Shalom told me about it in his answer to this question: What does adultery mean in the 7th commandment?

That Si'naf in 7 commandments means only having sex with someone else' wife. However, judaism in general still prohibits sex outside marriage due to the Rambam.

That seems to because of (correct me if I am wrong) another commandment (Deut. 23:18):

There shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a sodomite of the sons of Israel.

The Rambam equates all sex outside marriage as prostitution. (I'm not sure what sodomite means there).

What is the Rambam's reasoning?

  • Note: This question leads to bunch of other questions. I wonder should I put them all at once or ask them separately. 1. What's wrong with prostitution? Why God prohibits it? 2. What does it mean by harlots and sodomites? 3. Now that we have paternity tests, do we still need marriage? 4. What does marriage mean? 5. What about all non jews with different marital "deals". In jewish sense, they're not marrying right? 6. When contemporary civil marriage differ from biblical marriage significantly, which definition of marriage hold?
    – user4951
    Nov 12, 2011 at 8:17
  • Actually where did rabam says that all sex outside marriage is prostitution. I want to include that on my book
    – user4951
    Oct 21, 2014 at 12:32
  • As far as I know it’s not a Torah violation to have premarital sex or see a prostitute. But…neither is slavery or polygamy, yet they have been gotten rid of in most communities (polygamy is still practiced). It seems to be more a tradition and law the nation has taken upon itself. Feb 21 at 1:26

2 Answers 2


Rambam himself writes (in his Book of Mitzvos, Negative Commandment 355) his explanation of the relevant verses:

G‑d (exalted be He) has already instructed us in the Torah that a man who has relations with a virgin incurs none of the [capital] punishments, regardless of whether he seduced or raped her. Rather, he must pay a monetary fine and marry the girl that he harmed, as explained in the Torah.

Accordingly, a person might think that since the offender is only required to pay a fine, therefore this is looked upon as a purely financial case. Therefore, just as a person, if he wishes, is allowed to give away his money to another person, or to forgive a debt, so too, [he might think,] he may take his unmarried daughter and give her to a man to have relations with her. This would be like forgiving a debt due to him, since the 50 silver [shekels which the seducer or rapist must pay] go to the father. Alternatively, a person might think that [since this is purely a financial matter,] he may give his daughter on condition that the man pays a certain amount of money.

Therefore, the Torah prohibited this and said, "Do not defile your daughter with premarital relations." The monetary fine only refers to a case where the seduction or rape actually occurred. But it is still completely forbidden for them to engage in sexual relations, even when they both agree.

He writes similarly in Mishneh Torah, Hil. Naarah Besulah 2:17.

So it's actually not so clear that he holds that all sex outside of marriage is the equivalent of prostitution. It is true that in Hil. Ishus 1:4 he says that "a person who has relations with a woman for the sake of lust, without kiddushin [the first stage of Jewish marriage], receives lashes as prescribed by the Torah, because he had relations with a harlot," but a number of the commentaries explain, in light of his comments quoted above, that this applies only if she is sexually available to him as well as to others.

According to this approach, an exclusive relationship without marriage may indeed not be included in this prohibition. (It is still unquestionably forbidden, though; in Ishus 1:1 Rambam states that "once the Torah was given, the Jews were commanded that when a man desires to marry a woman, he must acquire her as a wife in the presence of witnesses.")

It should also be noted that Rambam's source (Sifra, Kedoshim 77) doesn't seem to draw such a distinction. It states (my translation): "'Do not defile your daughter with zenus [sexual immorality]'... this means specifically where the 'defilement' is done for the purpose of 'zenus.' What is such a case? When a man gives to his fellow his unmarried daughter not for the purpose of marriage, and similarly when a woman makes herself [sexually] available not for marriage."

  • And Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation follows Sifra: "do not defile your daughter with premarital sex"
    – Shalom
    Nov 13, 2011 at 23:50
  • 1
    ... at bible.ort.org/books/…
    – msh210
    Nov 13, 2011 at 23:54
  • Where in the Torah it says that man that engage in premarital sex get lashed?
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 2:59
  • 1
    Also it seems strange that the consent of the girl doesn't matter "whether he seduced or raped her". Why marriage status matter more than consent of the girl? That's not the way it is right now right.
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 3:31
  • Oh this seems to make sense chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/960635/jewish/… So yea rapists pay more. I'll read more.
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 4:28

As for the "sodomite" thing:

The Hebrew phrasing has the same word, in male and female. No Israelite man shall be a kadesh, and no Israelite woman a k'desha. Simply put, "a male or female prostitute."

Presumably the female prostitutes in Biblical times were servicing male clients; were the male prostitutes hired by men or women? It's prostitution either way; but if you read it as the former, that would explain why your translation would call a person who services MSM a "sodomite."

My understanding of Maimonides is that his interpretation is about legal mechanics. When a couple is about to do act X, is it prohibited? Easy. If they're married to each other, no. If not, it's prostitution.

If you follow the interpretation that it was only prohibited Biblically if it was "a person open to anyone", then you can't really point to a single specific act or point in time that violates it.

I'll attempt to answer your other questions very briefly. Please consider asking them as separate questions.

  1. What's wrong with prostitution? Why God prohibits it?

Presumably sexuality is supposed to be something special (and holy) for the context of marriage. Note that Judaism says non-Jews shouldn't commit incest or adultery, but prostitution isn't prohibited for them.

  1. What does it mean by harlots and sodomites?

See above. Female and male prostitutes; your translation had colorful language.

  1. Now that we have paternity tests, do we still need marriage?

Yes. If nothing else, for the emotional bond. G-d says in Genesis, "it's not good that man be alone." A widower who already has children can decide whether he wants to marry a woman capable of childbearing or if he wants to be done being a father, but he is urged to marry someone.

  1. What does marriage mean?

Care to make that more specific?

  1. What about all non jews with different marital "deals". In jewish sense, they're not marrying right?

Wrong. See here.

  1. When contemporary civil marriage differ from biblical marriage significantly, which definition of marriage hold?

Between two non-Jews: if they call it a marriage ceremony it's a marriage ceremony, and we recognize it as such. (See link above.)

Between two Jews: if they choose to get married by a justice of the peace (or the like), rather than follow the Jewish marriage ritual, it's a matter of debate between 20th century rabbis whether Jewish law would recognize them as married. It's recommended they go do a Jewish ritual too (doesn't hurt anything); but regardless, if they split up, they should go through a Jewish divorce ritual.

  • Rashi interprets "kadesh" as referring specifically to someone who's promiscuously homosexual. I'm not sure why. Anyway, that's probably the basis for the JPS translation as "sodomite."
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 14, 2011 at 2:15
  • Who would expect that Christian association of sodomite to homosexuals trace all the way to Rashi. A guy most christians are not aware off. Looks like christians listen to jews more than I thought. So it seems that God's commandment against sex outside marriage is not very clear and only apply to jews. Even the Rashi and Rambam don't think that way.
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 3:11
  • I asked these questions because Matt Ridley (a secular scientist) explain that marriage originated as way to decide fatherhood. That's why cultures without Torah (virtually most cultures) tend to have "similar" customs. In ancient time marriage protect men from ending up inheriting and supporting other men's child. Now, marriage actually open men to such liabilities.
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 3:20
  • Looks like Rabam agreed :) "For [ultimately], a father will marry his daughter and a brother his sister, [for in a sexually permissive society] a [girl] may become pregnant and give birth without knowing who the child's father is." Boy who would expect things like this written centuries ago before evolutionary psychology.
    – user4951
    Nov 14, 2011 at 4:35
  • 1
    @JimThio, this has nothing to do with Rashi! Genesis says that the people of Sodom were great sinners, and they wanted to rape visitors. The Christian interpretation is they were all into homosexual relations; hence Christians coined the term "sodomy" for homosexual acts. The Jewish interpretation of Sodom was that it was all about callousness to outsiders, and rape as a tool of intimidation to keep moochers away. The prostitution verse just says "male or female prostitutes", some translated this as "sodomists" as the men were servicing men. But that's based on a Christian-coined term.
    – Shalom
    Nov 14, 2011 at 14:47

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