What is the source of the prohibition on premarital sex? Is it a Biblical prohibition? If not, what is the source and how is it derived? What is the nature of the prohibition? Is it an avera? Is it considered sinning on a par with averot from negative commandments? Does it make a difference if it is within a committed relationship or an engaged couple?


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Maimonides (Ishut 1:4) seems to indicate that the prohibition is biblical, without regard to the level of commitment, to the degree that it incurs biblical lashes, and is derived from Deuteronomy 23:18:

קודם מתן תורה היה אדם פוגע אשה בשוק, אם רצה הוא והיא, נותן לה שכרה ובועל אותה על אם הדרך והולך. וזו היא הנקראת קדשה. משנתנה התורה נאסרה הקדשה, שנאמר "לא תהיה קדשה מבנות ישראל". לפיכך כל הבועל אשה לשם זנות בלא קידושין לוקה מן התורה לפי שבעל קדשה

Before the giving of the Torah, a man might meet a woman in the market and if both he and she were interested, he would pay her wages and cohabit with her on the wayside and leave. And this (she) is what is called a "kedesha". Once the Torah was given, the kedesha became forbidden, as it says "There shall not be a kedesha from the daughters of Israel". Therefore, whoever cohabits for znuth (casual cohabitation) without an engagement receives biblical lashes for he has cohabited with a kedesha.

The Raavad argues that that verse is referring to an actual prostitute, whereas premarital relations in a committed relationship are not biblically prohibited (at least) to the level of a לאו:

אין קדשה אלא מזומנת והיא המופקרת לכל אדם. אבל המייחדת עצמה לאיש אחד, אין בה לא מלקות ולא איסור לאו, והיא הפילגש הכתובה בפסוק. ובעלי הלשון דורשין "פילגש" מלה הפוכה ומורכבת "פי שגל" עומדת לפרקים למשגל ולשמש את הבית ופעמים למשכב. וי"ס שכתוב בהם פילגשים בלי קידושין.

A kedesha is only one who is designated (for casual relations), which is one who is available for everyone. However, one who designates herself to one man, there is for (his cohabiting with) her neither lashes nor a lav prohibition, and that is the pilegesh written in the verse...

(Nowadays, single woman typically do not regularly immerse in a mikvah, which means that even according to the Raavad, there is a separate prohibition that is not only biblical in nature, but is so severe as to incur karet [spiritual excision]).

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    I disagree with your last sentence. The prohibition under discussion here is premarital sex. The punishment for that is not karet. Having relations with a niddah is a separate prohibition that we're not talking about here. An unmarried woman could go to the mikveh.
    – Daniel
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 4:18
  • @Daniel I was focusing on the prohibited nature of the act rather than the specific prohibition. Have edited to clarify.
    – Loewian
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 4:29
  • Loewian Perhaps mention as well that premarital sex on Yom Kippur is also liable to spiritual excision, even without the issue of Niddah. cc @Daniel
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 4:45
  • @DoubleAA Nowadays, it's not typically Yom Kippur.
    – Loewian
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 4:47
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    @DoubleAA The other 'inuyim on Yom Kippur aren't liable for spiritual excision except for eating and drinking (Yoma 74a, "אע"פ שאמרו אסור בכולן לא אמרו ענוש כרת אלא על האוכל ושותה ועושה מלאכה בלבד", Shulchan 'Aruch OC 611:1, "ואין חיוב כרת אלא על מלאכה ואכילה ושתיה"), even according to those opinions that hold that all the 'inuyim are biblically forbidden (e.g. Bahag, Hil. Yom HaKippurim, "ואין ענוש כרת אלא האוכל והשותה והעושה מלאכה בלבד... אוכל ושותה דכתיבה כרת בעינוי דכתיב והאבדתי אלמא אעינוי דאית ביה איבוד נפש הוא דמיחייב כרת אהנך לא וכן הלכה").
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 21:18

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