Menachem Mendel

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Prostitutes in Jewish Literature

Dan Rabinowitz has written a post at Seforim about prostitutes and prostitution in Jewish literature. I didn’t wanted to make a comment which I wrote too long, so I’ll just write it below. Louis Epstein, in his book Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism, relates the following:

Interesting is a legal question that arose in Egypt in the last century, about Jewish prostitutes who donated a Torah cover and other holy objects to the synagogue; the authorities wanted to know whether they might be accepted or used in the synagogue. The rabbis did not like the idea but could cite no legal objection. However, one of the harlots, in making her contribution to the synagogue, had had her name woven into the Torah cover in golden letters. This was too much for the rabbis. They felt it would have a demoralizing effect on young people, because apparently her name was well known, especially among those who visited her. The cover was ordered to be put away and never used. (p. 163)

The responsum which Epstein refers to can be found in R. Aharon ben Shimon’s Nehar Mitzrayim, p. 12a. Also see the discussion by Tzvi Zohar in his book האירו פני מזרח, pp. 134-137 and the literature cited in the notes.

6 Responses to “Prostitutes in Jewish Literature”

  1. 1

    Really? No one could find a reason to say no? No one equated it with etnan zonah? That would have been my gut reaction.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I haven’t seen the responsum in its entirety in a while. If I remember correctly, that was discussed. Next week I’ll check out what they said about it.

  3. 3
    Harry P:

    Your post about prostitution again shows how morally problematic and sexist halacha is. It is my understanding that under halacha it is not adultery for a married man to have intercourse with a non-married woman- be she a prostitute or not. But if a married woman has intercourse it is adultery. I would love to hear the rationilization for this bit of ” law”.

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel:


    You answered your own question.

  5. 5
    I'd rather be anon 4 now:

    I am in a long standing relationship with a jewish woman. I am not jewish or religious for that matter. My girls brother is very jewish, he is also a bit fat and not the best looking bloke in the world, not his fault.
    He is approaching his 40th birthday and has never been with a woman, not even a snog behind the bus stop if you know what I mean?
    I want to get him a prostitute for his birthday.
    Will this interfere with his beliefs, what does the bible or common jewish thinking say about this.
    I feel it would be tragic for him never to feel the caress of a fellow human being.
    Your thoughts would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

  6. 6
    Aaron Levitt:

    Anon 4,

    My impression has been that Judaism is relatively relaxed about consensual sex between an unmarried man and a woman who is not a virgin. I’m not talking about my own beliefs, here, just my (very limited) understanding of the tradition. Rather than treat your girl’s brother to a prostitute, though, I wonder if, with a bit more effort, you might be able to find him a date? Many of us are a bit fat, and less than gorgeous, and still manage to muddle our way through with the fair sex. 🙂




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