Apostasy, Conversion, and Marriage: Rabbi Jacob Tam’s Ruling Permitting the Marriage of a Female Apostate

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Jewish law imposes far-reaching sanctions upon those who transgress the prohibition of adultery, not least of all the adulteress. Her husband must end the marriage, and following the divorce, the woman is forbidden to marry the adulterer. In addition, the adulteress loses the financial rights recorded in her marriage contract and the identity of the offspring of this act has the status of a mamzer. The Tosafot authored by R. Samson b. Abraham of Sens under his mentor R. Isaac b. Samuel (Ri of Dampierre), in the second half of the twelfth century, records a surprising halakhic opinion attributed to his mentor, R. Jacob b. Meir (Rabbenu Tam), that sexual contact between a Jewish woman and a Gentile is not considered adultery. The frequency of cases of apostasy led R. Tam and his circle to invest efforts in restoring to the community those who had converted to Christianity. Marital bonds with Christians were a significant obstacle to those Jews who wished to return to Jewish life. R. Tam therefore ruled that even if the relationship commenced before the woman received the bill of divorce from her first husband, the case is not defined as adultery, and the apostate and her Gentile partner are permitted to continue their shared life as Jews. The notion that sexual relations with a Gentile are different from those with a Jew also resolved legal complications resulting from acts of rape against Jewish women and eased the accompanying burden of shame and defilement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-324
Number of pages26
JournalJewish History
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • Adultery
  • Conversion
  • Halakhah
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Marriage
  • Sexuality
  • Tosafot


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