Animal Marriage

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 PG-13

There is an interesting and unlikely intersection that takes place in the early Parshiot of the Book of B’reishit — but especially in this week’s Parshah of Noah — between the animal kingdom and the institution of marriage.

First and foremost, marriage between humans and animals was definitely a bad thing.

When G-d decided to bring the Flood, and to eradicate all living creatures, He did it for the following reason: “For all flesh has corrupted its way upon the earth.”[1] The Midrash explains that by using the all-encompassing expression “all flesh,” as opposed to just “man,” G-d intended to refer to animals as well, and that “even cattle, beasts, and fowl would mate with those of other species.”[2] But the Talmud takes this even further, noting that “this teaches that they caused wild beasts and animals, and animals and wild beasts, to copulate; and all of these were brought on to man, and man on to all them.”[3]

But it apparently wasn’t only the act of bestiality that was in vogue during the pre-Flood era. One passage from the Midrash regarding the activities of the generation that precipitated the Flood: “The generation of the Flood was not wiped out until they wrote marriage documents for the union of a man . . . to an animal.”[4]

This means that not only were people sleeping with animals, but they were formally marrying them. This was a level of corruption that G-d could no longer tolerate, and contributed to His decision to wipe out all flesh.

But there is another interesting tie between animals and marriage.

When G-d instructs Noah to take two of every non-kosher species of animal and seven of every kosher species, He says as follows:

“Of all the clean animals you shall take for yourself seven pairs, man and his wife, and of the animals that are not clean, two, man and his wife.”[5]

“Man and his wife”? We’re talking animals here!

And it is not as though the Torah doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe “male” and “female” — indeed, it uses the Hebrew words for male (“zachar”) and female (“nekeiva”) multiple times in this very chapter.[6] Nevertheless, in the aforementioned verse, the Torah deliberately uses the words “ish” — “man” — and “v’ishto” — “and his wife,” to describe the pairs of animals to be spared from destruction.


The Talmud asks this question facetiously: “Have then beasts marital relationships?” Rashi, however, actually points to a deeper facet of this question. He notes that the expression “husband and wife” suggests monogamy; yet very few animals are actually monogamous, with a single female mating with many males. Such a female could not be considered a “wife”; ergo, why would animals be described as “man and his wife”?

The Talmud answers that “man and his wife” are not intended to connote monogamy; rather it simply means that these animals had committed no sin, and had not mated with animals of other species. (How would Noah know? The Talmud gives two opinions: One states that Noah led the animals past the ark, and those that the ark accepted had not been the object of sin. The second is that only those that did not sin came of their own accord.)[7]

Interestingly, however, a reexamination of the origins of the Hebrew words for husband and wife may prove illuminating — supporting this Talmudic explanation, and bringing us full circle back to the intersection of animals, bestiality and marriage.

In last week’s Parshah, B’reishit, we find a fairly cryptic verse. G-d see that Adam did not have a mate, and so He causes him to fall into a deep sleep. While sleeping, G-d removes one of Adam’s sides, builds it into a woman, and brings her to Adam. “And Man said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man).”[8]

“This time”?

Had Adam had a previous experience with a mate who was not “bone of his hones and flesh of his flesh?


The Talmud states that “this time” teaches us that Adam came upon all the animals and the beasts in search of a mate, but he was not satisfied until he encountered Eve.[9] Once he met Eve, however, he realized how inappropriate and unfulfilling inter-species mating was, and he exclaimed: “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” It was in precisely this context that, in his very next words, Adam coined to terms “man and wife.” A woman is called an ishah because she is of the same species as man himself — “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Thus, in its very earliest definition, the Hebrew word for “wife” meant “a mate of the same species.” Consequently, when the Torah wished to describe pairs of animals that had not engaged in inter-species intercourse, it appropriately described them as “each man and his wife.”[10]

The generation of the Flood lost the appreciation and exhilaration that Adam felt when he finally experienced what it meant to merge with someone of his own bone and flesh. Instead, they were regressing to a pre-Eve state of being, in which Man jumped from creature to creature in a fruitless effort to achieve a deep, meaningful and satisfying mating. Perhaps they even sensed this void when they sought to formalize their relationships with their animal mates with marriage contracts. G-d, however, saw this as one step too far in the wrong direction, and the Flood wiped the world clean of all life.

Interestingly, after the Flood, the one clear change in G-d’s instructions to mankind involved the relationship between Man and animals. G-d tells Noah “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation, I have given you everything.”[11] As the Talmud notes, whereas Adam and his generation were only permitted to eat fruits and vegetables, after Noah emerged from the ark, G-d, for the first time, permits man to eat animals, cautioning him only not to eat any part of an animal while the animal is still living.[12] For the first time, though, man could now eat meat.

Why the change? Why now?

Perhaps G-d decided that the best way to maintain the proper distance between humans and animals, and to focus mankind’s sexual attentions on its own species is by placing humans and animals on two different levels of the food chain. Thus, by permitting humans to eat animals, G-d preserved and fortified the wide chasm separating man and beast, and once again returns man to the “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.”

The moral of the story? Eating a good steak should remind you to go home and have sex! (With a human, of course.)

Shabbat shalom!

Works Cited

[1] Genesis, 6:12.

[2] Midrash Tanchuma, Noah, 12.

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 108a.

[4] Midrash Rabba, 26:9.

[5] Genesis, 7:2.

[6] See, e.g., Genesis, 7:3, 6:19.

[7] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 108b.

[8] Genesis, 2:23.

[9] Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 63a.

[10] Traditionally, the prohibition against adultery is derived from the very next verse: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife” (Genesis, 2:24). The possessive suffix of the word “ishto” — “his wife” — is viewed as imposing exclusivity upon a woman, and prohibiting a man from cleaving to someone else’s wife. See Babylonian Talmud, 58a. This textual reading is undermined somewhat by the fact that the very same word “ishto” — again, “his wife” — is used when describing the non-monogamous though sin-free animals boarding the ark.

[11] Genesis, 9:3.

[12] See Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b.