Purity in regard to the relations of sex, implied in the commandment, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. xix. 2). The ancient Semitic religions gave a prominent place to the adoration of those powers in nature which either fertilize or produce; the worship of the sexual was prominent in their cults; and ritual prostitution was a recognized and wide-spread institution (Kalisch, commentary to Lev. i. 312, 358-361; ii. 430). The gods were male and female; sexual intercourse was part of the rites at the shrines of Baal and Astarte in Phenicia and at similar sanctuaries elsewhere. This unchastity in the religious institutions naturally affected the relations of social life; and sexual purity was regarded as of little moment. Possibly in no way were the religious and domestic institutions of Israel more markedly differentiated from those of the surrounding peoples than by the stress laid upon the virtue of chastity. The conception of the God of Israel as the Holy One meant, first of all, purity—purity in worship, and hence also in life.
Before mentioning the special laws of the Pentateuch on this subject, attention must be called to the general statement addressed to the people in Lev. xviii. 3-5, which may be considered the basis of the legislation: "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their statutes. My judgments shall ye do, and my statutes shall ye keep, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments: which if a man do he shall live in them: I am the Lord." Hereupon follow the laws of chastity which were to be observed if the people were to avoid the doings of the lands of Egypt and Canaan. These laws of chastity, enumerated in this chapter and in other sections of the Pentateuch, concern (1) the religious and (2) the social-domestic life.The Religious Life: Ḳadesh and Ḳedeshah.
The "ḳadesh" and the "ḳedeshah," the male and female prostitutes "consecrated" to the worship of the goddess of fertility, were recognized adjuncts of the Canaanitish cults (I Kings xiv. 24, xv. 12, xxii. 47; Amos ii. 7; Hosea iv. 14; Ezek. xxiii. 36; see also the Baal-peor incident referred to in Num. xxv. 1-4 and Hosea ix. 10). This might not be in Israel; for it was "an abomination of the Lord thy God" (Deut. xxiii. 18, 19; see also Lev. xix. 29).The Social-Domestic Life:
(a) The purity of the maid was safeguarded (Lev. xix. 29); and, in case of wrong-doing on the part of the man, rectification and indemnification were commanded (Ex. xxii. 15, 16; Deut. xxii. 28, 29). (b) Adultery was most stringently forbidden and punished (Ex. xx. 14; Lev. xviii. 20, xx. 10). "They shall both of them die . . . the man . . . and the woman; so shalt thou put away evil" (Deut. xxii. 22). A betrothed woman was regarded in the same light as a married woman, and was punished for adultery, as was also the man found with her (Deut. xxii. 23, 24; see, however, verses 25-28 for the modification of the punishment). Here must be mentioned the peculiar institution of the investigation of the Soṭah, the woman suspected by her husband of adultery, as detailed in Num. v. (c) The Forbidden Degrees of consanguinity are set forth in circumstantial detail (Lev. xviii. 8-18; xx. 11, 12, 14, 17, 21; Deut. xxvii. 20, 22, 23). (d) No woman was to be approached during the period of her uncleanness (Lev. xviii. 19). See Niddah. (e) The unnatural crimes against chastity, sodomy and pederasty, prevalent in heathendom, were strictly prohibited (Lev. xviii. 22, 23; xx. 13, 15, 16; Deut. xxvii. 21).
The sins against chastity were the particular abominations, the commission of which by the former inhabitants had caused the land to become unclean (Lev. xviii. 27). No wrong-doing, excepting idolatry, is more constantly and vehemently forbidden. Four out of the twelve curses which are pronounced in the chapter of curses in the Book of Deuteronomy (xxvii. 20-23) are directed against this vice in one or other of its forms. The Biblical attitude in this matter is perhaps best expressed in the story of Joseph, who, when tempted by Potiphar's wife, refused with the noble words: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Gen. xxxix. 9.) Unchastity was primarily a sin against God, the pure and holy.In the Historical Books.
In the historical books of the Bible occasional passages indicate how clearly it was understood that chastity was an indispensable virtue. When Shechem, the son of Hamor, defiled Dinah, the sons of Jacob declared it a villainy (A. V., "folly") in Israel which ought not to be committed; and Simeon and Levi slew all the males of Shechem, saying to Jacob, when he rebuked them for their revengeful act: "Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?" (Gen. xxxiv. 7, 31.) The one misdemeanor of Eli's two wicked sons that is mentioned by name is unchastity (I Sam. ii. 22). In Amnon's act of violence against Tamar she begs him to desist, "for no such thing ought to be done in Israel" (II Sam. xiii. 12). Among the sins of Judah in the reign of Rehoboam was that of ritual unchastity (I Kings xiv. 24), on account of which calamity came upon the kingdom (see also II Kings xiii. 6, xvii. 16, xviii. 4, xx. 1, 3, xxii. 4; II Chron. xxviii. 3, xxxiii. 3, xxxvi. 14). The Prophets laid the greatest stress upon chastity. Their condemnation of unchastity ranks among the most pronounced of their denunciations of the evils prevalent in their days (Amos ii. 7; Hosea iv. 2, 13, 14; Isa. lvii. 3; Jer. ix. 1; xxiii. 10, 14; xxix. 23; Ezek. xvi. 38; xviii. 6; xxii. 10, 11; xxiii. 48; xxxiii. 26). There is a further indication of the high esteem in which chastity was held in the fact that these prophets, in speaking of the punishment that would befall the people for their sins, mentionthe deflowering of the women by their captors, which evil would not have been considered as so dreadful had not chastity been regarded in the highest light (Isa. xiii. 16; Zech. xiv. 2; Lam. v. 11; see also Amos vii. 17).In the Talmud.
The many admonitions in the Book of Proverbs against unchastity need but be adverted to for proof of the lofty place that the pure life held in the estimation of the wise men of Israel (Prov. v. 3-23, vi. 24-33, vii. 5-27, ix. 13-18, xxxi. 3). "I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I look upon a maid?" says Job (xxxi. 1). Similar are the injunctions of the later sage Ben Sira (Ecclus. ix. 3-9; xix. 2; xxiii. 22-26; xlii. 11), who counseled, "Go not after 'thy lusts'; and restrain thyself from thine appetites" (ib. xviii. 30). The spirit of the Rabbis appears in the advice of Jose ben Johanan, "Prolong not converse with woman" (Abot i. 5). "Follow not after your own eyes, after which ye use to go," etc. (Num. xv. 39): this means, "Ye shall not cast a lustful glance upon woman." One of the reasons given for the destruction of Jerusalem is the prevalence of "shamelessness," which undoubtedly means unchastity (Shab. 119b). In the days of the terrible persecutions under Hadrian the rabbis advised the people to suffer death rather than be guilty of "idolatry, incest, or bloodshed"; while they considered the transgression of any other commandment permissible if necessary to preserve life (Sanh. 74a; see also Maimonides, "Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, v. 9). As a further example of the attitude of the rabbis of Talmudic times, may be quoted the passage which was given as advice what to do when unchaste thoughts and desires assail: "My son, if that monster [the Yeẓer Hara'] meets you, drag it to the house of study; it will melt if it is of iron; it will break in pieces if it is of stone, as is said in Scripture (Jer. xxiii. 29): 'Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?'" (Ḳid. 30b.) The Talmudic term for chastity is . There can be no doubt of the fact that early marriage among the Jews was a strong factor in making them so chaste a people. Even such an unsympathetic and hostile exponent of rabbinic theology as Weber indicates this ("Jüd. Theol." p. 234). The age of eighteen was posited as the proper time for a youth to contract matrimony (Abot v. 21; Ḳid. 29b; Yeb. 62b, 63b; Sanh. 76b; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 1, 2). Early marriages continued in vogue among the Jews through medieval times (Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," pp. 90, 167). Many enactments were made to safeguard the purity of the people and to insure chastity (Maimonides, "Yad," Issure Biah, xxi.; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 21-25).
In one of the sections of the "reasons for the commandments" ("ta'ame miẓwot") in his "Moreh Nebukim," Maimonides gives as the reason for such legislation the following: "The object of these precepts is to diminish sexual intercourse, to restrain as much as possible indulgence in lust, and [to teach] that this enjoyment does not, as foolish people think, include in itself its final cause" ("Moreh Nebukim," iii. 35; see also ibid. 33). In ch. xlix. he treats at length the law concerning forbidden sexual intercourse and that for the promotion of chastity, whose object is "to inculcate the lesson that we ought to limit sexual intercourse hold it in contempt, and only desire it rarely."
In speaking of the reason for the prohibition of intermarriage with a near relative, he expresses it as his opinion that one object of this is "to inculcate chastity in our hearts."Views of the Philosophers.
Of ethical philosophers who have expressed Jewish thought on this subject, Saadia and Baḥya may be mentioned. The former, in the tenth chapter of his "Emunot we-De'ot," which is the ethical portion of the book, devotes two paragraphs to chastity; the third is "on sexual intercourse," and the fourth "on desire." His teaching concerning intercourse is "that it is not good for man, except for the purpose of producing offspring"; concerning desire, "man shall have no desire except for his wife, that he may love her and she may love him" ("Emunot we-De'ot," ed. Slucki, pp. 150, 151). In his ethical treatise, "The Duties of the Heart," Baḥya has frequent admonitions on the necessity of chastity and the overcoming of evil desires; as, for example, in the fifth division of the work, notably pp. 254, 258 et seq. (ed. Stern, Vienna, 1856). At the close of ch. ix. he quotes with approval and at length the last will and testament of a certain pious man in Israel, addressed to his son, and containing advice for the guidance of life. From this document one sentence may be set down here: "Be not one of those who, sunk in the folly of drunkenness and lust, submit like slaves to the dominance of evil passions; so that they think only of the satisfaction of sensual desires and the indulgence of bestial pleasures" (ib. p. 433). A similar word of advice may be quoted from a letter written by Naḥmanides to his son: "Be especially careful to keep aloof from women. Know that our God hates immorality; and Balaam could in no other way injure Israel than by inciting them to unchastity" (Schechter, "Studies in Judaism," p. 141).
A few further like injunctions from the moral treatises of medieval rabbis may here be given: "Let not the strange god, thy sensual desire, rule over thee; act so that thou hast not cause to blush before thyself; pay no heed to the biddings of desire; sin not and say, I will repent later" (from "Sefer Roḳeaḥ" by R. Eleazer b. Judah of Worms, in Zunz, "Z. G." pp. 132, 134); "Keep thy soul always pure: thou knowest not when thou wilt have to give it up" ("Sefer ha-Middot," fifteenth century, in ib. p. 153).