Rabbinic Understandings of Marital Rape in the Talmud
In this chapter, Mari Rethelyi uses religious studies and textual approaches to consider attitudes towards marital rape expressed in the Jewish rabbinic traditions, particularly the Babylonian Talmud. Rethelyi notes that, from the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmudim up to the present day, rabbinic texts discuss female rape within the context of proper/improper and legitimate/illegitimate sexual relations between married men and women. To explore their approach to marital sexual violence, she considers first the broader topic of sexuality within marriage, which is subject to two distinct legal regulations within Judaism: the laws of onah (regulating male sexuality and men’s conjugal duties) and the laws of niddah (regulating women’s menstrual cycles, purity status, and their “availability” to have marital sexual relations). Drawing on these legal traditions, Rethelyi maps out rabbinic understandings of and responses to marital rape. While the laws do, to some degree, offer women a form of protection from spousal sexual violence, they nevertheless remain rooted within patriarchal discourses, which sustain certain gender inequalities while also evoking rape-supportive understandings of sexuality and gender relations.
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