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What's Wrong With Pre-Marital Intimacy?

What's Wrong With Pre-Marital Intimacy?



I, along with the man I'm dating, are becoming more observant since being together. It is lovely that I am getting so such insight into our religion, and we are slowly starting to observe the Shabbat and more mitzvot. Anyway, here is what's bothering me: he is now saying that to make our relationship last/work we need to abstain from being intimate with each other until we're married. Part of me understands his position, but I feel that intimacy is an important part of a relationship, and would create a very strong bond between us. I know that I love him and wish to marry him one day, so this is not your average passing relationship. So what's wrong with pre-marital intimacy?


Imagine your favorite coffee mug broke in half, and you want to glue it together. You go to Home Depot and buy the most highly recommended, strongest glue. Then you read the instructions. You clean the surfaces as directed, very carefully make sure that the two halves are perfectly even and matched. Then you apply the glue.

But what would happen if you applied the glue right away? Before reading the instructions, before prepping the surfaces properly, before aligning them perfectly?

Intimacy is the strongest bond that exists between two human beings.

Because the power and the bond created by intimacy is so great, it is vitally important that this "glue" is not applied within a relationship until we have assured that everything else fits perfectly. Is there an intellectual bonding/commitment (respect and liking – a vital and highly underrated component in any marital relationship)? Is there an emotional bonding/commitment (love)? Is there a legal bonding/commitment (legal marriage, ketubah)? A public bonding/commitment (wedding)? A spiritual bonding/commitment (chuppah and kiddushin – Jewish marriage according to the precepts of Torah)? Only when all these other bonding/commitments are in place is it time to apply the final "glue" – the physical bonding.

Intimacy does not strengthen liking, respect, love, or spiritual connection. It creates a bond. This bond may actually obscure the fact that there is something missing in the liking, respect, love, or spiritual connection. It conceals, rather than reveals. And so, during the period of dating, getting to know the other and determining if indeed this is the person with whom we want to spend a lifetime, the person who we want to come home to even when we are old and gray, the person who we want to be the parent of our children – during this time intimacy is a hindrance, rather than a help, in assisting us to make that all important decision.

Once the decisions have been made, and the commitments have been proclaimed to the entire world, then it is time to apply the final glue.1

In fact, even within the context of marriage there are times when a husband and wife should not be intimate with each other. These are the laws of Family Purity, which maintain the marriage as a multi-dimensional relationship, not just a bedroom relationship. But that's a whole 'nuther story. If and when the two of you decide to get married, then is the time to become familiar with these all-important laws.

When you keep your hands off, you learn to commune with your minds and your heart. And intimacy is all the more special, then, once you're married….

Interestingly, according to Mariah Wojdacz of, a leading online legal service center: "The highest risk factor for divorce may be surprising, since it is often seen as a way to promote stability and security in a relationship. Couples who move in together prior to marriage have a far greater chance of divorce than couples who do not. How much higher is that risk? Some studies suggest couples who co-habitat before marriage, divorce at a rate as high as 85 percent." For more on this, See Dating the Jewish Way.
Chaya Sarah Silberberg serves as the rebbetzin of the Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan, since 1975. She also counsels, lectures, writes, and responds for’s Ask the Rabbi service.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Yehuda Shurpin for February 16, 2017

According to practical Torah law I would first note that the point of Pilegesh to which you refer to is not really about pre-marital intimacy, but rather about having an extra-marital relationship. However, even if a Pilegesh would be halachikily acceptable nowadays (which it isn't) many of the laws of a regular marriage still apply to that sort of relationship as well. So even if you were to argue that a pilegesh is somehow permitted, that would still not mean that pre-marital intimacy is.

However, regarding pilegesh specifically, You are correct that shuchan Aruch prohibits it. but you mischaracterize what Rabbi Moses Isserlis (the Rama) ) says. in fact, he almost says the opposite, he first brings that some permit it, but then adds that others prohibit it holding that one would be liable for corporal punishment (Shulchan Aruch Even Hoezer 26:1).

As for the Responsum of Rabbi Yaakov Emden, he himself writes in that responsum that one should not rely on his opinion in this, and one should only permit it if the other "great sages" of the generation agree with his reasoning. This hasn't happened and therefore even he would agree that it remains prohibited Reply

Rabbi Matisyohu February 5, 2017

According to practical Torah law: Two can meet once, agree to marry, and have the ceremony a week later without seeing eachother in between. This is 100% acceptable.

In The Code of Jewish Law, 'Shulchan Aruch', R' Yosef Kairo cites the Sephardic ruling that pre-marital intimacy is not permitted. R' Rema interjects citing that while some prohibit it, the Ashkenazic ruling allows for pre-marital intimacy [assuming purity laws are observed and the woman is committed to her partner, obviously]. Note: R' Rema only interjects to elucidate Ashkenazic rulings which differ from the Sephardic.

A later Ashkenazic authority, R' Yaakov Emden, states that pre-marital intimacy is praiseworthy, as it distances one from various sins, protects Torah observance [siyog laTorah], and it brings about the fulfillment of a Mitzvah. He even challenged all Rabbis to cite a Torah basis for it being prohibited, and until this day no Rabbi has met this challenge.

So there is certainly sound authoritative basis to permit it in practice. Reply

Anonymous Cary North Carolina February 2, 2017

Thank you so much
Intimacy just in marriage
Married couple
One husband and one wife
A marriage trust in G-d
Children just in a pure marriage
It is not fair to kids be born out of marriage lock
A Child needs a father and a mother
Thank you for underestanding Reply

Anonymous toronto November 3, 2015

Amazing answer Not just a well composed ,but also a well written answer which will help many who read it ,I had the same question running in my head but never had the courage to confront my fear but reading this gives me a clear vision of my life ahead, and what choices I should make in the future.
Thanks a lot, reading this helped me. Reply

Simcha April 6, 2015

I realize that Dee's comment is from several years ago, but Iwould like to reply to it nonetheless. Adam and Chava [Eve] were married, the marriage ceremony was performed by G-d. While this is not understood from a simple reading of the text of the Torah, it is part of the oral tradition. Chava is most certainly not described as "Adam's cook." She is described as 'the helper parallel to him," which can be understood in many ways. It is true that according to Jewish law, intimacy is one of the conditions of marriage. The way a man acquires a wife, is through kesef [money], shtar [a legal document] and intimacy. However, this does not mean that when a man and woman are intimate, that they are married. What this does mean, is that in order to acquire a wife, a man has to have the financial means to satisfy his wife's needs for food, clothing, and home. There are abundant charity organizations that fund weddings. If one wants to be married, he can find a way. Reply

Anonymous Australia November 30, 2014

I going to be perfectly honest that I agree with this, despite how much I haven't followed it, and how much not following it has ruined me.

I don't wait with the women I have dated. Wrong thing to do. Not waiting to create intimacy attaches me emotionally to the other person and vice versa which made us overlook the red flags that were there. Had I waited, I would have seen the differences earlier on and it would have much easier to part ways. I have been heart broken and have broke hearts; it's an awful pain and process; but it wouldn't have been so bad if I wasn't emotionally attached. Reply

Miriam Baley Mexico City, Mexico May 10, 2014

Thank you, C S Silverberg!
Greetings :). Reply

C S Silberberg May 7, 2014

No, there is not. There is, however, a body of law - known as the laws of Family Purity, or Mikvah - which regulates intimacy in general within marriage. Reply

Miriam Baley Mexico City, Mexico April 20, 2014

I have recently researched information about the Amish people and found out that married couples have to wait- I don't remember for how long- before having sex, so as to prove to G-d that they didn't get married just to be intimate. Is there such a thing is Judaism? Reply

Chaya Sarah Silberberg January 30, 2014

Intimacy The definition of intimacy is intimacy; not only actual intercourse is classified as "intimate" behavior. And all intimate/physical/sexual behavior belongs within the context of marriage. Reply

JDV January 27, 2014

intimacy is the definition of intimacy restricted only to sexual intercourse? This is an issue for older women, married or not. Reply

David Kroll La Mesa, CA January 16, 2013

But what about arranged marriages? No glue at all! The article makes many good points. BUT, if its message is that intimacy should wait until the glue is properly applied and ready, wouldn't that rule out arranged marriages which provide no opportunity at all for preparing, applying and having it set?
Weren't arranged marriages the paradigm for traditional Jews until very recently? And didn't they work very well for a long time? Reply

Dee Melbourne, Australia July 21, 2011

Adam and Eve Adam and Eve weren't married - there was no one else around to perform the ceremony. Although the ceremony did not exist yet because it is a human institution. I thought that 'God does not adhere to the traditions of man'? In ancient times, 'marriage' occurred when a man and a woman consummated their relationship. So a man and a woman shacking up together as Adam and Eve did is marriage, is it not? Eve was described in Genesis as Adam's 'cook' which is more accurate to the Hebrew language than the word 'wife' which is the common translation of this particular scripture.

My fiance and I have been together for 8 years, I'm only 23 and unfortunately, cannot afford to buy a house, have a wedding or to have kids. Sure, if I won the lottery! It is not an ideal world unfortunately and we can't all be rich. Reply

Anonymous Gloucester, VA January 9, 2011

Premarital child? I am a young considering becoming Jewish but had a child before marraige where would my child stand? Will (if i do decide to become Jewish) I have to let my child choose when he is old enough or would i have to raise him as Jew or would he even be accepted at all? And to add as single mother even though i love my son with all my heart i urge every one to wait until after marraige when children have a solid foundation to start with. Reply

Anonymous September 1, 2010

Abstaining It is fine to have a belief system where we believe in abstaining before marriage. i can even understand why we would teach our students that. However it needs to come along with real education about sex and intimacy in case the students don't have this as their own way of living their life.

The absence of knowledge and information is a major problem these days. They lack understanding about STDs pregnancy etc... Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, MD August 29, 2010

older couple? What would you say to an older couple, both divorced? Reply

Dov Plano, TX April 25, 2010

Prmarital Intimacy Is sexual intimacy between unmarried couples forbidden by Torah or Rabbinic Law?
Does the age of the couples matter? Reply

David yacolt, 98675 August 22, 2009

This is fantastic! The whole world should understand this... Please have it at e-dating sites and the like. What can I say... "Bravo!". Reply

Leah Washington July 30, 2009

nice, but realistically speaking... Today, it is more likely to get divorced than it is to stay married, statistically. Even though some people argue that this isn't true within observant Jewish communities, that could very well be because divorce is a greater stigma.
If someone feels truly connected to a partner to whom they have devoted themselves, sex before or after marriage really makes no difference, in the context of contemporary culture. I live in an observant community and within the past 5 years, 6-10 observant couples, married for decades, have divorced. The "glue" must not have worked, even if they followed the directions. Reply

Angela July 28, 2009

Thank you so much! I was raised in a religious home and taught that intimacy should wait until you are married. Over the course of the past 6-7 years, however, the religious/spiritual/moral/etc views of my entire family have changed...more than once... For the most part, I have held to the belief that being inside a marriage covenant with another person is the best place to be for intimacy, but some key female influences in my life have changed, not their advice, but the model they are setting in their own life. This has caused some very strong inner-conflicts. I cannot express how refreshing and relieving it is to have an affirmation of my stubbornly held onto viewpoint on this.

...I'm definitely going to use the coffee analogy, too... Reply

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