Rebecca’s Virginity

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated R

In this week’s Parshah of Chayei Sarah, we are introduced to the beautiful Rebecca, after we learn – in great detail – of the search to find a wife for Isaac.

This was a task that Abraham, delegated to Eliezer, Abraham’s trusted servant, Eliezer was not given a great deal of guidance as to how to pick a bride. Indeed, the only requirements that Abraham specified was that Eliezer find a girl from Abraham’s birthplace – preferably from his extended family – and not a local Canaanite girl.

So Eliezer sets out, and arrives at Abraham’s hometown of Aram Naharaim. Having arrived at his destination, Eliezer invokes Divine aid in finding the right bride for Isaac, and he sets G-d a test: “Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, that the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’ – her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac.” Genesis, 24:13-14.

Eliezer’s “test” was not random or talismanic. While it was a test offered to G-d, it was designed to determine whether Isaac’s prospective bride shared the traits of selfless compassion and kindness that characterized Abraham’s family. Whether she would unhesitatingly not only offer a stranger water – not a particularly large or difficult task on its own – but if she would be sensitive to the needs of his ten camels and caravan as well, and put on hold her own needs, time constraints and other responsibilities, to see to it that neither man nor beast went thirsty. Knowing Abraham and his values, Eliezer was primarily concerned with her generosity of spirit, and the kindness of her deeds.

Then Rebecca appears. Oh, she passes Eliezer’s test with flying colors – but she is so much more than just that! The Divine narrator of the Torah speaks of Rebecca’s emergence onto the biblical stage with a tone that almost seems like a hushed awe. Indeed, the Torah describes Eliezer’s own reaction as “the man was astonished at her, standing silent.” Genesis, 24:21.

How indeed does Torah introduce her?

“The maiden was exceedingly beautiful, a virgin, and no man had been intimate with her.” Genesis, 24:16.

Essentially, Torah says: “Yes, yes, we’ll get to the righteous goody-goody stuff. But first things first: Rebecca was gorgeous, and sexually innocent.”

To put the Torah’s endorsement of Rebecca’s looks in context, Sarah, our first matriarch, is described as a woman of “beautiful appearance.” Genesis, 12:11. “Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.” Genesis, 29:17. However, it is only Rebecca that earns the extra adverb “exceedingly.” She was hot!

Then there’s Torah’s statement regarding Rebecca’s sexuality: she was “a virgin, and no man had been intimate with her.” This redundant expression of sexual purity – that she was “a virgin,” and that “no man had been intimate with her” – forms the basis of several Talmudic and Midrashic discussions regarding Rebecca’s sex life (or lack thereof).

First on the list is the Talmudic discussion regarding the Ketubah – the prenuptial agreement instituted by the Sages – which obligates a husband to pay a specific sum of money to his wife in the event of a divorce. According to Talmudic law, a wife who was a virgin when she married is entitled to a minimum of 200 maneh, whereas a non-virgin bride is only entitled to a minimum of 100 maneh. But how about a girl who lost her virginity to a dildo or some other inanimate object? Well, according to R’ Meir, it is from our Parshah that we learn that the definition of “virgin” is one with whom “no man has been intimate.” By specifying “man,” the Torah makes clear that the use of a dildo does not disqualify a girl as a virgin. See Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot,11a. As a corollary, according to R’ Meir, the Torah’s statement regarding Rebecca’s virginity does not preclude her prior use of a dildo.

The Midrash, however, uses a parsing of the same verse to describe the extent of Rebecca’s virginity, by providing a contrast with the other local girls. Other girls would protect the family honor by denying men access to their vagina, so their hymen would remain intact. As they touted their virginity, however, they would freely engage in anal sex. So they were technically virgins, yet men had been intimate with them. Rebecca, on the other hand, was not only a virgin in her place of virginity, but “no man had been intimate with her” at all.

The Midrash also points that Rebecca also had the interesting distinction of being the the first person to have sex with someone who had been circumcised at eight days old; her husband Isaac was the first male to be circumcised that early, whereas her father-in-law Abraham, his servant Eliezer, her brother-in-law Ishmael, and all of the other male members of the family, were circumcised when they were much older. Particularly fascinating is the relevance of this particular Midrash to this particular verse (as opposed to the later verse describing Rebecca’s actual marriage with Isaac). This juxtaposition has led at least one commentary to suggest that the verse “and no man had been intimate with her” was intended to be dismissive of any prior sexual encounters, as no man – defined as one who was circumcised immediately and who grew up without foreskin – was intimate with Rebecca until Isaac.

Finally, the Midrash leaves us with an interesting, if perplexing, alternative interpretation. R’ Yochanan also notes the apparent superfluousness of “a virgin, and no man had been intimate with her,” and concludes that “no man had been intimate with her” means that no man had pursued or expressed interest in her. Why is this is a compliment? Because people are only attracted to like people. Wicked people will be attracted to wicked people, and righteous people will be attracted to righteous people. Thus, the fact that no man sought Rebecca apparently speaks to her righteousness, and her lack of compatibility with wicked people.

This Midrash is difficult to comprehend for several reasons. First, the verse doesn’t confine itself to wicked men. It says that no man was intimate with her. Presumably, this would include righteous men.

Second, our empirical experience is to the contrary. Bad boys are often attracted to good girls. In fact, in next week’s Parshah, the Torah discusses Rebecca being coveted by Avimelech, the King of Philistia, and in the Parshiot of the last two weeks, the Torah related of Sarah being kidnapped twice – once by Avimelech’s predecessor, and once by Pharoah in Egypt. Clearly, all these men had a strong desire for our matriarchs. Indeed, it was their acknowledgment of the simple principle – that wicked men care little for inner beauty but care very much for outer beauty – that led both Abraham and Isaac to pretend that their wives were their sisters in their travels, anticipating that the desire for them would be so great that their husband’s lives would be in danger.

Lastly, this is the exact opposite of the Midrash that applauds Rebecca for having safeguarded both of her sexual entrances. This is only praiseworthy if Rebecca was propositioned for sex, and had the opportunity to surrender her virginity – but chose instead to protect it. The fact that she was presented with such opportunities suggests that she was sought after indeed.

We’ll have to leave that one with a question.

But the over-arching point is this: it’s not clear whether the Torah’s statement regarding Rebecca’s beauty and her purity was something that Eliezer somehow observed or knew instinctively, or whether it is simply G-d confirming her virginity to all future readers of the Parshah. Regardless, it is clear that, despite the obvious character traits and values that we may have expected from Isaac’s bride, from the moment we are introduced to Rebecca we are immediately presented with both her beauty and her sexuality.

By telling us that she is a virgin and that no man has been intimate with her, the Torah marks her as an untouched sexual prize. It injects her sexuality into our consciousness such that we cannot help but wonder: What opportunities for sex did she have? How did she reject them? What would she be like in bed? Now, when she bends over to draw water, we watch her, keenly aware that this is a hot girl who has not yet had sex. As her body moves, we cannot help but be aware of her sexual status, and as she interacts with Eliezer, a male stranger, we wonder: does she sense that Eliezer heralds the end of her sexual innocence?

Or maybe it’s just me 🙂

Shabbat shalom!