Forbidden Sexual Relationships

Chapter Eight

Forbidden Sexual Relations

1. It is written, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cling to his wife and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).” According to the Holy Spirit this verse comes to instruct mankind concerning forbidden sexual relationships.1 The phrase, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother,” forbids a man to have sexual relations with the wife of his father2 even after the death of his father, when she is no longer considered a married woman. Obviously, this also includes his natural mother. The phrase, “cling to his wife,” comes to teach us that he shall have relations with his own wife and not another man’s wife. “To his wife” comes to teach us that he shall have relations with the opposite gender, not with a male. “And they shall be of one flesh” comes to exclude any animal, for an animal is not of one flesh with a man.3

2. A Noahide is forbidden to have relationships with certain relatives and with others to whom he or she is not related by blood. These are:

A. Mother, even if his birth was the result of her having been seduced or raped.

B. Father

C. Daughter

D. Father’s sister E. Mother’s sister4

3. Under the Seven Universal Commandments, one is permitted to have relations with individuals related through marriage after the death of the relative. According to some opinions,5 this even includes a man’s father’s wife (not one’s mother) after his father dies. Those falling in this category are:

A. Father’s wife who is not one’s mother. B. Brother’s wife.
C. Wife’s sister.
D. Daughter-in-law.

E. Stepdaughter.

4. The opinion forbidding the father’s wife after the death of the father is thought to include women that the father merely had sexual relations with, even if they were seduced or raped by the father.6

Other authorities permit relations with the father’s wife after his death, but forbid relations with either the father’s or the mother’s maternal sister.

5. It is argued in the name of Rabbi Akiva that all rela- tionships that warrant the death penalty in a Jewish court of law also will receive the death penalty in a Noahide court of law. This includes relationships that exist through marriage.7 The reason is that since one’s father’s wife is forbidden, others related through marriage, such as a mother-in-law, is forbidden. Such relationships are punishable by the courts.8

Other authorities say that only the father’s wife is in this forbidden category, and they exclude others related through marriage.9

6. Forbidden sexual relationships with persons who are not relatives are:

A. A man with another man’s wife.
B. A male with a male.
C. A person (male or female) with an animal.10

7. A Noahide man is forbidden to have relations with another man’s wife, whether she is the wife of another Noahide or the wife of an Israelite.11

Although a Jewish man is forbidden to marry a Noahide woman and from the perspective of the Jewish man there is no marriage, nevertheless, the bond of marriage exists for her and she is forbidden to other men. Under the Seven Universal Commandments, a woman is considered to be a man’s wife when the couple has sexual relations with the intention of consummating marriage.12

8. A man is not punished by the courts for having relations with a married woman unless he has sexual intercourse with her in the normal manner of vaginal penetration. Since this is considered to be the way for a man to be with a woman.13

But with other forbidden relationships, a man is liable for punishment for sodomy or any other complete sexual act. It does not have to be the normal way of intercourse.14

9. A man is liable for punishment even if there was only slight penetration during the act of intercourse.15 Some opinions maintain that one is not liable for only slight penetration.16

10. A man is not punished by the courts for having relations with a married woman until she has consummated marriage with her husband. If she is engaged and not yet married, even if she is standing under the wedding canopy, and there has been no consummation of the marriage, the perpetrator is not liable for punishment by the courts. This legal ruling is in reference to a Noahide man with a Noahide woman. Regarding a Noahide man and an Israelite woman, whether she has consummated the marriage or is engaged but has not yet consummated the marriage, or she is married but has not consummated the marriage, he is liable for capital punishment.17

11. In times of slavery, if a Noahide man designated a specific female slave for his male slave and then had relations with her, he was killed because of it because she was considered another man’s wife. However, the master was not condemned until it had become public knowledge that those particular slaves had been given to each other. When did she become permissible again? When she separated from the designated male slave and uncovered her head in the marketplace.18

12. The concept of divorce with regard to Noahides is a matter of dispute. One opinion holds that no divorce is possible.19

Another legal ruling states that no writ of divorce is necessary, rather that divorce is dependent solely on the volition of either spouse, even if the other one is against the divorce. They separate due to the desire of either party and the matter is concluded.20

Others contend that the woman may divorce her husband, but that the husband may not divorce his wife.21

13. One who caresses a forbidden member of the opposite sex, or hugs or kisses in a manner of lust, or has close personal contact for the sake of pleasure, transgresses the commandment prohibiting forbidden relationships, but is not punished by the courts.

In all cases where the courts are not empowered to act, punishment is delivered by God.22

14. It is forbidden to signal with the hands or the feet or to wink at any person who is in the category of a forbidden relationship. This includes any form of serious flirtation. One should not be frivolous or light-headed with anyone who is in a forbidden category, nor should a man deliberately smell the perfume or gaze at the beauty of a woman who is forbidden to him.23

15. A man is guilty of transgressing the commandment of forbidden sexual relations by having homosexual relations whether the other male is an adult or a child, whether the other male is consenting, coerced or forced, in public or in the privacy of one’s own domicile.24

Note: In the Holy Scriptures, of all the forbidden sexual relationships mentioned, only homosexuality is described as an “abomination to God.” Even bestiality is not so described. From a spiritual perspective, homosexuality is devastating, destroying both the body and the soul of those who engage in it. No homosexual was ever born into this world through a homosexual relationship. And although it is true that a person may have congenital tendencies towards homosexuality, it is like the child with the trait of throwing temper tantrums or banging its head against the wall. If the tendency is destructive, the goal is to seek correction. When a person is sick, the goal is to heal him.

Ultimately, homosexuals themselves will complain against those who misled them by condoning their practices and encouraging them, including politicians who pander to them as a constituency. In the end they will see

that this deviation brings one to abnormal weakness and to horrible diseases as society has already discovered.25

In the context of history, every society that encouraged or condoned homosexuality was short-lived, terminated even at the height of its glory. Most notable of these was ancient Greece, which ruled the world and then was summarily voided in its prime. Ironically, it was the tiny Jewish nation led by the priestly Maccabees that broke the back of the mighty Greek Empire. It is no wonder that religious Jews are so outraged at contemporary society’s permissive attitude towards homosexuality, which was the essence of western civilization’s corrupt Hellenist legacy.

16. Though it violates the spirit of the Seven Universal Commandments, lesbianism is not explicitly stated as one of the forbidden relationships. Lesbianism is, however, deemed an immoral and unnatural relationship that destroys the order of the world. The Rambam forbids it as one of the evils of Egypt.

Prostitution is in the same general category; that is, while not strictly forbidden, it is deemed severely immoral and therefore violates the spirit of the Seven Universal Laws.

17. Sexual relations with an animal are forbidden at any stage of the animal’s maturity, even the day of its birth. A Noahide who has sexual relations with an animal is liable for punishment, but the animal is not killed.

In the case of a Jew copulating with an animal, both the person and the animal are killed.

18. The Children of Noah are considered related only through the mother. Those on the father’s side are not considered relatives.26

This means that a man’s half-sister of the same father but a different mother is not considered related to him and is permissible to him.27

19. There is an argument in the Talmud as to whether a Noahide is permitted to have a relationship with his daughter inasmuch as she is not considered his relative.28

The conclusion is that, despite the fact that his daughter is not considered his relative, she is nonetheless forbidden because she is in the same category as his mother, a parent-child relationship, and his mother is forbidden.29

20. In a homosexual or bestial act, one is liable even if there is only partial penetration.30

21. It is forbidden under the Seven Universal Commandments to castrate any male, whether man or animal or fowl. This aspect of the law relates to both the Law of Forbidden Sexual Relations and the Law of that prohibits eating the limb of a living animal.

In one opinion, castration of oneself is a transgression, but it is questionable whether it is forbidden to fulfill someone’s request to castrate him or to agree to castrate his animal, despite its clearly being an act of maiming one of God’s creatures. Nevertheless, even with so bizarre and irreversible an act as castration, repentance and forgiveness are possible through God’s great mercy, as it is written, “For thus has said the Lord concerning the eunuchs that keep My Sabbaths and choose that which pleases Me, and take hold of My covenant. I will give to them within My house and within My walls a place and a name better than sons and daughters; and an everlasting name will I give them that will not be cut off (Isaiah 56:4-5).”



1 Genesis 2:24, commentary of Rashi

2 A woman his father married, but who is not his mother. 3 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:5

4 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 58a

5 This opinion disagrees with what was stated above in reference to a father’s wife who is not his mother.

6 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:6

7 Such as a mother-in-law or a daughter-in-law. 8 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 58b

9 Ibid., Yebamot 98a, commentary of Ramban

10 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:6. Female sheep and goats with Arab shepherds were rejected as offerings in the Holy Temple since it was presumed the shepherd had sexual contact with his animals.

11 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57b

12 Mishneh Torah. Laws of Women, 1:1, commentary of the Maggid Mishneh

13 Ibid., Laws of Kings, 9:7

14 Ibid., commentary of the Maggid Mishneh 15 Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin, 1:1

16 Beit HaBechirah on Sanhedrin, p. 227

17 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:7

18 This means she made it known publicly that she was available to another man. Ibid., 9:7

19 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 58b, commentary of Rabbeinu Nissim 20 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:8

21 Bereshit Rabba, chapter 18, opinion of Rebbe Yochanan

22 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Forbidden Relationships, chapter 21, law 1

23 Ibid., 21:2

24 Ibid., Laws of Kings, 9:6

25 Rights or Ills, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

26 Babylonian Talmud, Yebamot 98a, commentary of Rashi, “Behold, the rabbis say…” 27 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 14:10

28 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 58b, commentary of the Ramban. If she is permitted to him, then Lot’s sexual relations with his daughters were permissible acts.

29 Ibid., commentary of Beit HaBechirah

30 Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin, 1:1 and commentaries


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