a small vocabulary over and over, and offers the sort of text that is excellent for rapid achievement. But the decision also suggests that those who made it had little hesitancy in discussing with children intimate aspects of normal and abnormal sexuality.

In contrast, it was the Jewish community of the Essenes who chose 2,000 years ago to live a celibate life, becoming the forerunners in some ways of the Christian monastic cenobites, the monks and nuns of the Middle Ages, and the celibate priests of today. They may have adopted celibacy only because they felt that they did not have the time to give to conjugal and family relations. But it is also possible that they rejected family life on principle as something in some way physically or spiritually debilitating or demeaning. In any case, monasticism and celibacy—an experiment that was by and large rejected—never became prominent in mainstream Jewish life.

Prohibited and Encouraged Sex

Prohibited sex falls mainly into three categories, based on the prohibitions found in the Hebrew Bible as expanded in the Talmud (i.e., the legal, philosophical, and moral deliberations of the Rabbis from about 150 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.), the legal codes, and the Responsa literature (i.e., published legal opinions and ethical and philosophical guidance of outstanding rabbis up to the present day). First, those relations are prohibited that could never be legally recognized under any circumstances as valid unions (e.g., relations between a mother and her son). This prohibition is based on propinquity of relationship between the principals and cannot be made right after the fact.

An exception to the rule is the biblical law of levirate marriage, under which a childless widow has a claim on the surviving brother to marry her and to try to provide her with a child. That child, the financial and moral responsibility of the surviving brother, is not to carry on the surviving brother's name and house, but the name and house of his dead brother. This law was rendered moot by the Rabbis at a later time.

Prohibited also are sexual relations considered unnatural, or contrary to physical nature, as between a human being and sheep or cattle. Forbidden also, but in a different class, are relations contrary to law, such as adultery. A union might have been possible between the principals involved had there been no marriage to someone else, but once the woman is married to another, sex with her is banned, unless she gets a divorce.

In the Pentateuch as recorded in Leviticus, plural marriage is sanctioned for men but not for women, who can have only one husband at a time. Thus, for a man to have sex with his neighbor's wife is a capital crime both for him and for her, provided she consented and there is no question of force. But for an unmarried woman to have sex with her neighbor's husband may not fall into the same category.

Prohibited also are relations that are psychologically impossible, such as a man marrying two sisters as rivals or a woman together with her daughter. This legislation became moot as well when the Rabbis required that all wives be guaranteed equal rights and privileges, including sexual rights. The woman's sexual rights are spelled out in detail in the legal literature, and a husband's failure to satisfy them is grounds for legal action against him under Jewish law. Among other provisions, Talmudic jurisprudence allows that the wife of a sailor is entitled to demand her sexual rights a minimum of once in six months, while for a scholar the obligation is once a week.

Encouragement to marry and to raise a family is part of the Jewish sex ethic. From Abraham and Moses onwards, religious leaders, both male and female, have commonly been married. When the temple was still standing in Jerusalem, the High Priest was married. Later, when the synagogue/rabbi/Sacrifice-of-prayer system replaced the temple/priest/sacrifice-of-animals system, the rabbis were generally married.

One school holds that a rabbi should necessarily be married, and it is commonly taught that a man without a wife is radically incomplete and is failing to fulfill God's will. There are opinions from time to time suggesting abstention from sex, but these are aberrant to the majority opinion.

Jewish law considers that divine commandments, called mitzvot, are precious evidence of God's love and care for God's children. In other words, to fulfill a mitzvah is to fulfill the will of God, and it is seen as a joyous privilege, never as a burden. Not only explicit commands but any truly good deed done with good intentions can qualify as a mitzvah. In that light, it is considered a special mitzvah to have sex on the Sabbath. This is because the Sabbath is called the most precious of days, sanctified by God, and therefore to glorify it and make it something to look forward to is in itself a pious action. Having sex on the Sabbath would make the Sabbath even more delightful, so that it would be a special mitzvah.

Sex is prohibited, however, during menstruation because Jewish law recognizes a powerful taboo against shedding or using blood. Blood even of a properly slaughtered animal, for instance, can never be eaten or allowed to remain in the meat. The contact with catamenial blood is therefore considered a source of temporary ritual impurity, but this is not a judgment on the role of sex or the value of sexual intercourse.


Homosexual cultic practices were common in biblical times and were associated with abominated pagan religions. The Pentateuch legislation condemns such practices under penalty of stoning. Subsequent Christian concentration on homosexuality has led some scholars to assign it a more prominent position in Jewish law than it really has.

For example, the sin of Sodom, for which that city was destroyed, has often been understood in Christian interpretations to be anal intercourse between males, which is still the legal meaning of "sodomy" in England and America. In the Hebrew commentators, however, the sin of Sodom is commonly held to be violence.

Lesbianism is known in Jewish law and condemned prior to the modern period, but it seldom posed the legal problems that homosexuality did and so was generally ignored. For one thing, whereas homosexual rape is common, lesbian rape is not. For another, if two women in a household enjoy a lesbian relationship, it does not call paternity of offspring into question. Also, intimate, close, loving relations between women were considered normal in many periods. If two or more lesbians, perhaps two wives of one man or two sisters, all shared one household, then who would bring a case before the court? And what would the court be asked to accept as the defining proof of a lesbian action, corresponding to anal penetration of the male by the male? How would credible witnesses ever have been in a position to testify that they had actually seen such an act?

In postbiblical law, homosexuality was still considered a moral failure rather than an illness or an alternate life-style. However, because the mandatory biblical penalty was stoning, an accusation of homosexual practices would automatically become a capital case. As a capital case, it would have to be treated exactly like a murder case. Because of fear of a miscarriage of justice, a capital case was hedged with so many requirements that there is not one case on record in which a homosexual was ever accused and convicted.

Conviction would have been difficult to obtain, since a capital case required the testimony of two disinterested witnesses that they had actually seen the act. Not only did the act have to be witnessed, but the prosecution had to establish the principle of intention. That is, the prosecution had to prove by at least two disinterested and credible witnesses that the accused persons had been warned of the consequences of their action in advance and had indicated full understanding and will. These requirements applied to all capital cases.

In our century, homosexuality and lesbianism have been understood in different ways than in the past. There are today gay and lesbian congregations, often led by gay or lesbian rabbis. Those who belong to them are considered, even by the most Orthodox authorities, no less Jewish than any other Jewish congregants or rabbis. They may run into social rejection, but they are increasingly accepted within the Liberal or Reform Jewish community. While it is possible for Reform theology to consider the question of homosexuality as something other than a moral failure or an illness, that has so far proven impossible for the Orthodox.


Masturbation or onanism is not a major problem in Jewish law and practice in biblical times, in the Talmudic period, or in the Responsa literature up to the present day. The reason for this is that Jewish law and practice is on the whole extremely practical. Generally, a case is conceived of as a conflict of interest between two parties who are seeking guidance and justice from a court. Who, then, is bringing the accused masturbator to court, and on what charge? The nature of onanism is such that the presence of credible, disinterested witnesses is not likely.

That is not to say that the practice is favored. There is much uplifting homiletic and instructive literature that ranges from looking on onanism as a corrupting practice to seeing it as a wasteful and diverting substitute for authentic human relations. Sometimes it is seen as an acceptable release of tensions in a situation where other releases are not possible. Some modern Jewish thinkers would incline to the latter view. Some past thinkers dealt with it very little or not at all.

Incidentally, the famous sin of Onan in the Bible was not masturbation at all, as is commonly thought. Although the English and American languages use "onanism" to mean masturbation, the actual sin of Onan, for which he was condemned, was that he refused to give his seed to his dead brother's widow.

Love and Marriage

Romantic love and attraction are a main theme of the Song of Songs in the Bible, but Jewish marriage is based on more than that. Marriage involves a binding, legal relationship between a man and a woman, freely entered into by both sides and witnessed, supported, and underwritten by the authority of God, the community, and the religion. It is at the same time a union of two houses and two families, as well as an act of the community by which it fulfills a divine mitzvah and ensures its own eternity.

That is a lot of weight, and the ceremonies attendant on a Jewish wedding reflect a great deal of solemnity together with boundless, irrepressible joy. It has even been taught that at a wedding, one is permitted to celebrate to excess, which for some may mean to become intoxicated. If such a thing is done to add joy to the wedding feast, it might even be considered a mitzvah. Classically, there are three ways to consecrate a marriage, any one of which has been sufficient. In a modern Jewish marriage, at least in the Orthodox Ashkenazi rites, all three are often included. These are keseph, shetar, and bi'ah.

Keseph, "silver," is the giving of something of value by the groom to the bride, as a way of sealing a legal contract, with the intention of concluding a contract of marriage. Typically, it is a plain gold ring, gold because it has recognizable value, and plain because the value of fancy artwork would be hard to assess in a way that gold itself is not. A coin of great value would do as well, however. All the later interpretations of the meaning of the plain gold ring, such as that its endless circularity points to infinite love, must be considered inspiring and valuable homilies. In many modern Jewish weddings, rings are exchanged, which raises a question of whether there has actually been any giving at all. That question, for those who are troubled by it, can be resolved by the groom's paying for both rings. This gift is a legal transaction and must be witnessed.

Shetar, "contract," is the ritual signing before witnesses of a formal, legal contract, the wedding ketuvah. Such ketuvot are often decorated with beautiful artwork and displayed prominently in the new home. The traditional text of the ketuvah is in Aramaic, a near relative of Hebrew and the onetime colloquial language of the common people of Israel. It guarantees the woman her marital rights, including her sexual rights and her rights to adequate new clothing, cosmetics, and support. It details exactly what she is bringing into the marriage: money, sheets, blankets, all her property, and so on. Her husband is responsible for all of that, and in the event the marriage fails, he is held accountable for it. The document is quite one-sided; it is there as an instrument of the court to protect the woman, not the man. In Orthodox, Conservative, and some Reform weddings, it is read out, affirmed, and signed freely and willingly by both bride and groom in the presence of two disinterested witnesses as part of the wedding ceremony. A number of modern ketuvot have substituted more romantic language for the traditional text, and some have tried to make the document more two-sided. In divorce cases, the ketuvah has been considered a binding instrument in some civil courts, and its provisions have sometimes been enforced by the civil authorities.

Bi'ah, "intercourse," is a formal part of Orthodox, some Conservative, and (rarely) Reform weddings. The couple is sequestered in a private room for a period, and that sequestering is duly witnessed. This presumptive intercourse must be for the purpose and with the intention of creating a valid marriage. In other words, mere sex without the intention to consummate a marriage does not create a marriage.


In a traditional Jewish marriage, the woman's rights are protected by the ketuvah. In case of a divorce, the burden of fulfilling the ketuvah falls on the husband. Grounds for a divorce are the subject of considerable debate in the Talmud. The House or School of Hillel took the position that, although divorce should be prevented by any means practicable, if it developed that the marriage was hopeless, then any excuse to dissolve the formality was acceptable. This view was embodied in Talmudic idiom by the expression that even if she burned a dish, if it was done with agreement and intention, it could be grounds for divorce. The House of Shammai took the strict view that grounds for divorce should be highly limited. The Sanhedrin majority went with Hillel.

Nonetheless, divorce is looked on as a tragedy and a failure. God is pictured as crying for the pain that a divorce involves, and saving a marriage is considered a great mitzvah. The instrument of religious divorce is called a get, "bill of divorcement," and is issued to the wife by the husband or by the court on his behalf. She retains custody of it or of a substitute document that testifies to its existence. This is because biblical law would at one time have allowed a husband to take another wife while still married, but not a woman to take another husband. She, therefore, has a greater need to prove herself free to marry. If the husband does not choose to give the wife a get, the court may compel him or act in his behalf, but among the Orthodox the courts often choose to do nothing. This inaction may cause great hardship for the woman and may even make her vulnerable to a kind of blackmail. Further, if a husband abandons a wife and disappears without a trace, there is no provision in Jewish law to presume his death after some years of absence. The wife is regarded as an abandoned married woman, not as a divorced woman, unless someone comes forward to say that the man's death has been witnessed. If she remarries and he reappears, she is ipso facto an unintentional adulteress and her second marriage is invalid. The potential for abuse is obvious, but fortunately it rarely occurs.

The Reform or Liberal Jews have in most cases dispensed with the get, partly to avoid the abuses it allows and partly because, in the presence of civil divorce, they feel they can perform a remarriage without requiring evidence of a religious divorce. From an Orthodox point of view, such a remarriage without a prior get might be invalid. The Conservatives still use the get but do so most effectively as a way of getting the couple into counseling; they avoid abuses by empowering the court to act in behalf of the husband if necessary.


The considerations involved in abortion, from a Jewish point of view, in most cases boil down to two: first, what is a person? and second, what is the intention? Under Jewish jurisprudence, the majority opinion inclines to the view that the individual is recognized as a separate human being when he or she is independent of the mother that is, at birth. Prior to that point, the embryo or the fetus is a part of the mother and has no individual and independent human rights as such. In other words, one has to be born to be a person. An alternative view, which is advanced by Roman Catholic theologians, among others, is that the fetus is an individual human being from the moment of conception, and certain individual and independent human rights must be considered from that point on.

These theological and juridical differences have serious implications. If the life of a mother were in jeopardy as a result of a pregnancy, and the physician were only able to save the mother, at the expense of losing the fetus or the fetus at the expense of losing the mother, Jewish law would consider that the mother is a person, with a full right to live, and the fetus is not, and would act to save the mother. The other view might hold that the mother has already been baptized, so that her soul has been saved; the unborn fetus, although unbaptized, is nevertheless possessed of a soul from the time of its conception, and that soul is in far greater jeopardy than the soul of the mother. It may be necessary, therefore, to save the immortal soul of the child even at the cost of the life of the mother.

Practical consequences exist in each case. The Jewish position might leave the mother able to have other children and to minister to her already existing family. The alternative position might provide more effectively for the continuity of future generations, even if that means, in this case, sacrificing the past (the mother) to the future (the child). In the end, the difference between the two positions involves the theological definition of a human being and the time at which one is considered to be a person.

There is an exceptional case, albeit a rare one, in which an unborn child does indeed have rights, and those rights are protected under Jewish law. When parents become aware that a child is on the way, and for reasons of their own wish to disinherit that child or strip him or her of a normal inheritance, the rights of the unborn child are protected by the court.

Such a case involves the principle of intention, the second major consideration here. If the intention of the parents in seeking an abortion is to act on sound medical advice, as for the protection of the life of the mother or for an equally serious purpose, then virtually all Jewish authorities would permit an abortion if not encourage it. An abortion sought for merely casual considerations or convenience would not find acceptance. The acceptable medical consideration might be, and indeed has been, liberally interpreted to include psychiatrically recognizable threats to the mother's mental health and welfare.


The view of birth control follows the same pattern of thinking as that regarding abortion, and for the same reasons. The mitzvah is to be "fruitful and multiply." This means reproducing oneself, that is, two parents having two children. There is no obligation to have more children, and if the family cannot provide properly for more children, many authorities would favor contraception. If there is medical opinion that even one child is contraindicated, then most authorities agree that contraception is called for even if there are no children.


A bastard in English and American usage is a child born out of wedlock. There is no concept of bastardy under Jewish law or practice, in biblical jurisprudence, in the Talmud, or in the Responsa literature up to the present day. Perhaps this is partly because the issue of whether someone was born in or out of wedlock has been less important in Judaism than in some other religions. Wedlock, the state of being married, has to do with willing entry into a contractual arrangement and is therefore mainly an action of the two principals, not a benefit or sacrament administered to the principals by a priest or clergy member. The rabbi merely sees that the arrangements are carried out properly; he brings no divine power to the union that the principals do not have themselves. Thus, the Jewish marriage is sanctified, but not by the presence or absence of the rabbi.

In the case of a union that could never have been legitimately possible, such as that between a mother and her son, the issue would be a mamzer, "issue of an impossible union." In the same class is the issue of a union between brother and sister or of an adulterous relationship.

Sex for Pleasure

It is possible to dissolve a marriage that has been without issue on the ground of childlessness, but it is not necessary to do so, and in fact such dissolutions historically have been rare. Since a marriage without issue does not fulfill the mitzvah of the first commandment, all such marriages, past and present, presumably are preserved mainly because of the love and pleasure that the partners invest in and derive from them. No guilt attaches to that love or that pleasure in a childless marriage, only some measure of regret that a mitzvah is left unfulfilled.

For the most part, Jewish authorities from classical times to the present find no guilt or prudery attaching to sex for pleasure. There are discussions of oral sex in the rabbinic literature that suggest that whatever pleases both partners, even if it does not conduce to procreation, is permitted and in fact desirable as a way of increasing their delight in one another. The body is, after all, a product of its divine Maker, and although it can be misused and used to hurt, it is not a bad product, and no evil inheres in it by nature.

However, one can find cautions about wicked women in the Bible and warnings about temptation and excess in the Talmud. Among the very pious of our own time, avoidance of any casual contact between the sexes suggests considerable discomfort with the body. On the whole, though, it is fair to say that licit sex for pleasure is accepted, and generally encouraged, as conducive to the proper service of God.


Since the time of the Bible, prostitution has been associated with pagan religions and cults. Most references to the Baals in the Hebrew Bible have to do with fertility gods that were worshiped by Canaanites and Babylonians. The worship of fertility gods and goddesses was seen as a debasing abomination by the Hebrew prophets and teachers, and no doubt the rites attached to that worship were a large part of the reason.

In Babylonia, no woman was considered fit for marriage until she had offered herself by night to a stranger in the temple of the fertility cult. The money paid by the stranger was a donation to the cult of the goddess. In the springtime, sacred prostitutes lay in the furrows of the newly plowed fields awaiting men to perform fertility rituals. That sort of worship pattern was considered an abomination by the Hebrew leaders and was dealt with harshly.

Ordinary prostitutes with no cultic ties did exist, however, and although the practice was considered degrading to both the men and the women, it did not always carry serious penalties. Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, for example, emerges from the Bible story as a kindly and helpful woman, who alone is spared with her family when the city is taken. Furthermore, she was accepted in the community of Israel from then onwards. That does not signify, however, approval of her way of life.


Ehrman, A. The Talmud, with English Translation and Commentaries. Jerusalem: El Am, 1965. See also I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud (London: Soncino Press, 1933), which is older and more readily available. Both have indexes. A new edition, The Talmud: The Adin Steinsalz Edition (New York: Random House, 1989), is incomplete as of this writing.

Felman, D.M. Marital Relations, Birth Control and Abortion in Jewish Law. New York: New York Univ. Press, 1968.

Freehof, S. Reform Jewish Practice and Its Rabbinic Background, and the various volumes of Responsa. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1944–.

Ganzfried, S. Code of Jewish Law (Kitzur Schulchan Aruch). Translated by H.E. Goldin. Rev. ed. New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1961.

Gittelsohn, R.B. Love, Sex and Marriage. New York: Union of Hebrew Congregations, 1980.

Jacob, W., ed. American Reform Responsa: Collected Responsa of the Central American Conference of Rabbis, 1889-1983. New York: CCAR, 1983.

Roth, C., and G. Wigoder, eds. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter, 1972. Readers are advised to compare this encyclopedia with other Jewish works such as I. Singer, ed., The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1906).

Alien Howard Podet


JUS PRIMAE NOCTIS, literally "right of first night" (also called droit du seigneur, jambage, and jus cunnagii) is basically an attempt to cloak rape with elements of respectability. It is the claim that nobles had the right of the first night with all women living in their territories (except noble women). Nineteenth- and early-20th-century scholars of sexuality and the family devoted considerable time and energy to ferreting out such a law, and it has often been the subject of popular fiction. Though some have claimed to have found evidence for its existence in ancient Scottish law, it does not exist in Roman law or in any of the European countries that adopted Roman law; neither does it exist in English common law. Canon law also does not mention it.

This lack of evidence does not mean that the practice did not exist, since the powerful male often had near life-and-death authority over many of those under him, and he undoubtedly exercised his prerogative to have sex with young women whom he thought desirable. There was no law allowing this, however, and in the case of women of a certain standing, it was strongly prohibited. What it amounted to was rape of the powerless, which undoubtedly often occurred in the past, still occurs, and may well occur in the future until the disenfranchised and powerless have their right to sexual consent recognized.


Bullough, V.L. Jus Primae Noctis or Droit du Seigneur. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 28 (Feb. 1991), pp. 163-66,

Vern L. Bullough

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