[b-hebrew] virginity

Tory Thorpe torythrp at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 20 16:32:51 EDT 2007

On Jul 19, 2007, at 12:32 PM, <michaelabernat9001 at sbcglobal.net> wrote:

> Shoshanna,
> I considered the possibility that someone might argue "that SHE HAD  
> up in the Mishnah before commenting. Note Ketuboth 1:6,
> "He who marries a woman and did not find tokens of virginity- `she  
> says, "After you  betrothed me, I was raped, and your field has  
> been flooded," `and he says, "Not so, but it was before I betrothed  
> you, and my purchase was a bargain made in error"- `Rabban   
> Gamaliel and R. Eliezer say, "She is believed." `R. Joshua says,  
> "We do not depend on her testimony. But lo, she remains in the  
> assumption of having had sexual relations before she was betrothed  
> and of having deceived him, `"until she brings evidence to back up  
> her  [contrary] claim."
> This passage makes it evident that this law was applied to any  
> sexual relationship prior to the consummation with her husband.

Since you mention it I think this part of the Mishnah attracts  
particular interest in view of BTWLH and its linguistic meaning in  
the biblical text. If you notice there is nothing said here in this  
portion of the Mishnah about the biblical requirement that the father  
produce his daughter's simlah (Dt. xxii 17). Also, the translation of  
BTWLYM in Ket. i 6 as "tokens of virginity" is actually misleading: a  
BTWLH, according to the Mishnah (Nid. i 4), is not necessarily a  
physical virgin since it is possible for her to be a married woman:

איזו היא בתולה כל שלא ראת דם מימיה אף  
על פי נשואה

This is the earliest definition of BTWLH in any source and I believe  
there are valid reasons for thinking that it correctly reflects the  
preexilic idiom: (1) because no dissenting opinion is recorded in or  
outside the Mishnah; (2) because native terminology used in marital  
practices, in any culture, are subject to a certain conservatism  
against changes; (3) because in the cognate languages betulah (and  
almah) is interchangeable with terms used to describe a married  
woman; and (4) because it would be easy for the parents of a newly  
wed girl to fabricate a blood-stain on their daughter's clothing or  

If for the sake of argument on the wedding night a husband finds no  
blood stains on the bed-linen, and then decides to accuse his wife  
of )LYLT DBRYM, "shameful matters", the bed-linen becomes his  
evidence against her in court. The father of the bride is now  
obligated to produce "the dress" (ha'simlah) worn by the girl during  
the betrothal period while she lived with her parents, but the  
husband described in the text of Dt. xxii 13-21 is willing to bet 100  
shekels and a lifelong marriage that there ARE blood stains on it.

Since the betrothal garment remained in the possession of the girl's  
parents when she was handed over to her husband the day of the  
wedding, traces of blood would prove that the girl was not a BTWLH at  
the wedding night, i.e. she came of age while still living in her  
father's house and she may be held culpable for not being forthcoming  
about this. The biblical law enjoins very strict rules for girls to  
follow when they reach puberty and begin menstruating (Lev. xv  
19-33). So one may surmise that originally, in the preexilic period,  
the harlotry committed by the girl sentenced to death in Dt. xxii  
20-21 had nothing to do with extra-marital infidelity but violating  
ritual purity laws under the father's roof, thus defiling the  
father's house and then the marital union.

The interpretation of BTWLYM found by a husband as blood stained bed- 
linen from the rupturing of the hymen on the wedding night, but for a  
bride as the unstained garment worn during her betrothal, fits with  
the translation of BTWLH as pre-adolescent girl, i.e. a girl who has  
not yet suffered a flow of blood, and also fits with the age-old  
custom of early marriage in the Middle East. If the father of the  
accused is able to produce the spotless garment, it attests to the  
fact that the girl was a pre-adolescent at the wedding night. And  
since she has yet to menstruate she remains a (married) BTWLH even  
after the wedding night until her first period.

What is happening in Mishnah Ketuboth i 6 is a reinterpretation of  
Dt. xx 13-14 and this is acknowledged even in yeshiva. In Mishnaic  
times one school of rabbinic authority is willing to accept without  
further ado the explanations given by the girl whose BTWLYM were not  
found by her husband the night of the wedding. The other school  
insists that she, not her father, provide proof of her words  
otherwise she is presumed guilty of sexual misconduct. It seems to be  
a very different situation in Dt. xxii.

Tory Thorpe

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