I was wondering. I've heard different things from different people, and was told a lot of different opinions. In Judaism, among Jews, what is considered as 'losing your virginity', particularly for a girl? I've always viewed it to be when a girl's hymen is broken by a man in a sexual act, but some people have been telling me otherwise. So my question is, 'What constitutes 'losing your virginity' for a girl?' What would change her status from 'virgin' to not?
In his book Jewish Spiritual Intimacy, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi cites a powerful Jewish aphorism: "The body is the instrument on which the soul plays life for God." How might this be interpreted in the light of the question posed? First, that a person's body is a most sensitive, magnificent instrument played by our very soul. And, many educated Jewish persons attempt to align the symphony of their soul in this life, each and every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual note, composed as though for the pleasure of a witnessing God. And, a person's body, regardless of gender, is connected to a person's soul and every "first" affects and informs future encounters; the sound of our song is shaped by our experiences.
I have written above to contextualize your question. A female who had never been vaginally penetrated by a penis, such a female was a prized commodity in patriarchal societies. Judaism handles the definition of "virgin" differently, "deflowering," as in a breaking through, or breaking off, is not the focus. There is a distinction made in Judaism between a bachor (m) and a betulah (f), those who have not been married and are of age and eligible to do so, and the patriarchy's "prized female marriage candidate"-- a female never entered by a man. This is spelled out early in the Torah where Rebecca is asked if she will go with Eliezer to marry Isaac [Gen 24:58]. Rebecca is called a betulah, girl not previously married, and then the text notes her added qualification for this high status marriage, she is a girl "whom no man had known." ["to know" being the Torah's euphemism for sex.]
That's only part of the answer to your question.
Exodus 22:15–16 gives us the example of a father who refuses to give his daughter to the rapist in marriage. Even so, the rapist must pay a mohar betulot, a "certified marriageable girl price" to her father. And apparently, a father could opt to compel a girl to marry her rapist, Deuteronomy 22:23–27. Where a girl has been betrothed and been deemed to having willingly entered into sex with someone other than the one to whom she is betrothed, both she and her sex partner are to be stoned to death. Deut 22: 23-4 declares that when a male forces a betrothed girl to have sex where she could not be heard crying out for help and rescued or declared innocent of initiating the act, only the male killed--stoned to death.
Patriarchal privilege regarding female penetration didn't begin with the "divine right of kings," it is horrifically evident in the story of Lot offering his daughters for mass rape to deflect a rampaging horde from his home and male guests, Genesis 19:8; cf. Judges 19:24, where he cites his daughters as "v'lo yadu ish--who have not known a man." Such "texts of terror" as they are called by scholar Phyllis Tribling, also can include Numbers 31:18 and Judges 21:12 which relate that in a war where all of the opposing side are to be killed, one subset of females get to live: "khol ha-taf ba-nashim asher lo yadu zakhar ha-chayu la-chem–all female children who haven't been known to lie with a male, their lives are for you." In other words, the soldiers who capture them get to keep them as a prize of war. Biblically, those taken hostage or into slavery by Israelite enemies were reciprocally presumed to have been raped.
As still continues to be the case within Judaism, our practices evolve to better honor the personhood of girls and women, to ensure the song of their souls have opportunity for healing, full inclusion in Jewish peoplehood and marriage, and a good, full life. Whether the hymen is broken, or not, is not the status determining issue for "virginity" in Judaism. [See Rav Yoezer Ariel. Taanat Betulim Bizman Hazeh. Assia 15 Kislev 5766] The Talmud clearly states that a raped toddler did not lose betulah status; and, that where bodily openings appear children might "injure" themselves out of curiosity became recognized, or an ancient or contemporary tampon to absorb menstrual flow might have broken through. As girls grow and bodies stretch, many a hymen develops a hole or separates from the wall and falls away naturally. The hymen wasn't put there for male conquest, its just part of the developing female reproductive system. Rabbinic authorities have long recognized that females who have actually not been penis-penetrated can also be without an intact hymen, and no blame or status change is associated with such a physical state. [Sources, Talmud Ketubot 1:2 and 1:7, Niddah 5:4, Kid. 9b; cf. Rashi, ad loc.; Maim. Yad, Issurei Bi'ah, 3:6.]
While we are having this discussion, let's debunk the persistent urban legend about bloodstained sheets being hung up for view by ultra-religious Jews to demonstrate the bride was a hymenal virgin. Crude misinterpretations on some obviously non-rabbinic Internet sites can be found this fable derived from Deuteronomy 22:13-17, where a husband claims his wife had sex before marriage with another man. In the Biblical story the parents bring witnesses to clear their daughter's name and then "spread out a simla before the elders of the city". In Jewish law and tradition this term simla, "garment" (sometimes mistranslated as 'sheet') is taken solely figuratively to mean they had "made their case."
Judaism does take bleeding seriously; there is tradition, law and guidance for how a married couple might work around menstrual bleeding in relation to love-making, and how to handle bleeding in the rare event of an actual wedding night hymen perforation. Judaism respects blood as representing the gift of life, and a reflection of potential fertility:
Mishna. “Young women are like vines. There is a vine whose wine is red. A vine whose wine is abundant and a vine whose wine is sparse. Rabbi Judah said: ‘Every vine has its wine.’ Gemara. Reb Hiyya taught: ‘As leaven is wholesome for the dough so is blood wholesome for a woman.’ One taught in the name of Rabbi Meir: ‘Of a woman with an abundance of blood many children may come.’ [Talmud Niddah: 64b]
While not medically accurate, there are post-menstrual menopausal births and some conceptions occur among young women who have lost their menstrual periods (from starvation in concentration camps, anorexia nervosa, medical treatment for cancers, etc.). The viewpoint in the Talmudic text is that a woman's bleeding is essential - it is the wine of fertility. Niddah, or taharat haMishpachah, are terms for Jewish practices which honor the passing of an egg and thus, the potential of creating life, as well semen that is emitted not inside of a ritually readied-to-conceive Jewish woman, is called niddah. (See Living Jewish Life Cycle: How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage for Every Stage of Life, Jewish Lights Publishing)
In conclusion: Your specific question was about a girl." In our times a "girl" is too young for sex and marriage, so I hope your intent is actually to refer to an emotionally mature young woman. The transformations that happen when people shift from single to married are huge, and few arrive at marriage without prior sexual experience. In our times it is a first marriage itself that is the virgin experience. Much that once seemed behaviorally attractive about each other for a couple getting married seems to be what each other to modify after marriage. So a contemporary loss of "virginity" might be viewed as symbolically commencing with the act of completion of the Jewish wedding process-- the first time a now married couple makes love after the huppah (ritual under the Jewish wedding "canopy").
May all who engage in lovemaking do so with holy and healthy intent and action. And may all who enter blessed, committed relationships – for the first, second, or any number of hopeful times, be blessed to delight in the duet of embodied souls playing their first married love song for God.
I am not sure what "some people" have been telling you, but your assumption is generally correct. If there was a sexual act without the break, that too would consitutute loss of status. A break absent any sexual act would not lead to loss of status.
I know that all this sounds somewhat bizarre in this era, but the main thrust is to encourage sexual propriety in the population.
Rabbinical texts argue that so long as the hymen remains intact, the young woman is still regarded as a virgin. The term áÀÌúåÌìÈä (bĕtûlâ) is derived from the rare verb áúì (bĕtal), which means, “to sever,” or “separate”).
Being a virgin is not limited to any specific age—one could theoretically be a 70 year old virgin. I recall once hearing a joke from an Arab comic who said that a suicide bomber expects to have seventy virgins in the Afterlife. Once he is there, what he really discovers is that Allah gives him only one virgin, who happens to be seventy years old!
Some scholars take a different attitude and claim that áÀÌúåÌìÈä (bĕtûlâ) means a “young unmarried girl.” Other cognate languages of the Ancient Near East support such a rendering. However, in Joel 1:8, the bĕtûlâ means a “young woman” who has already had a husband. According to this definition, one could not be a 70 year old virgin.
What if she only had anal intercourse or oral sex, could she still be considered a virgin? One might argue that touching a young maiden in any sort of sexual way might disqualify her "maiden" status. For example: Rebekah is praised for being “was very beautiful, a virgin, untouched by man” (Gen. 24:16). Rabbinical tradition adds that the term “untouched” means exactly what it says—she did not act out in any sexual way or manner (see Rashi’s commentary and the Midrash Gen Rabbah 65:6).
In all honesty, biblical interpretation and rabbinical law don't always agree with one another.
Maimonides writes about this kinky situation. According to him if ten men had anal sex with a maiden, they could all be summarily executed by stoning—assuming she was betrothed at the time of her liaisons. However, her virginal status still remains in place!  Lastly, it seem based on Maimonides (and some other rabbinical sources) that if a maiden acted promiscuously and had non vaginal sex with a several men—she could still be considered a virgin according to the Halacha.
The fact that something is "legal" doesn’t mean it is a correct course of action to pursue. It is unfortunate that so many men view sex as a purely physical activity bereft of emotional bonding and meaning. Many young women (and women in general) confuse sexuality with love; they are not synonymous. It is far better for a woman to save her virginity for that one special person whom she truly loves. If a man cannot recognize the unique human being a woman truly is, he is not worth dating or marrying.
Your question is Jewishly important because traditionally the bride’s status changes depending on whether or not she is on betulah, a virgin. On a ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract, it stipulates that the groom pays the bride in zuzim (an ancient monetary denomination) and that the amount is 200 zuzuim for a betulah, a virgin, and 100 zuzim is for someone who is not. The payment is symbolized by the groom giving a ring to the bride during the wedding ceremony. An actual payment of money is only made if the couple divorces. A woman is no longer a betulah (virgin) if she has had sexual intercourse, defined as the insertion of a man’s penis into her vagina. Jewish tradition explicitly states that the status of her hymen does not determine to her standing as a virgin. As for determining whether or not she is a virgin, it is assumed that a woman who was getting married for the first time is a betulah and that only someone who has been married before is not.
In Orthodox Judaism there are many, many, intricate Jewish legal issues that follow from this, but not for Reform Judaism because it has done away with the concept of a payment or bride price. For Reform Judaism the question is, given the realities of our modern world where marriage often occurs at a later age and there is equality between men and women, is there still any importance to a woman being a virgin when she marries? The short answer is no. Instead, Reform tradition turns to two other Jewish concepts, tzinut, modesty, and brit, a covenantal, or mutually committed, lifelong, relationship.
Tzinut or modesty is an important consideration in any romantic relationship between a man and woman. Reform tradition would like couples to consider if the level of physical intimacy between them is commensurate with depth of their emotional relationship. As well, it would consider the relationship to be in harmony with Jewish values if it was helping each of them build the skills that will enable them to form a lifelong commitment, or brit, whether with this person or someone else.
The question behind your question seems to be, “how can I technically remain a virgin even if I’m being very physically intimate with someone?” Reform Judaism would not regard whether or not you’re a virgin as being a terribly important. Rather it would ask you to think about whether the level of physical intimacy you’re engaged in, or considering, is appropriate for both your age and how committed you and your partner are to each other. It would direct you back to the question of tzinut, appropriate modesty between people, and brit, the question of trust and commitment between you and the person you’re involved with. In an age where young adults live independently of their parents for many years before getting married, virginity has become largely irrelevant vis a vis marriage. The vast majority of couples that Reform rabbis marry have already been living together. One assumes there are very few virgins among them. What continues to be important is Jewish tradition’s concern for appropriate boundaries between people and the value it puts upon an individual being able to enter into a lifelong commitment with someone else, which is then formalized through institution of marriage.
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