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In Deut 22:13-21, there is a mention of a spurned young wife's "tokens of her virginity", that her own father or mother can "take and bring out".

What were "the tokens of virginity" that parents of a newly married youg woman could produce as evidence?

Is this something that is still observed among the Jews?


Please note v. 17:

And behold, he made libelous charges, saying, 'I did not find evidence of your daughter's virginity.' But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity!' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.

The "garment" has the evidence? What does this mean?

  • I switched the link back; the way it is now, it will link directly to the cited verse. – MTL Nov 30 '14 at 5:05
  • This is all VERY interesting. I heard in some cultures, to avoid this argument, after the marriage was final the bride and groom are to go to a private room and consumate the marriage immediately to prove her virginity and then proof to be presented to the families. – user14729 Apr 28 '17 at 17:48
  • I am told that in some Bukharain communities this is still done. – SAH Jan 9 '18 at 14:12
  • @user14729 And how does this prove her virginity. I understand that there were many ways for a bride to "prove" her virginity and that her that the groom would not be aware of happening. – Yerucham David ben Mordecai Jun 20 '18 at 4:58
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I am nearly 60 years old at this time and began studying middle eastern customs and languages since the age of 17 with a well known Biblical translator from Assyria. As this is a very sensitive subject, I will try to be as clear and to the point as possible without being vulgar. In many cultures around the world, marriage is much more than just a simple contract. The parents arrange the marriages and agree on the "bride price" or what we would call a dowry. Marriages are expected to be an eternal covenant and can bring not just two families together, but sometimes two tribes or countries. Therefore, it would be essential for those involved to have the absolute assurance concerning the purity of the wife. Wedding celebrations sometimes lasted a week or more and usually included the entire communities represented. Therefore, the matter of the woman's virginity was quite important. Before the new wife would be taken to her husband, at least two elderly woman in the village, who probably knew the maid and her family from the day of her birth, would bring a white linen cloth to the damsel and gently break her hymen. This would produce blood on the cloth, which was then presented to her father who would show the entire community, including her new husband, the city elders and anyone else who was interested. This issue was then settled there and then and would never need to be brought up again. However, her Father, in order to protect her honor AND the honor of her family, would keep this garment in a safe place should it ever be needed again as proof of her chastity. These custom's may seem vulgar to those from a western cultural upbringing. However, when trying to understand the near or middle eastern mindset, one must realize how important it is to see cultural issues in a more concrete form rather than the philosophical or metaphysical understanding of the western world view. I hope this answers a delicate question satisfactorily.

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    Welcome to the site and thank you for providing this interesting anthropology lesson. Why would the family of the groom trust the father of the bride and the elder women? They could have an interest in deceiving them. Wouldn't the groom's family be more certain by having the groom "cause the blood" himself? – Mike Supports Monica Apr 26 '15 at 4:40
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    @Carebearindeed Interesting. Thank you for your answer which could be greatly enhanced by references. – FMS May 10 '15 at 8:25
  • @Carebearindeed I'm not sure if your explanation can fit into the verses. If the hymen was broken by the women, why would the man be surprised to not find signs of virginity on her? (This of course ignores the fact that virginity tests don't work.) – Aaliyah Dec 25 '15 at 6:02
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    Fascinating, but this is not the answer, and not the Jewish way. – Danny Schoemann Jan 10 '16 at 10:34
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Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation gives the traditional Jewish interpretation:

It's all about witnesses. He produces witnesses that she cheated on him while they were "betrothed" (like engagement, before they move in together, but with a very strong commitment). Her family produces proof that no, the husband's witnesses are perjuring themselves.

This all pertains to Jewish courts having the power of capital punishment, which they haven't had in about 2000 years. So no, it doesn't really apply today.

Today if a man gets married and then says, "hey I thought you were a virgin!", the worst that could possibly happen to her -- and I doubt this would even come up -- is a prompt divorce where she doesn't get much of his assets.

  • I am Confused. Then what does v. 17 mean And behold, he made libelous charges, saying, 'I did not find evidence of your daughter's virginity.' But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity!' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. Any chance to address this in your answer? – FMS Nov 30 '14 at 4:50
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    @FMS The garment is the sheet with hymenal blood proving virginity. As Shalom said though this is not taken literally in traditional Judaism. Rather it's a sort of euphemism for proof. – Double AA Nov 30 '14 at 4:59
  • @DoubleAA As with any interpretation, are there any Jewish groups then and now that interpret this literally and say lay out a garment when marriage is first consummated? – FMS Nov 30 '14 at 5:11
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    @FMS judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/ask – msh210 Nov 30 '14 at 5:51
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    @Shalom Is this it? "The Living Torah : The Five Books of Moses and the Haftarot - A New Translation Based on Traditional Jewish Sources, with notes, introduction, maps, ... & index (English and Hebrew Edition) by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan"? – ninamag Aug 22 '17 at 15:21
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While @Shalom's answer is a start, I don't think it fully explains the topic at hand.

tl;dr: As @Shalom pointed out, there are witnesses involved in the parsha, essentially making the "tokens of virginity" (a cloth with or without blood on it) unnecessary. However, there is a dispute in the gemarra which sounds like there is an opinion that it's all about the blood. However, as will be explained, that opinion can be understood to agree that there are witnesses.


What are you asking about is called the parsha of Motzi Shem Ra, someone who spreads a bad name about their wife. As you quoted, it's found in Deuteronomy 22:13-19. The verses describe someone who after completing marriage to his wife (known as nisuin), claims she cheated on him after they had begun their marriage (the stage known as erusin or kiddushin). The custom was that between the two stages of marriage, kiddushin and nisuin, there was a period to get ready for marriage (the custom then was 12 months for a virgin and 30 days for a widow, see here). In the interum they were fully married, but didn't live together. If she committed adultery during this time, she would be liable to the death penalty. So essentially this guy is claiming his wife deserves the death penalty.

Verses 20 and 21 which you quote are if he is proven right. The preceding verses deal with if he is proven wrong; how he is punished for slandering her good name. Now, the details of this parsha are discussed in Kesubos 44a - 46a. The relevant parts to your question are found on Kesubos 46a. There you'll find a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov (REbY) and the Sages. REbY says that the parsha of Motzi Shem Ra is only if at the stage of nisuin they had consummated their marriage. The Sages say even if they hadn't consummated their marriage, the parsha applies. They explain the parsha is a case where the husband presents witnesses who testify that she committed adultery during erusin and is thus liable to the death penalty.

The gemarra points out that the simple reading of the verses fits better with REbY, and the Sages have to justify their position by re-explaining the verses. I won't explain them all, but some important ones are:

Verse 14 : וְלֹא־מָצָ֥אתִי לָ֖הּ בְּתוּלִֽים I didn't find in her signs of virginity

The custom used to be to use a cloth during intercourse to prove whether there was blood or not, indicating if she was a virgin or not (see Kesubos 6b and 12a). The simple reading of the verse then is he is claiming he didn't find blood when they consummated their marriage. He claims she lost her virginity during erusin and thus she would be liable to the death penalty. The gemarra explains the Sages read the verse saying "I didn't find witnesses attesting to her virginity", meaning witnesses which could contradict his own, who are claiming she committed adultery.

Verse 17: וְאֵ֖לֶּה בְּתוּלֵ֣י בִתִּ֑י These are the signs of virginity of my daughter

The simpler reading of the verse is the father presents the cloth which shows the blood of his daughter, proving she was a virgin when they consummated the marriage. The Sages explain the verse means the father produces witnesses who contradict the husband's witnesses.

Verse 17: וּפָֽרְשׂוּ֙ הַשִּׂמְלָ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י זִקְנֵ֥י הָעִֽיר They spread the cloth before the elders of the city

Here we see the first mention of the cloth. The simple reading is as above, the father presents the cloth to the elders. The Sages read the verse metaphorically, that the witnesses clarify the matter like a new cloth.

Each of these two explanations of the parsha have their advantages and disadvantages. The Sages explanation, while not fitting with the simple reading of the verses, consistently uses witnesses, which is the main form of proof in Jewish law. Cloths aren't proof enough to administer the death penalty. Only witnesses can. Therefore, their explanation avoids this issue.

The question is REbY. His explanation fits more with the reading of the verses (he even says explicitly, the verses are to be read literally), but why would she get the death penalty if he shows a cloth without blood? Why if she can't produce a blood-soaked cloth is she killed? Tosafos and others are bothered with this question.

Based on this question, Malbim, Torah Temimah, and I'm sure others offer the following explanation of the parsha: Even though it's not mentioned in the parsha, everyone agrees there are witnesses involved. The Sages explain the whole parsha as just an example. Something caused him to hate his wife and therefore he brought about this whole slander. But even if they never consummated the marriage, and he brought witnesses, the verses can make sense. REbY holds the verses have to be understood literally. Therefore, they really did consummate the marriage. After he did, he didn't find in her signs of virginity. This caused him to investigate the matter and find witnesses attesting to her infidelity. After this there's really no dispute. His bringing the cloth is just to strengthen his claim, but it's really all about the witnesses. When the father brings his own witnesses to discredit the first, the matter is all cleared up like a new cloth1.

To answer your question if this parsha is still observed, besides the fact that the death penalty or fines are no longer sentenced, the whole case will rarely ever be relevant. Like I wrote at the beginning, the custom was to have a gap between erusin and nisuin. The custom today is that erusin and nisuin are done immediately one after the other (Rema EH 55:1)2. Therefore, it is unlikely if a husband can claim his wife cheated on him during erusin. Adultery after nisuin is a different question, unrelated to the parsha above.


1 The Malbim wants to use this explanation to answer the question everyone has on the Rambam, who rules like REbY, but explains the cloth as a simile and not literally. According to this there's no contradiction.

2 This makes many sugyos in the first chapter of Kesubos no longer relevant. For example, the Gra (ad. loc. s.k. 11) explains that the first mishnah and daf 9 are no longer relevant.

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Michael L Satlow (2001: 175f) "Jewish Marriage in Antiquity" discusses the aspect of proof of virginity and says representatives from the bride's attendants and the groom would be in the vicinity to ensure that the groom consummates the marriage. They would secure the white sheet and display it to whoever wanted to prove. If the groom failed to consummate the marriage, his father would be on standby to do it for him. About the book; Author: Michael L Satlow (2001) Jewish Marriage in Antiquity, Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691002552.

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    "If the groom failed to consummate the marriage, his father would be on standby to do it for him." You mean the father would sleep with his daughter-in-law? That's obviously inaccurate. – Double AA Jan 18 '16 at 19:13
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    This sounds like a misinterpretation of the story of Yehudah and Tamar. As stated in it "answer" it is something totally forbidden. – sabbahillel Jan 18 '16 at 19:14
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    The OP's wording: "Is this something that is still observed among the Jews?" implies that contemporary practice desired; not conjecture about the ancient past. Furthermore, I am sure many readers would like to know what Satlow's source is. If it is just the Bible itself, then given that that was the starting point for the question, nothing has bee nadded in the answer. As noted by @DoubleAA, the Bible forbids sexual contact with one's daughter in law, this makes the presented unproven claim all the more difficult to accept. – mevaqesh Jan 19 '16 at 0:36

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