The Talmud Does Not Permit Sex With A Three Year Old
Written by Gil Student
Yebhamot 11b: "Sexual intercourse with a little girl is permitted if she is three years of age."
The accusation here is quite nefarious. It implies that Judaism permits pedophilia, has no respect for women, and generally advocates loose sexual morals. To those familiar with the Talmud, this claim is patently ridiculous. However, the majority of people — particularly those making this claim — know little to nothing about the Talmud, its contents, or its methodology. On our website The Real Truth About The Talmud, we elaborate on these issues. However, for now, we will focus on the accusation at hand. It is, in fact, easily verified as being incorrect.
Talmud Ketuvot 11b (The citation mentioned is evidently in error. Talmud Yevamot 11b has no relevant passage)
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: A male child who has relations with a female adult causes her to be like one who was injured with a stick... Rava said: This is what was meant - an adult male who has relations with a female child has not done anything because less than this [three years old] is like sticking a finger into an eyeball.
While those unused to these Talmudic discussions might be taken aback by the use of euphemisms, the discussion here relates to the dowry for virgins and non-virgins. It has nothing to do with what acts are allowed, encouraged, forbidden, or discouraged. It is, indeed, ironic that this passage has been manipulated from its original context of a financial discussion into one of a religious discussion. While there are numerous talmudic passages of a religious nature, this one discusses dowries and not forbidden and permitted relations!
The Talmud relates that a virgin is entitled a higher dowry. While the tell-tale sign of virginity is the release of blood due to the breaking of the hymen on the wedding night, there are occasions when the hymen has already been broken such as when the woman suffered an injury. The Talmud here quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav that a sexual act with a male minor is not considered to be a loss of virginity because one of the participants is not fully active. While the female's hymen may have been broken, she has not engaged in what can be classified as a sexual act (although it is certainly child abuse).
The Talmud continues and quotes Rava as saying that a sexual act between a male adult and a female under the age of three is also not considered a loss of virginity (although it is child abuse). Since the girl is too young for her hymen to be broken, she is still considered a virgin.
Nowhere is the Talmud permitting such behavior. Sex outside of a marriage is strictly forbidden (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 1:4, Hilchot Na'arah Betulah 2:17; Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 26:1, 177:5) as is this obvious case of child abuse. The Talmud is only discussing ex post facto what would happen if such a case arose.
That non-marital sexual relations is prohibited is stated explicitly by Maimonides in the following passage from his ground-breaking legal code Mishneh Torah:
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 1:4
Whoever has licentious relations with a woman without marriage bonds is lashed by biblical mandate.
The claim that the Talmud, or normative Judaism, permits sexual relations with a minor is almost entirely incorrect. The slight truth in it is that, in certain societies in history, people were sometimes married as young as ten. While this was most recently done in Czarist Russia in order to avoid being drafted into the Czar's army (which was made especially difficult for Jews), it is not currently done. However, even in that case, marriage is required before having sexual relations. Judaism as a religion prohibits sexual relations, indeed even minor touching such as holding hands, outside of marriage.
It is certainly true that there are individual Jews who do not follow the teaching of the Talmud. That is their personal choice, just like many Catholics choose to use birth control and have premarital relations despite their religion's teaching against it. This does not mean that Catholicism permits premarital relations and it does not mean that Judaism (and the Talmud) does either. The personal choices of people whether to follow completely their religion does not reflect on what their religion teaches. Similarly, the fact that certain Muslims drink alcohol and frequent prostitutes does not mean that their religion permits it. It means that these individuals choose to defy their religion.
We leave it to others to deduce why some people would make baseless accusations against the Talmud and, by implication, Judaism and Jews.