Copyright © 2012 by Gary Konecky

In the next installment, we will explore Deuteronomy 23:18, which covers prostitution.  The Hebrew word Kedushah is the Hebrew word for holiness.  It also shares the same Hebrew root word (see part 6 of this series) as the root word for prostitute.  Therefore, before we can begin to explore the meaning of Deuteronomy 23:18 and its ban on prostitution, we must first explore what Kedushah is and how it works. 

Exodus 20:8-11 discusses the Jewish Sabbath.  These verses tell us to keep the Sabbath day, that the Sabbath is holy, and that the L-rd blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.  The Sabbath is set apart from the rest of the week.  It is the only day of the week to have a name in the Hebrew bible. 

Additionally, G-d (who exemplifies all that is holy) is set apart and exalted above all that He created.  Scared objects such as the Torah, the Holy Temple, G-d’s name, as well as the Sabbath and festivals themselves are all set apart from the secular.

A significant portion of the Book of Leviticus discusses in great detail how holy objects are to be treated.  The Hebrew bible discusses the rules for someone to behave in a holy manner.  These rules cover every aspect of one’s life including; sexual activities, social obligations, criminal and civil law, business ethics, personal obligations, dietary restrictions, and religious obligations.  Every one of these rules not only instructed the Jewish people in what G-d expected of them, but these rules also separated the Jewish people from the other nations. 

The Hebrew word Kedushah that we translate as holy, is not so much about holiness, as it is about being separate.  For an object to be holy, not only must it have sanctity, but it must also be separate from the secular and the profane. 

With this thought, we now turn toward the prostitute.  Prostitution has been with us almost as long as sex has.  Prostitutes in ancient Israel were shunned.  Their way of earning a livelihood was not looked on with favor.  They were kept separate from the rest of society as much as possible.  Hence the Hebrew root word for prostitute and prostitution has the same root word as the word for separate. 

For scared objects, days and people, this was about holiness, and the need to keep the holy separate from the secular and the profane.  For prostitutes, this was about keeping them separate from the Holy.  The Hebrew root word used is the same, the goal is the same, and the need for separateness is the same.



Based in part on pages 53-54 of The Book of Customs, A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year, by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, Haper One, copyright 2004


My gratitude to Rabbi Baruch Price and Rabbi David Pietruszka for their insights into Kedushah.

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