The Commandments of the Noahide – Part 6

At the KOTEL, Jerusalem, Israel

Do not commit sexual immorality


To be sexual immoral can be a vague statement depending on the individual. In one group a single man holding a single ladies hand could be offensive, where as in another group anything sexual between consenting couples is permissible, and not considered immoral. Even within a religious group there will be varying opinions on where the line is drawn, between what is sexually moral and what is not.

Because of changing social norms from generation to generation, I will attempt to base my observations on only the Torah, the Tanach and some of the views from various Sages of great memory.

The Hebrew equivalent for the words “morality” and “immorality” are not found in the Tanach. However when we speak of sexual acts that are not acceptable I refer to them as immoral!

According to Merriam-Webster morality is:

  • conformity to ideals of right human conduct

Two major points in this definition; “conformity” and “ideals of right human conduct”. Conformity is established by the pier pressure. Being accepted into a group, can be dependent on ones conformity. Conforming to the laws of the land keeps us out of jail. In this case, we are to conform to “the right human conduct”. So, to be “moral” one must conform to a standard of conduct that has been established with in a society. We have to refer back to the parameters I set in my opening dialog to establish the “ideals of right human conduct”, in order to follow Merriam-Websters definition. To follow this definition of “morality”, we can see how it can change depending what the standard the morality is based upon. An example of this is “Radical” vs. “non-Radical” Islam. Radical Islam and non-radical Islam are both Islam! But a person practicing Radical Islam would be in an entirely different environment than the person involved in non-radical Islam. Living in radical Islam people are required to live by Sharia Law to its fullest extent, where as living in non-radical Islam Sharia Law is much more relaxed. Both sides feel they are right, because their beliefs and morals are based on different perspectives of their respective religious beliefs. The same example can be made using Judaism or Christianity. Religious beliefs are not changed by winning a war or an argument. They are changed by conviction! We are of a totally different environment and set of base standards, that establish what is moral for us. We base our beliefs on the Tanach where as Islam has a base on the Koran, and Christianity has a base on the Christian Bible. Each of these groups believes they are correct.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Genesis does not give us much to base this commandment upon. From Genesis we find, “be fruitful and multiply”, in other words fill the earth with your offspring. A green light for having sexual relations. But are there any restrictions?

The story of Noah’s sons respecting him by covering him and the method they entered the tent. This may not be viewed as a sexual act, but it demonstrates a respect of children to their parents sexually. However Lots daughters having sexual relations with him after leaving Sodom is another story. It is commonly accepted that the act was out of fear that the world was destroyed and they were the only survivors. Thus this would be the only way to repopulate the world as they viewed it.

The events within Sodom and Gomorrah with the perversion that was taking place and G-d’s decision to destroy it. We have a limited knowledge of the perversion, but we do know it had to be bad for G-d to destroy both communities and all the people within. We do know of the sexual perversion because of its record in the Bible. The men of the city wanting to sexually assault the Angels from G-d, and then Lot giving his daughters to them to assault.

More than one Wife

In the United States being married to more than one person at a time is illegal. The legal part of a marriage is what happens between the couple and the government. They enter into a special type of contract that is filed and recorded with the local government. This contract provides certain provisions for this couple that would not exist if they did not enter into a legal marriage contract. It can only be performed between one couple, and not any more than just the two. If a man enters into this marriage contract in one community and say he goes to another community and does it again with another person, he has violated the law and subject to punishment under the law. It would present a major problem to implement both contracts to both wives when a marriage contract has a presumption of one wife and one husband. If something happened to this person that has two wives and separate marriage contracts, the question becomes which wife has the “right of survivorship” legally. Unless the law is set up to provide this type of marriage contract, it would be a nightmare for the legal process. If he were to marry one wife and have another woman as a non legally married wife would be a different situation. However she would have to understand that she has no legal standing if something happened to him. She would be very vulnerable. This would be a religious marriage only!

Abraham’s wife was Sarah, and his concubine was Hagar. Abraham’s wife, Sarah selected Hagar as a concubine to have sexual relations with Abraham for the purpose of producing a son. Her reason was that she felt that she was too old to have any more children. So she felt this was a solution. There isn’t a record of Abraham having any connection with Hagar prior to her becoming a concubine.

Jacob did not desire to marry Leah, his choice was Rachael. He was tricked into the marriage with Leah. But his brides face was veiled and he didn’t know until they were married. He then married Rachael, seven years later. Both Leah and Rachael provided concubines for their husband Jacob, for the purpose of having children. Again as with Abraham there is no record of Jacob having any connection with either of the concubines prior to their selection by his two wives.

It appears that Moses had two wives. When he left Egypt and went to the land of Midian, he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, and had two sons with her. We learn in Numbers 12 that he also had a wife from Cush, an Ethiopian. Legend has it that she was a Cushite Princes from when he lived in Cush. Legend also says that he reigned as Prince in Cush for 40 years, but this is legend!

According to Merriam-Webster a concubine is defined as:

  • a woman with whom a man cohabits without being married

There are no Scripture’s forbidding more than one wife, or concubines. The husband was required to provide separate facilities for each, thus usually only a person that was wealthy could afford multiple wives and or concubines.

(פילגש) Hebrew transliterated as Pilegesh. The translators translate this as concubine. A concubine is not a wife, there is not a Ketubah (Jewish Marriage Contract) but the relationship is a lower status, there may be a contract or an agreement, but not a Ketubah. The reason for a relationship with a concubine is not the same as that of a wife. It may be for the purpose of having children, if the wife is not able, as in the example above. Recently the head Rabbi of Israel granted the status of Pilegesh in a case where the wife was baron.

A Comprehensive List of Forbidden Sexual Relationships

Leviticus 18:6-23 gives us a very comprehensive list of how G-d wants us to maintain our sexual morality.

Forbidden sexual relationships – Leviticus 18:6-23

VerseProhibited Sexual Relations with:Modern TermNote
7fatherfatherHaving sex with your father
7mothermotherHaving sex with your mother
8fathers wifemother/step motherHaving sex with your step mother
9sistersisterHaving sex with your sister
9daughter of fatherstep sisterHaving sex with your step sister
9daughter of motherstep sistersame
10son’s daughtergrand daughterHaving sex with your grand daughter
10daughter’s daughtergrand daughtersame
11fathers wifes daughterstep sisterHaving sex with your step sister
12fathers sisterauntHaving sex with your aunt
13mothers sisterauntsame
14fathers brotheruncleHaving sex with you uncle
15daughter in-lawdaughter in-lawHaving sex with your daughter in law
16brothers wifesister in-lawHaving sex with your sister in law
17woman and her daughtermother & daughter duoHaving sex with a mother and daughter together
17Woman and her sons daughtermother and grand daughter duoHaving sex with a mother and grand daughter together
17Woman and her daughters daughtermother and grand daughter duosame
18Woman and her sister as a rivalpromoting jealousy between sistersHaving sex with a woman to cause jealousy between her and her sister
19when a woman is in her customary impurityany woman during her menstrual periodHaving sex with a woman during her menstrual period
20lie with neighbors wifeadultery with the neighbors wifeHaving sex with your neighbors wife -an adulterous affair-
21not let decedents pass through fire of MolechChild sacrifice and or child abusePresenting the first born child to the priest to be sacrificed by burnt alive in the arms of the idol. Interesting the G-d puts this in the same group with sexual sins! This demonstrates a form of Child Abuse.
22not lay with a (zakar) male as with a (iyshah) womanhomosexual sex (ie. a man having sexual relations with another male)This is not a prohibition against homosexuality, but it is a prohibition against having male sexual relations. Please see the notes below
23mate with any beastbestialityA man is not to have sex with an animal
23nor shall a woman stand before a beastbestialityA woman is not to have sex with an animal

A Look at Leviticus 18:21

This verse is talking about sacrificing your children to Moluck. But ultimately its child abuse. If we take this verse further I believe it would be safe to say a prohibition against any abuse with children.

A Look at Leviticus 18:22a

A difference of opinion exists on this verse; is it talking about sodomy in the homosexual relationship, or is it talking about sodomy in a pedophilia act with a child? There are some who like to promote that zakar is the Hebrew for a young male or a male child. An example of this being translated this way could be Isaiah 66:7. …….she delivered a man child. Zakar in this case is translated “man child”, it could as easily be translated as “a male”; …..she delivered a male baby.

An interlinear translation of 18:22a:

and / zakar / not / you-lie-with / ones-who-lie-of / isha / detestable / that /

Investigating two Hebrew words, zakar and isha will help in further understanding this command. The first use of zakar is in Gen 1:27. The verse says that G-d created Adam (mankind) in his own image, in the image of God created zakar (male – זכר) and nekaybaw (female – נקבה) created. This verse describes the fact that G-d created mankind both male and female.

The Hebrew words ish (יש)and isha (ישה) also describe male and female respectively. So what is the deference?

Gen 5:2 Zakar and nekaybaw are used again to describe male and female as His creation. Adam in this verse is the name He gave them, it didn’t mean man, but “mankind”. Gen 6:19 Zakar and nekaybaw are used again to describe male and female of all the animals brought to the ark. This verse shows these words being used for animals as well as humans. Another example is in Gen 34:25 zakar is used to denote that it was all the males that were slain by Simon and Levi.

There are many uses of the Hebrew word Zakar being used in the Torah and the Tanach. To do an extensive study of it would be outside the scope of this paper. How ever a short study for the purpose for clarification would be appropriate.

Looking at the Hebrew word Nekaybaw (english: female), to see how it differs from isha also Hebrew describing a female. The first three uses of the word are the same as for zakar. However it isn’t used as much as zakar, it will only be found 23 times in the Tanach.

Jeremiah 31:21 (Heb. text) is very interesting with the variety of words used.

………backsliding (shobeb – apostate) daughter (bath – daughter) ……….. a woman (nekaybaw – female) shall compass (sabab – encircle) a man (geber – strong man).

The Hebrew words ish and isha.

The first use of Iysh (iysh – man/male/husband) Gen. 2:23 And adam (mankind) said……….she (zoth – this one) shall be called (ishah – woman/wife/female), because she (zoth -this one) was taken out of man (iysh – man/male/husband).

  • 2:24 An iysh shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his iyshah………..
  • 3:6 Iyshah saw that the tree was good…………………………..and gave also unto iysh….

In each case that I viewed the use of iysh and iyshah were referring to people and not including reference’s to animals. (I did not look at all cases, but randomly noticed this.) If further research were to bare this out, we could conclude that iysh and iyshah could be translated as man and woman respectively, and zakar and nekaybaw could be translated as male and female respectively. Age may or may not be relevant, zakar and nekaybaw could be any age, it just distinguishes the fact that the being is a male or female . Iysh and iyshah as well could be young or older, the implication is that the reference to that of being human. I believe we can conclude that the reference to sodomy in 18:22 is referring to homosexual sex between two men. This is not to say that this verse is making any statement against being homosexual, but only sodomy between the men.


In the chart above having adultery with your neighbors wife is listed as immoral, but in Exodus 20:14 and again in Deu 5:18 any adultery is forbidden, and breaking Torah. Perhaps we could ask the question, “who is my neighbor?”. My neighbor is always the person living next door. The Hebrew word here (amiyth – עמית) doesn’t always mean the person next door (neighbor), but also means; a person that you know or are familiar with. Committing adultery is breaking your commitment with your wife, not being faithful and violating your Covenant with her.


Take note that Fornication is not mentioned in the Tanach. Fornication can be defined as sexual intercourse between two consenting non-married adults. In the Reform and some of the Conservative denominations premarital sexual intercourse is not frowned upon. However in many of the Orthodox denominations it is discouraged. The obstacle is, a married woman is ritually unclean after her menstrual period until she dips in the Mikvah. In some Jewish denominations a woman must be married to utilize the Mikvah, thus an unmarried woman will be ritually not pure until she dips in the Mikvah just prior to her marriage. It is my understanding that this is changing, allowing unmarried women to dip in the Mikvah in some denominations. A woman that has been married and is divorced, or a widow, and continues to use the Mikvah following her menstrual period, would be another situation.


It is important to know and keep the law of the land. If the law of the land does not violate the Torah, we need to respect it. If the law does violate Torah then we need to find another place to live where we are free to keep Torah, or promote change. Hasham created sexual relationship, thus making it pure. He has established parameters for us to live our lives within, thus providing us a way of respecting each other. When we respect each other the relationships that are established become close, meaningful and lasting. G-d made sexual intercourse enjoyable and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply the earth. This makes it very clear that He wants us to enjoy being sexually active and it is not a “taboo”. But at the same time He has given us the boundaries as laid out in His Torah.

by, Jim Behnke

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