Why Isn’t Molestation Prohibited in the Torah?

Dear JITC-

I once spoke to an Orthodox Jew who told me that he didn’t have to report abuse because there is no source for molestation being prohibited in the Torah. Why isn’t it sourced explicitly? How do we understand that it is indeed wrong according to Judaism?



Dear J.A.-

Wow. There is so much wrong with that that I don’t even know where to begin.

Just because something isn’t overtly named in the form of “Thou shalt not,” that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily permitted. The Torah doesn’t say anything about light bulbs, cars or computers but I suspect the Orthodox Jew in your question would concede that the Torah has rules about the use of such devices on Shabbos. Similarly, if I were to stab that person in the shoulder with a knife, I suspect that he would argue that doing so is prohibited despite the lack of any overt Biblical injunction against it.

Driving on Shabbos is Biblically prohibited. Stabbing someone in the shoulder is Biblically prohibited. Molestation is Biblically prohibited. You just have to know where to look.

Before we look at the legal portions of the Torah, let’s look at Biblical precedent that occurs in the narrative portions of the text, of which there are two.

The first, and more famous, is the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah by Shechem in Genesis chapter 34. Her brothers Shimon and Levi not only executed the offender, they led a massacre against the entire city for refusing to bring him to justice. Their father, Jacob, objected to their actions – not because it was unjust but because he was afraid of the reaction that other inhabitants of the land would have. Shimon and Levi replied, “Should we let our sister be treated like a prostitute?” You will notice that they get the last word on the subject.

The other incident is when King David’s daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon in II Samuel chapter 13. In this instance, Amnon was killed by Tamar’s full brother, Avshalom. This drove a wedge between David and Avshalom (later reconciled, subsequently estranged for other reasons). But this was strictly a familial matter – it would be a big strain on relations in any family if one of the kids were to kill another regardless of the provocation. But again, none of the objections include any suggestion that Amnon didn’t deserve what he got.

In truth, rape and seduction are both prohibited (Deuteronomy 22:29 and Exodus 22:15-16, respectively). For that matter, so is any extramarital sexual congress even if consensual (Deuteronomy 23:18). Not only that, so is extramarital romantic activity that doesn’t include actual sex (Leviticus 18:6). So the assertion that molestation is somehow not prohibited by one or more of these is downright bizarre.

I have seen on anti-Semitic web sites the claim that Judaism permits the sexual molestation of children because the Talmud discusses the legal ramifications of sex with children above and below different ages. None of this makes any sense because discussing the legal ramifications does not suggest in any way that the action is permitted. It only reflects what happens should such a thing occur. It’s disheartening enough to see such canards on explicitly anti-Semitic web sites; do well-meaning but ignorant Jews really need to give them additional fodder?

Another point to consider: Leviticus 19:16 prohibits standing idly by when another person is in danger. Even if sexual abuse were not explicitly prohibited – and it is – reporting it would still fall under the rubric of saving the endangered.

Not only that, there is a legal principle of dina d’malchusa dina, that “the law of the land is the law” (Nedarim 28a, Gittin 10b, Baba Kama 113a and Baba Basra 54b-55a). Secular governments can’t compel us to do things that the Torah prohibits but they can oblige us in areas not proscribed by the Torah. You have to pay your taxes because secular law requires it. You can’t drive 95 and speed through red lights because secular law prohibits it. And if the Torah didn’t prohibit molestation – which, again, I assure you it does – it would still be religiously prohibited because we are bound by the principle of dina d’malchusa dina.

The assertion that sexual abuse of any kind is not explicitly prohibited by the Torah is both fallacious and dangerous. It’s prohibited by precedent, by numerous overt Torah prohibitions and obliquely by other prohibitions. Even if none of this were the case, the Torah would require that one refrain by dint of secular law.

There’s no area that isn’t covered by Torah – “turn it over and turn it over, for everything is in it” – Avos 5:22 – but some things are easier to find than others. Sometimes, things are staring us in the face and, for whatever reason, someone chooses not to see them.

Read more about the (misguided) tendency not to report abuse here.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
JITC Educational Correspondent

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  • Avatar photo Penina Randolph says on October 16, 2018

    Is shaming the one who asked the correct way to respond to such a sensitive subject? All your points may be valid but the question posed is not out of sheer ignorance. I agree all answers are within it, but to wonder why the topic of molestation hasn’t gotten more attention in the Torah is 100% valid. I’d easier believe the spotlight should be angled more towards the Rabbinical council for not exploring and teaching those areas more strictly.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on October 16, 2018

      Thanks for your comment, Penina. Rabbi Abramowitz wasn’t shaming the question-asker, he was incredulous at what the question-asker had been told by someone Orthodox.

  • Avatar photo Semmy says on October 17, 2018

    Note that there isn’t a “Rabbinical council” that decides things and directs all orthodox jews (some would say that’s part of the problem)


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