Dear Daat Emet staff,
Do you know how Chazal viewed pedophilia?
In answer to your question we must note two important things about Chazal’s approach to sexuality in general and to pedophilia (sexual attraction to minors of either sex) in particular:
1. Chazal were (as determiners of Halacha) looking at the Divine will and not man’s. Obedience to the text (the silent letters) was more important to them than harm done to some specific individual.
2. Chazal ignored (due to a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire to consider) the psychological and emotional aspects which stem from sexual activity. Their view of sex was as a purely legalistic act of acquisition, and the laws against certain forms of sexual relations are purely theological.
First we will bring the Halacha which treats pedophilia lightly:
According to Halacha, sexual relations have taken place when the participants are a male over the age of nine and a female above the age of three. Below these ages what has happened is not considered sexual intercourse (in neither the sense of acquisition nor the sense of forbidden sexual relations).
It is written in the Mishnah: “A girl of three years and a day is sanctified (as a woman is acquired) through intercourse…if one of those forbidden to have relations with her according to the Torah does have relations with her, he is killed because of her, and she is exempt. If she is less than that (less than three years and a day), it is as one who sticks a finger into an eye” (Niddah 5:4). The sages of the Talmud explain the Mishnah’s simile “as one who sticks a finger into an eye”: Just as an eye, if poked by a finger, gives off a tear and then once again gives off tears, so is it when a man puts his penis in a girl younger than three, her hymen tears and then heals over. This is why it is not called intercourse in matters of prohibition or of acquisition (Niddah 45a).
Thus did Maimonides rule (Laws of Forbidden Intercourse 1:13-14): One who has sexual relations with a girl younger than three is exempt from punishment, even if he did so with his own daughter, and one who has sexual relations with a boy of under nine is exempt from punishment, even if she did so with her own son, and homosexual relationships with a minor boy under the age of nine is exempt from the punishment written in the Torah: “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).
From what we have brought above, you can learn that Chazal and the religious arbiters treated sexual relations with a minor as a meaningless act. They completely ignore the psychological and emotional impact upon a boy or a girl who have undergone an irreversible trauma which can warp their entire lives. Their only concern, the target of all their sophistry and discussions, was the legal/Halachic aspect. They treated intercourse as an act of acquisition and spill a great deal of ink and intellectual energy on embarrassing and shameful questions like whether an act is considered sexual intercourse if only the corona of the penis penetrates, or if there is any contact between the corona of the penis and the female genitals (what is called by Chazal “a kiss”), or is full penetration of the entire sexual organ required (Yevamot 55b)? There are many more such nonsensical questions.
To more precisely show Chazal’s emotional insensitivity, I will cite another Talmudic discussion which deals with sexual intercourse with a minor girl. Since they hold that a girl under the age of three is not “worth” intercourse, that one who has sex with a girl under the age of three is not punished, they wonder whether if one has sex with a girl under the age of three and her hymen is torn, does it heal, or was it never torn in the first place? The Halachic implications of the doubt is relevant in the case of a girl who again has sex after the age of three, and bleeds. Is this hymeneal blood or menstrual blood? Thus do Chazal sail away on virtual analysis which has nothing to do with a woman’s physical reality, while ignoring humanity.
Another thing to note is that the word “pedophilia” comes from the Greek (paed=child, philos=love) while there is no Hebrew word for sexual contact between an adult and a child. Halachic language completely ignored the existence of pedophilia. On the other hand, medicine treats pedophilia as a disorder caused by psychological and social issues, one which testifies to problems in sexual development. Treatment of this phenomenon is both medical and behavioral.
From all that has been said above, there is no doubt that were a comprehensive, in-depth anthropological study done within the contemporary Charedi community, we would find a high percentage of those who act upon their sexual attraction to little children, either because of Halacha’s turning a blind eye or because the act of pedophilia is treated lightly. In other words, the Orthodox community sees sexual activity between adults as more serious than having sex with a child.
You are quite correct; the Torah permits marriage with an infant. This can be learned from the verse “I gave my daughter to this man.” The father has the right to marry his minor daughter off to whomever he pleases. The Talmud treats sexual relations with a little girl as something self-explanatory, and they say:
Three [categories of] women may use an absorbent [cotton to absorb sperm as a contraceptive]: a minor…What is the age of a minor? From the age of eleven and a day to the age of twelve and a day. Less than that or more than that must carry on her sexual relations in a normal manner (Ketubot 39a).
As you have written, sleeping with a young girl is permitted, as long as you marry her “according to the teachings of Moses and Israel.”
For more on this matter, see our answer The Halachic approach to having sex with minors (in Hebrew).
According to Halachic definitions, an infant three years and above must be treated, when it comes to modesty, as a grown woman. Halachic treats a little girl as a sexual object. But how do Charedi and the religious in fact treat little girls? Do they treat them as sexual objects? This is an interesting question, one which should be explored in-depth. It is possible that there is a gap between written Halacha, which may not be changed, and the cultural changes which have taken place in the modern era.
If sexual attraction is dependent upon culture, it is possible that the Western culture has influenced the Orthodox public and sexual attraction to little girls will not exist (for normal men, with no deviances or disturbances). On the other hand, the textual discourse of the Orthodox public can be a very significant source of influence upon the viewpoint and lifestyle of the religious or the Charedi person, even creating a reality of legitimate sexual attraction even to children.
The very fact that a religious man treats Halachic rulings seriously (as the words of the living G-d) and because of practical Halacha treats little girls as sexual objects influences his mind.
There is a halacha which forbids being alone with a girl of three and above (Even HaEzer 22:1). A religious man may not be alone with an infant lest his urges overcome him and he sleep with her. The application of this halacha can have an effect on a man’s mind.
This is also the case for the rest of the practical halachot, such as the prohibition against reading words of Torah in front of a girl who is not dressed modestly (in the words of the halacha, “has more than a handspan uncovered”) and the prohibition against hearing the voice of girls singing, etc.
In short, it would seem we need to see if the Orthodox society has been examined when it comes to this topic, and if so, what the conclusions of the research were.
First of all, we appreciate the courage and intellectual honest it takes to clarify these issues to arrive at the truth.
Our answer to Pedophilia in Halacha which you printed and showed to your teacher was precise and accurate.
Note, please, two things:
1. Halacha permits having sexual relations, even with a minor under the age of 11, through sanctification and marriage. (This is pedophilia.)
2. Halacha exempts one from punishment incest with a girl under the age of 3. Though we say “exempts,” this does not mean that one may do so. For example: a father who has sexual intercourse with his daughter of more than 3 would be liable to death by burning (Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Intercourse 1:5), but if the daughter is under 3 the father is exempt from punishment. (this is the halacha we cited from Maimonides; it is most odd that your teacher did not find it.)
To remove any doubt, we will cite Maimonides’ words in full:
Any woman is forbidden to them if she is age three and a day or above. A grown man who has sex with her is liable to death, karet, or lashes and she is exempt unless she is an adult. If she was younger than this, both are exempt for her intercourse is not intercourse. Similarly, a grown woman who has intercourse with a minor child of nine years and a day is liable to karet or death or lashes and he is exempt; if he were nine years old or younger both are exempt.
If a man has intercourse with a man or a man has intercourse with him and both are adult, they are stoned, for it is written “Do not have intercourse with men,” be he the penetrative partner or the penetrated. If he is a minor of nine years and a day or more, the man who has intercourse with him is stoned and the minor is exempt. If he is a male of nine years or less, both are exempt, though it is appropriate for the court to subject the adult to lashes for rebelliousness, for he had intercourse with a male, though he was under the age of nine. (Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Intercourse 1:13-14).
We would be pleased to see your teacher’s response.