Ketuvot 10a ~ Virginity

תלמוד בבלי כתובות דף י עמוד א

ההוא דאתא לקמיה דרבן גמליאל אמר ליה פתח פתוח מצאתי אמר ליה שמא הטיתה אמשול לך משל למה הדבר דומה לאדם שהיה מהלך באישון לילה ואפילה היטה מצאו פתוח לא היטה מצאו נעול

A man came before Rabban Gamaliel and said to him, I have found an ‘open opening’ [i.e. he claimed his wife was not a virgin]. He [Rabban Gamaliel] answered him: Perhaps you moved aside. I will give you an illustration: To what may this be compared? To a man who was walking in the deep darkness of the night [and came to his house and found the door locked]; if he moves the bolt aside he finds the door open, if he does  not move the bolt aside, he finds it locked. 

Many, many years ago I celebrated by Bar Mitzvah by laying my parsha, (כי תצא). My instruction focussed on getting the trop right; understanding the content - not so much.  Which perhaps was just as well, because here's part of what I read:

דברים פרק כב, יג-כא 

כי יקח איש אשה ובא אליה ושנאה: ושם לה עלילת דברים והוצא עליה שם רע ואמר את האשה הזאת לקחתי ואקרב אליה ולא מצאתי לה בתולים: ולקח אבי הנער ואמה והוציאו את בתולי הנער אל זקני העיר השערה:  ואמר אבי הנער אל הזקנים את בתי נתתי לאיש הזה לאשה וישנאה:  והנה הוא שם עלילת דברים לאמר לא מצאתי לבתך בתולים ואלה בתולי בתי ופרשו השמלה לפני זקני העיר:  ולקחו זקני העיר ההוא את האיש ויסרו אתו: וענשו אתו מאה כסף ונתנו לאבי הנערה כי הוציא שם רע על בתולת ישראל ולו תהיה לאשה לא יוכל לשלחה כל ימיו: ואם אמת היה הדבר הזה לא נמצאו בתולים לנער:  והוציאו את הנער אל פתח בית אביה וסקלוה .נשי עירה באבנים ומתה כי עשתה נבלה בישראל לזנות בית אביה ובערת הרע מקרבך

 If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, "I took this woman, but when I came to her, I did not find her a virgin."  Then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, "I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he hated her. And look, he has accused her saying, I did not find your daughter a virgin.' But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity." And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him. And they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot ever divorce her.
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has perpetrated wantonness in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house. And you will purge the evil from among you. (Deut 22: 13-21.)

The first several pages of Ketuvot discuss issues around this passage from the Torah; they are  difficult reading for anyone with modern sensitivities. The Talmud takes most seriously the requirement that a woman be a virgin when she marries for the first time. (There is no similar Torah requirement for a man- though sex before marriage was generally frowned upon). In today's Daf Yomi, a man claimed his new wife was not a virgin, because he found "an open entrance". In reply, Rabban Gamliel suggested that perhaps she was indeed a virgin, but that he had "angled the entry" and in so doing had not felt the expected resistance.  Elsewhere (6b) we have read of the claim that some men (Abaye referred to them as בבליים) were knowledgeable about intercourse with a virgin "at an angle" - and that these men are certainly allowed to consummate their marriage on a Friday night, since they will not cause the bride to bleed. So far, in the first ten pages of Ketuvot, we've read a lot about virginity and about bleeding on a bride's wedding night. So let's talk about that. (If this makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you stop reading this and return to Daf Yomi at Bava Kama.)  

The Hymen

Hymen was the Roman-Greek god of marriage.  Anatomically, the hymen is a fleshy membrane that is part of the female external genitalia. The evolutionary explanation for the hymen is not certain, and several theories have been proposed - none of them very satisfying.  In the Talmud the assumption is that this membrane is intact until torn during a woman's first intercourse.  This causes bleeding, and hence the reference in the Torah of a father "spreading the bedsheets" to show proof that his daughter had been a virgin when she wed.


איבעיא להו: מהו לבעול בתחלה בשבת, דם מיפקד פקיד או חבורי מיחבר
— תלמוד בבלי כתובות דף ה עמוד ב

The Doctor Can't always Tell (and Neither Can the Husband)

In a 1978 paper, two gynecologists described a small study of women who were virgins, and concluded that the hymen is intact in only a proportion of cases. In a more recent study, 52% of women who had past intercourse were found on examination to have an intact hymen.  The doctor just can't tell. And neither can the husband. 


The Talmud elsewhere describes a family in Jerusalem whose women were allowed to carry chains around their legs on Shabbat. Why were they given this permission? Rabbi Yochanan picks up the story:

There was one family in Jerusalem who took large strides when they walked and consequently the hymenal membranes of the young girls in this family would fall out. (ArtScroll note: "This was unfortunate, since an intact hymenal membrane serves as proof of a bride's virginity".) The elders made garters for them and put a chain between the garters, so that their strides would not be large, and as a result their hymens did not fall out. (ArtScroll note: "According to one interpretation cited by Meiri, the chain makes a sound when the steps are too rapid and forceful; thus, the sound itself reminded the girls to take delicate steps.") 

This is, to say the least, a difficult story to understand. But modern medicine is fairly clear on the subject.  All girls born with a vagina have a hymen.  "If hymenal tissue cannot be identified" wrote three experts from the Department of Pediatrics and the Sexual Assault Center at the University of Washington, "traumatic disruption should be considered as a possible cause." And an Israeli study  from the Bellinson Medical Center in Tel Aviv of over 25,000 newborn girls came to the same conclusions.  I know other cultures have their own taboos around virginity, but their taboos are not my concern right now.  The taboos of my culture are.  And for every girl and woman who was a victim of them, I am sorry. So very sorry.

Rav MOSHE Feinstein on what's really important

In 1973 Rav Moshe Feinstein (d. 1986), was asked by a newly observant woman if she needed to reveal her sexual history to a man she was dating.  Rav Moshe's remarkable sensitivity to this question can be felt through the words of his legal response. Yes, here and there are some remarkably sexist words, but put them aside and look at the big picture. Look where Rav Moshe went with this.  


שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק ד סימן קיח 

ובדבר אם צריכה את להגיד להבחור שירצה לישא אותך לאשה, ודאי את צריכה לגלות לו, אבל אינך צריכה להגיד לו בראיה והכרה דפעם ראשונה שעדיין לא ידוע אם ירצה בכלל השידוך וממילא אסור אז להגיד לו, ורק אחרי שתדעי שרוצה לישא אותך בברור שכבר אמר לך ודבר בדבר הנישואין, צריכה את לומר רק בזה שנזדמן איזה פעם בשעה שלא היה לך כובד ראש כל כך לעמוד נגד המפתה בדברי רצוי ופתוי הרבה ותיכף נתחרטת ומצטערת על זה שאירע דבר כזה עד שיכיר מדבריך שאין לו לחוש שיארע גם כשתהא נשואה לו, ואז מאחר שהוא רוצה בך מפני שהכיר המעלות שלך לא יחזור בו בשביל זה שאירע איזה פעם מאחר שיכיר אותך לנערה שומרת תורה ומצותיה שיש להאמין שלא חשודה את שוב בזה ותהי' אשה מסורה לבעלה כדין התורה. 

Regarding whether you must tell the man who may want to marry you [about your sexual past, and not being a virgin] you must indeed tell him, but you don't have to do so the first time that you meet- because at that  stage it is not clear that he wants you. In fact at that stage it would be forbidden to tell him. Only after you are certain that he wants to marry you - when he has already told you and spoken about the marriage arrangements - then you must tell him. [Explain it to him this way:] It once happened when you were not thinking clearly and you were not able to withstand the man seducing you, and you immediately regretted your actions and were sorry that you had done this. [When he sees your sincerity] he will understand from your words that he does not have to worry that this would happen again if you were married to him.  For he will see your qualities and and will not regret his decision [to marry] because of what happened in your past. He will recognize that you are a woman who observes the Torah and its mitzvot, and he will believe that you will not countenance repeating this behavior, and you will be a  woman who is in the service of her husband as the Torah mandates. 

But what about the Ketuvah - the marriage contract that is read aloud at (orthodox) Jewish weddings? The text is clear "that so-and-so is marrying this virgin"! How, asked this woman of Rav Moshe, how can we put this in the document when it is not true? 

בדבר כתיבת הכתובה אין צורך להגיד למסדר הקידושין, כי מאחר שהחתן יחתום על הכתובה הרי הסכים לכתובת בתולה ושוב ליכא קפידא ומחוייב בכתובת בתולה אף אם באמת אינה בתולה אם לא הטעתה אותו...והנני בברכה שהשי"ת יקבל תשובתך ולא תכשלי עוד בשום חטא ותתנהגי בדרך התורה ומנהגי ישראל קדושים ותבנה בית כשר ונכון בישראל, משה פיינשטיין

Regarding the writing of the Ketuvah, you need not tell the rabbi who is officiating.  Since the groom is signing the Ketuvah he is agreeing to the use of the term "virgin" - and there is nothing else to be worried about. He will  be bound to the legal terms as if you were a virgin, even if in truth you are not, so long as you did not mislead him....And I bless you that God will accept your repentance and that you will  not stumble again with any transgression; that you will follow the path of the Torah and build a fit and proper house in Israel. [signed] Moshe Feintsein

This letter from Rav Moshe reminds us what it is that is of real importance in a marriage: Honesty, fidelity, compassion and forgiveness.  It's a wonderful lesson to carry with us as we study the rest of Ketuvot.  

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