Deliberate renunciation of marriage. In the Old Testament there is no direct reference to the subject. The prophet Jeremiah was a celibate (Jer. xvi. 2). He seems to have regarded it as futile to beget offspring doomed to death in the impending national catastrophe (ib. iii. 4). The pessimistic author of Ecclesiastes, although no admirer of woman (Eccl. vii. 26, 28), counsels "enjoying life with a woman whom thou lovest" (ib. ix. 9).
In post-Biblical literature Jewish opinion stands out clear and simple: marriage is a duty, and celibacy a sin. "The world was created to produce life; He created it not a waste, He formed it to be inhabited" (Isa. xlv. 18; Giṭ. iv. 5 = 'Eduy. i. 13). "Be fruitful, and multiply" (Gen. i. 28) is taken as a command; marriage with a view to that end is a duty incumbent upon every male adult (according to some the duty devolves also upon woman; Yeb. vi. 8; Maimonides, "Yad," Ishut, xv.; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 1, 13).
Abstention from marital intercourse on the part of the husband exceeding a legitimate limit, which varies with the different occupations, may be taken by the wife as ground for a divorce (Ket. v. 6, 7). A single man who is past twenty may be compelled by the court to marry (Shulḥan 'Aruk, l.c. i. 3). Isserles adds that this custom is obsolete. Exception is made in favor of a student, who may postpone marriage until a time when his education is complete and beyond the possibility of being endangered by the cares incident to procuring a livelihood (ib.; the source is Ḳid. 29b). "He who is without a wife is without joy, without blessing, without happiness, without learning, without protection, without peace; indeed, he is no man; for it is written (Gen. v. 2), 'Male and female created He them, and called their name Man [A. V., "Adam"]'" (Yeb. 62b, 63a; Shulḥan 'Aruk, l.c. l. 1, note). "He who is not married is, as it were, guilty of bloodshed and deserves death: he causes the image of God to be diminished and the divine presence to withdraw from Israel" (Yeb. 63b, 64a).
The only known celibate among the rabbis of Talmudic times is Ben 'Azzai, who preached marriage to others, but did not practise it himself. "My soul is fond of the Law," he is reported as having said; "the world will be perpetuated by others" (Yeb. 63b). Regarding the passages which appear to indicate that Ben 'Azzai was married (Ket. 63a; Soṭah 4b), see Tosef., Ket. s.v. , and Yeb. 63b, s.v. . The excuse is recognized by the Shulḥan 'Aruk (l.c. i. 4); it is by no means recommended to follow an example which, at best, is considered exceptional. According to Josephus ("B. J." ii. 8, § 2) marriage was repudiated by some of the Essenes. Inasmuch as intercourse with woman was regarded as polluting, the aspiration to the highest degree of Levitical purity and sanctity may have led them to the rejection of marriage. There is nothing in Jewish literature to parallel Matt. xix. 12 in phraseology or motive (Dalman, "Worte Jesu," p. 100). Paul's views on celibacy may be found in I Cor. vii. See Asceticism, Essenes.