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I found a surprising claim from a conservative Christian web site about halacha and relations with children. Is what they say actually true or is this wrong?

From http://truthtellers.org/alerts/Judaisms-Pedophilia-Begins-with-Rabbi-ben-Yohai.html:

The Talmud, highest authority for modern Talmudic Judaism, endorses pedophilia. It calls it "Halachah" or binding Jewish law!

The Talmudic rabbi most instrumental in persuading rabbis today to indulge in pedophilia is 2nd century A.D. Simeon ben Yohai. It's hard to imagine a rabbinic sage more esteemed than ben Yohai. He is credited by Ultra-Orthodox Jews as the author of the Zohar, or Kabbalah. Every year in Meron in Israel (where ben Yohai died), more than 10,000 Hasidic Jews gather for a week of singing, dancing, and praising ben Yohai, who may well be Kabbalist Judaism's most venerated authority.

In Orthodox Judaism, the most ancient first and second A.D. rabbis, the "Tannaim," are considered most authoritative. This is largely because they lived in Palestine closest in time to the Pharisees, who, originating in Babylon, created the Mishnah (oral law), which later became written down as the Babylonian Talmud. Some “Tanna” receive greater respect from Orthodox Jews than does Moses. Jesus accused the oral law of "making the law of God of none effect."

The Talmud is the greatest religious authority for observant Jews today. It teaches that when sages of ben Yohai’s stature pronounced new laws, they did so out of the memory of what God had taught them in heaven. The Talmud says such memory was imparted to ben Yohai's teacher, Rabbi Akiba: when Moses died he went to heaven and beheld Rabbi Akiba “expounding wondrously on the Torah.” Thus, when ben Yohai authorizes pedophilia in the Talmud, such permission becomes law for Orthodox Jews for all time.

In Yebamoth 60b the Talmud says:

It was taught: R. Simeon ben Yohai stated: ‘A proselyte who is under the age of three years and one day is permitted to marry a priest. For it is said, But all the women children that have not known men by lying with them, keep for yourselves; and Phinehas surely was with them.’

Surely this is a misquote...right? Edit: thanks for the answers!

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    It is a misquote. It is talking about the age at which the girl converted, not the age at the time of the marriage. Regarding these sorts of misquotes in general, see this related question. Regarding the significance of the age of three, it refers to a legal technicality as explained in the final bullet point of this answer. Molesting a child, whether above or below the age of three, is forbidden (Kiddushin 41a, Nidda 13b). – Fred Nov 27 '15 at 7:47
  • Is there a meta thread or policy someone can please direct me to for why a question like this gets down votes? – andrewmh20 Nov 28 '15 at 21:50
  • @andrewmh20 I think it's probably due to the absurdity of the claim. I personally can't access the website because my filter blocks it under the category of "violence/hate/racism", but I could imagine that a mere glance at the website should be enough of a reason for one to disregard everything it says. – Salmononius2 Nov 28 '15 at 23:31
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    @andrewmh20 I didn't personally downvote the question, which I assume was asked in good faith. But I very much appreciate the sentiment of those who did downvote it. It essentially boils down to this: The preceding is a lengthy excerpt from an overtly anti-Jewish website attacking the Talmud as immoral. Discuss! It would be much better if the OP could find the translated Talmud quote from a neutral source, present his understanding of the passage, and ask whether his understanding is correct. But you could always ask on meta about the ideal approach to these questions. – Fred Nov 29 '15 at 5:13
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    You told @Fred "I will remember that for next time". But apparently you forgot. – msh210 Apr 5 '16 at 21:23
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TL;DR

It is a misquote. It is talking about the age at which the girl converted, not the age at the time of the marriage. Regarding these sorts of misquotes in general, see this related question. Regarding the significance of the age of three, it refers to a legal technicality as explained in the final bullet point of this answer. Molesting a child, whether above or below the age of three, is forbidden (Kiddushin 41a, Nidda 13b).


I.

Y'vamos 60b:

תניא ר' שמעון בן יוחי אומר גיורת פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד כשירה לכהונה שנאמר וכל הטף בנשים אשר לא ידעו משכב זכר החיו לכם והרי פנחס עמהם

Translation:

A b'raisa: Rabbi Shim'on ben Yochai says: A female who converted to Judaism below the age of three years and one day is permissible to a kohein.1 As the verse states: "But all the female children that have not known relations with a man, keep them alive for yourselves" (B'midbar 31:18).2

This answer addresses the legal distinction between girls below and above the age of three:

The whole thing about age 3 is a technicality's technicality. With regards to certain laws, activity below the age of 3 does not affect her halachic status (for instance, a woman still has the halachic full status of "virginity" no matter what happened to her before age 3).

With regards to this case in particular: According to R' Shim'on, a Jewish girl's legal virginity status does not take effect until the age of three. Therefore, any girl who converts to Judaism below the age of three has the legal status of a Jewish virgin and may marry a kohein in R' Shim'on's opinion (see Y'rushalmi Kiddushin 4:6, "רבי שמעון אומר עד שיבואו בתולים בקדושת ישראל").

II.

In any case, Judaism prohibits sexual relations with a minor girl, whether above or below the age of three. The Talmud states (Kiddushin 41a):

האיש מקדש את בתו כשהיא נערה: כשהיא נערה אין כשהיא קטנה לא מסייע ליה לרב דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב ואיתימא רבי אלעזר אסור לאדם שיקדש את בתו כשהיא קטנה עד שתגדל ותאמר בפלוני אני רוצה

Translation:

"A man may marry off his daughter when she is a na'ara":3 When she is a na'ara, yes. When she is a child, no. This supports the teaching of Rav, for Rav Y'huda said in the name of Rav, and there are those who say Rabbi El'azar, "It is forbidden for a man to marry off his daughter when she is a child, until she grows up and says, 'I want to marry So-and-so.'"

Additionally, the Talmud specifically condemns sexual relations between men (in the context of this answer, "men" refers to all males age 13 and up) and little girls (Nidda 13b):

ת"ר הגרים והמשחקין בתינוקות מעכבין את המשיח... דנסיבי קטנות דלאו בנות אולודי נינהו

Translation:

The Rabbis taught in a b'raisa: Converts4 and those who play with little girls delay the coming of the Messiah... The latter refers to those who marry [and have sexual relations with] girls who are too young to [safely]5 bear children.

The prohibition against relations between a man and a minor girl not of safe childbearing age is codified in the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Issurei Bi'ah 21:18) and the Shulchan Aruch (EH 23:1).6

As far as conducting a formal marriage (kiddushin, though without consummation of the marriage) between a man and a minor girl, the Rambam (Ishus 3:19) and perhaps the Shulchan Aruch (EH 37:8; see also Kesef Mishneh, Ishus 10:16) rule that the Rabbis merely discouraged the practice and that it is not technically prohibited. Nonetheless, this is only technically permitted if the girl is at least close to the age of majority, both the girl and her father approve of the marriage, and if the girl is mentally mature and competent to make such a decision (see Bach EH 37 and Chelkas M'chokeik EH 37:10).

However, Rashi (K'subos 57b, s.v. "אבל פוסקין") understands that marriage to a minor girl is formally prohibited, though betrothal with the consent of both the girl and her father is permissible. The Rivash also rules that marriage to a minor girl is formally prohibited (§193, "דדרך בני אדם להקפיד שלא להשיא בנותיהן בקטנותן וגם שיש לו אסור בדבר מדברי רב יהודה עד שתגדיל"; see also §199), as does the Taz (EH 37:5, based on the Ran).

Regardless of the precise nature of the talmudic exhortation not to marry minor girls, some communities during medieval times (and even as late as the 17th century)7 felt the need to marry off their daughters as soon as they could, even while they were children (see Tosafos on Kiddushin 41a, s.v. "אסור לאדם שיקדש את בתו"; Rama EH 37:8). The reason for this was the extremely precarious nature of the safety and finances of Jews in Europe during that period; if a father acquired enough capital to pay his daughter's dowry, he would immediately marry her off before her marriage prospects could be compromised by his money being stolen or confiscated by the state - or worse.

III.

In any case, later authorities have decried the practice of marrying off one's minor daughter, and they have stressed the prohibition against it. R' Ya'akov Emden (Sh'eilas Ya'beitz I, §14, "לדידן לא שנא קידושין וכ"ש נישואין בתרווייהו לא שפיר דמי למיעבד עובדא בקטנה ממש") and the Aruch HaShulchan (EH 37:33, "בזמנינו אין מקדשין את הקטנות ולא שמענו מעולם מי שיקדש את הקטנה ונכון הוא דבש"ס [מ"א א] איתא דאסור לקדשה כשהיא קטנה... אין זה נכון וכן המנהג פשוט בזמנינו במדינתינו") have ruled that it is wrong for a man to marry a minor in this day and age regardless of leniencies that were employed in some communities during the Middle Ages.

In the social and psychological context of modern times, it would presumably be psychologically damaging and traumatic for a minor girl (or even a girl well past the age of 12) to be married. Leaving aside the technical considerations discussed heretofore in this answer, putting a young girl in a marriage or sexual relationship would be a violation of multiple tenets of Judaism, including the precept to love one's fellow as oneself (Vayikra 19:18), to do that which is just and good (D'varim 6:18), and not to torment one's fellow (Vayikra 25:17).

Additionally, although there are various opinions as to the extent of this obligation (see this answer and answers to this question), Jewish law requires a Jew to observe secular law in the jurisdiction to which the Jew is subject. This would be yet another reason to prohibit such relationships in this day and age.

IV.

Circling back around to your question about that website misrepresenting the Talmud and Jewish law, the website was wrong in multiple ways.

  1. The halacha in this case does not follow R' Shim'on but instead follows the Rabbis (see Rambam, Hil. Issurei Bi'ah 18:1).

  2. A child under three cannot be married to a kohein or anyone else. The age of three has technical relevance as discussed in section I. above.

  3. According to R' Shim'on, woman who had converted to Judaism before the age of three can marry either a kohein or a non-kohein, and there is no reason for a kohein to prefer her over anyone else. (According to the Rabbis, only a non-kohein may marry her).

  4. Talmudic Jews determine the halacha not simply by reading Tannaitic literature, but by considering the entire corpus of Jewish law all the way until contemporary times.

  5. Jewish law does not endorse pedophilia, and the Talmud castigates those who would "play" with young girls. Although teenage marriage was common during much of Jewish history, and some medieval communities took the legally controversial approach of marrying off their preteen daughters, Jewish law would not sanction behavior that is understood to be psychologically unhealthy, traumatic, or illegal.

The website that produced the claims in your question is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. This answer by Danno discusses this general sort of attack on the Talmud and Judaism:

These attacks are usually amalgamations of the following:

  • Pure invention -- some of the books listed don't exist or the quotes are fabrications

  • Mistranslations or selective quoting

  • Out of context quotes (statements made in the course of a protracted legal argument presented as definitive statements of belief or statements made to make a legal point being cited as normative practice).

There are plenty of sites which go through "quotes" like these and explain them one at a time. People who cite the attack pages rarely learn or read the original material or read the responses and understand the legal subtleties involved.


1 Literally, the translation is, "A female convert below three years and one day is permissible for the k'huna." That the meaning is as rendered in the body of this answer is evident from the context of the subsequent talmudic passage as well as the classic Talmudic commentators (e.g. Rashi, s.v. "כשרה לכהונה"). Additionally, the Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 46a) explicitly renders the b'raisa's quote as, "a female convert who had converted below three years and one day..." (" תני בשם ר' שמעון גיורת שנתגיירה פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד כשירה לכהונה").

The Talmud brings R' Shim'on's opinion to contrast with the opinion of the other Rabbis who rule that a kohein may not marry a convert regardless of the age at which she converted; according to the Rabbis, all female converts have the status of zona with respect to marrying a kohein.

2 This verse describes the aftermath of the Israelites' retributive war against Midian (B'midbar 31). Moshe commanded the Jewish people to slay all Midianite males and all females of age three and above, as Midian participated in Bil'am's scheme to seduce the Jewish men and entice them to worship idolatry. According to R' Shim'on bar Yochai's opinion, the phrase "keep them alive for yourselves" implies that all female Midianite captives who were captured below the age of three could eventually be suitable marriage partners for all the soldiers in the war. Since Pinchas was a kohein, and he participated in the war, this implies that these women would be permissible for marriage to kohanim. The Talmud continues and states that R' Shim'on's colleagues interpreted "keep them alive for yourselves" differently, namely that the captives could be taken as maidservants.

3 Lit. 'maiden.' This refers to a legal category when a female is both at least 12 years old and within the first six months of having shown signs of puberty (Kiddushin 16a; see also, for example, Chidushei Ramban on Y'vamos 61b, "י"ל מדכתיב והנערה ש"מ לא בגרה עדיין אלא שהתה מלהביא שתי שערות שהן סימני נערות עד י"ד").

4 Although the context of the Talmudic passage makes it clear that it is condemning men who marry children, there are different ways to interpret why the Talmud says that converts delay the coming of the Messiah. See this chat comment, as well as this and subsequent chat comments for various interpretations mentioned in Tosafos on Kiddushin 70b, s.v. "קשים גרים".

5 See Y'vamos 12b.

6 The Ritva (Y'vamos 61b, " וסוגיין הכא ובכל דוכתין דמותר לבעול אשה שאינה בת בנים כלל... וכדשרו בכל דוכתי נשואי קטנה וזקנה"), Tosafos (Y'vamos 12b, s.v. "שלש נשים"), the Mordechai (ad loc.), the Rama (EH 31:5), and possibly the Rosh (Responsum 33:3), however, disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and the Rambam. These opinions maintain that sexual relations with a minor girl is technically permitted in the context of marriage, though both the marriage and the relations would be discouraged by the talmudic sources mentioned above.

7 See, for example, the ruling of R' Chaim Benveniste in K'nesset HaG'dola (EH 37:9).

  • Thank you. I suppose something similar happens here:truthtellers.org/alerts/judaismhomosexuality.html – Jacob Blaustein Dec 5 '15 at 8:43
  • @JacobBlaustein Yes. I'm not going to bother debunking that whole page point by point, but note that a man who rapes a boy under the age of nine is flogged by the court according to Jewish law (Rambam, Hil. Issurei Bi'ah 1:14). – Fred Dec 6 '15 at 7:04
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    @JacobBlaustein given its track record, I recommend you not treat that site as credible. – Monica Cellio May 17 '16 at 20:15
  • @Fred The halakhah established by Kiddushin 41a seems clear and incontrovertible. At this point, however, I can understand the position taken by Rambam, who, in Hilchot Ishut 3:11 states:"A father may consecrate his daughter without her knowledge while she is a minor (..).If a girl is older than three years and one day, she can be consecrated through sexual relations with her father's consent".In step 19 Rambam adds:"Although a father has the option of consecrating his daughter to anyone he desires while she is a minor or while she is a maiden, it is not proper for him to act in this manner. – Amos74 Jul 8 at 21:43
  • @Fred "Instead, our Sages enjoined that a person should not consecrate his daughter while she is a minor until she matures and says, "I would like [to marry] so and so.Similarly, it is not proper for a man to consecrate a girl below the age of majority(...)". I wonder: why does Rambam say that the consecration of a minor girl is halachically licit although "not proper" as a subject of a negative injunction by "Our Sages", considering that is such conduct prohibited by the halakhah established in Kiddushin 41a? – Amos74 Jul 8 at 21:44
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It is simply not true. Period. The citation to Yevamoth lead you no where relevant. Another false allegation is than usually brought further by falsely quoting Ketuvot 11b. I bring it here for the rounding out the question to the broader issue of people trying to use false quotation of the talmud to somehow prove it supports pedophilia. Ketovot11b describes a different situation than usually depicted: it describes the situation where a minor boy has relations with a female adult. Nowhere will you find a discussion about whether such a relation is permitted; the quote "Sexual intercourse with a little girl is permitted if she is three years of age." is completely fictional. the passage only deals with the consequence a-posteriori: IF such a thing has happened, what consequence does it have for: 1) the dowry and 2) whether such a female can marry a cohen.

The discussion is very technical, but ultimately not relevant to the issue raised against the talmud. Nowhere is it stated that such a relation is ever allowed. A translation of relevant passages from ketuvot 11b from sefaria:

A. Rav Judah said that Rav said: A young boy who has intercourse with an adult woman makes her [as though she were] injured by a piece of wood. When I said this before Shmuel he said: There is no such thing as “injured by a piece of wood” when done by flesh. Some teach this teaching on its own: [As to] a young boy who has intercourse with an adult woman: Rav said:... He makes her [as though she were] injured by a piece of wood; whereas Shmuel said: There is no such thing as “injured by a piece of wood” when done by flesh. Oshaia objected: When an adult has had sexual intercourse with a young girl, or when a small boy has had intercourse with an adult woman, or a girl who was injured by a piece of wood — [in all these cases] their kethubah is two hundred [zuz], the words of Rabbi Meir. But the Sages say: a girl who was injured by a piece of wood — her kethubah is a maneh Rava said. It means this: When adult man has intercourse with a young girl it is nothing, for when the girl is less than this, it is like putting a finger into the eye.... But when a young boy has intercourse with an adult woman he makes her as “a girl who is injured by a piece of wood.” And “a girl injured by a piece of wood” is a dispute between R. Meir and the Sages. Rami b. Hama said: The dispute is only when he knew that she was [a mukat etz], for R. Meir compares her to a mature girl, and the Sages compare her to a woman who had intercourse with a man. But if he did not know that she was a [mukat etz] , all agree that she receives nothing.

It is very ironic that one of the great passages about mercy to the victims of pedophile rape has become the thing the enemies of the jewish people use against us.

This passage does not approve anything. The perpetrator is still guilty of the grave sin of sexual relations outside of marriage. What the rabbis are saying here is that the girl should not be forbidden from marriage later because she has been abused; they must treat her as though she had been injured by something else and not hold the pedophylia against her because it isnt her fault. She is to be treated as a marraigable virgin while the punishment for the man who harmed her is discussed in another part of the Talmud. The same is true for a young boy who is molested. He is not to be considered as though he had had intercourse, but is to be allowed to marry later withoit holding the rape against him; again, the pedophile's punishment is discussed in another section of the Law...

Now there is no doubt about whether it is a sin to have sex for lust only; it is as clear as day:

Rambam, Mishne Thora, Sefer Nashim, Ishut, chapter 1, halacha 4:

Therefore, a person who has relations with a woman for the sake of lust, without kiddushin, receives lashes as prescribed by the Torah, because he had relations with a harlot.

  • I am not sure what all this is about. The gemoro talks a lot about "miun" and so does the SA. So girls were married off young. @RonP – newcomer May 18 '16 at 5:40
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there are certain halachas regarding who is considered a virgin.

a girl who had sex after 3 is no longer a virgin. but if she had sex before then (by rape or whatever), the virginity grows back and she retains her status as a virgin and can later on marry a high priest who is required to marry a virgin.

as for that quote, in those days, there was great promiscuity among the gentiles and so any woman who comes to convert was assumed to have committed a forbidden sexual relation regardless of her age.

but sex with a girl under 3 is not considered sex since the virginity grows back. so even if she was raped by a nutcase such as the one who wrote that article, then she is permitted to marry a priest, who is required to marry a woman who never had forbidden sexual relations.

the verse of midian refers to keeping alive the girls who never reached this status.

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