In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


In classical rabbinic literature, the moment of revelation on Mount Sinai is often metaphorically conceived of as a marriage between the Torah and the Jewish people:

The bridegroom, so long as he has not actually married his bride, becomes a regular visitor in the house of his future father-in-law. From the time they are married, however, her father must come to visit her. Similarly, so long as the Torah had not been given to Israel, the Torah says that “Moses went up to God” (Exodus 19:3). Once the Torah was there with Israel, God said to Moses, “Make Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).1

Such metaphors were intended to convey not only the binding, committed nature of the relationship between the Torah and the Jewish people, but also the profound love that such a relationship implies:

When the blessed Holy One gave the Torah to Israel, it was then as beloved to them as a bride is to her spouse, as it says, “and God gave it to Moses as his bride.”2

This metaphorical conception of the relationship between the Torah and the Jewish people as a binding, committed love relationship—as a marriage—resonated with the rabbis because it reflected the nature of the relationship [End Page 61] between the Torah and the individual Jew as it was experienced in classical rabbinic culture:

It was taught: Rabbi Eliezer said, “One who does not engage in procreation, it is as if such a one sheds blood” . . . Rabbi Jacob said, “It is as if that person diminishes the divine image” . . . Ben Azzai said, “It is as if that person sheds blood and diminishes the divine image” . . . They said to Ben Azzai, “Some expound well and act well, others act well but do not expound well. You, however, expound well but do not act well [since you have refrained from getting married and procreating]!” Ben Azzai replied, “What can I do? My soul is in love with the Torah. The world can be perpetuated by others.”3

However, when speaking metaphorically about the relationship between the Torah and the Jewish people—or the Jewish individual—in the context of their own contemporary culture (and not in the context of the revelation at Mount Sinai), the relationship is most often conceived of not as a full marriage, but merely as a betrothal:

If one dreams he has intercourse with a betrothed woman, he may expect [to acquire knowledge of] Torah, since it says, “Moses commanded the Torah to us as a heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Don’t read heritage (morashah) but betrothed (me’orasah).4

To be betrothed is to be in a binding, committed relationship, yet without access to the true intimacy that only comes when the betrothal is consummated as a marriage.5 In the relationship between the Jewish individual and the Torah, this happens through the act of study, which in keeping with this metaphorical framework, becomes conceived of as an act of sexual intimacy:

Rabbi Ḥiyya taught: Anyone who engages in Torah study in front of a Jew who doesn’t study Torah, it is as if he has intercourse with his [i.e., that person’s] betrothed right in front of him, as it says, “Moses bequeathed the Torah to us as a heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Don’t read heritage (morashah) but betrothed (me’orasah).6 [End Page 62]

This metaphorical conception of Torah study as the consummation of a marriage implies that whenever Jews study the Torah, it is as though they are engaging in that transformative act of sexual intimacy with a betrothed for the first time:

Rabbi Shemuel bar Naḥmani said: “What is the meaning of the verse, ‘A beloved doe, inspiring favor’ (Proverbs 5:19)? Why are the words of the Torah compared to a doe? Just as a doe has a tight vagina, and is beloved to her mate each time just like the first time, so too are the words of Torah as beloved to those who study them each time just...


Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.