NOTE: The following is essentially identical to the published version, minus revisions made in the course of final editing and proofreading.
In the following, x = het and { = ayin.

It is a great personal pleasure for me to take part in this volume honoring my teacher and friend, Prof. Yochanan Muffs. Yochanan was my teacher at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in the 1950s and later at the Jewish Theological Seminary. It was he who first introduced me to the fascinating world of Biblical scholarship, and his model that led me to choose the field as my life's work. I cannot imagine a more exciting, encouraging teacher or a more sensitive, profound expositor of the Bible and cognate literature. The succeeding years have brought continued manifestations of his extraordinary scholarly and personal qualities. Nothing could please me more than to acknowledge my debt to him and to join in this expression of good wishes.

The focus of this article is a text from Qumran that requires the examination of a bride who is accused of premarital intercourse. The text is an adaptation of the Biblical law in Deut. 22:13-22.  According to the law in Deuteronomy, if a newly-married man claims that he found his bride not to be a virgin, her parents must rebut the charge by producing a bloodstained garment or bedcloth proving that her hymen had been broken at the consummation of the marriage:

Although bloodstained cloths and garments are widely used to prove the virginity of brides in the Middle East and elsewhere,1 such evidence is notoriously unreliable.  It was already recognized in Talmudic times that the absence of blood is no proof of premarital intercourse, since a girl's hymen may have been broken or stretched by vigorous activity or injury.2 It was likewise recognized that bloodstains are not proof of virginity, since the evidence can be falsified by the bride at the time or consummation or later by her parents, who keep the cloth afterwards in case it is required as evidence.3 Talmudic sources report that in some places companions (shoshbinin) of the bride and groom would frisk them both as they entered the nuptial chamber to make certain that she did not bring an already stained cloth with her and that he did not bring a clean cloth to switch with the stained one in order to destroy the evidence of virgini-ty in case he should later decide to bring false charges.4

The inadequacy of the cloth as evidence is reflected in the halakhah, which holds that in fact the case must be resolved by witnesses. As read by the halakhah, Deuteronomy 22:13-22 refers to a case where the new husband claims that, finding no evidence of virginity, he investigated and learned from others that his fiancee had engaged in sexual relations after becoming engaged to him. He must produce two witnesses who saw her sin, and her parents can disprove the charge only by producing other witnesses who counter the husband's, thus laying out the facts "like a cloth."5 This forced interpretation is testimony to the impracticability of the law as stated in Deuteronomy.

     The adaptation of this law found at Qumran represents a pre-rabbinic attempt to employ other means to resolve the case. The text, 4Q159, is a fragmentary collection of laws paraphrasing and modifying a number of Biblical laws. Lines 8-10 of the text read as follows:6

ki yotsi' 'ish shem ra{ {al betulat yisra'el 'im b[yom] qaxto
 'otah yo'mar uviqqeruha [      ]
ne'emanot v'im lo' kixesh {aleiha vehumeta ve'im be[sheqer] {ana
 bah vene{enash shnei manim [velo'}]
yeshallax kol yamav

"If a man defames an Israelite virgin, if he speaks out on [the day] he marries her, trustworthy [...] shall examine7 her/it, and if he has not lied about her, she shall be executed. But if he testified against her false[ly], he  shall be fined two minas [...] and he may [not] divorce (her) for his entire life...

     The key question raised by the Qumran text is who or what is examined and by whom. The feminine adjective ne'emanot following the lacuna indicates that the examiners are women. Several later parallels make it virtually certain that what they examine is the bride herself. Hence, the original reading of the text was probably uviqqeruha nashim ne'emanot, "trustworthy women shall examine her."

 The first parallel is found in the commentary of R. Menahem b. Solomon ha-Meiri, a fourteenth-century Provencal talmudist, on Tractate Ketubbot.8 Talmudic sources mention two grounds which might lead a groom to suspect his bride's virginity: her failure to bleed at consummation (damim, "[lack of] blood") and an open, unconstricted vaginal passage (petax patuax, "an open door"). The Meiri notes that grooms are sometimes suspicious even if their brides bleed or their vaginal passages are constricted, ostensibly indicating virginity, since both of these effects can be produced fraudulently, as indicated in medical books of his time. Undoubtedly he has in mind such tricks as the bride producing blood by cutting herself or by inserting a sponge or a small pouch containing blood from fowl that bursts in the vagina during intercourse; narrowing the vaginal opening by inserting a tampon or by rubbing the vulva with an astringent such as alum; or having the broken hymen, or part of the labia, stitched together to produce both effects.9 The Meiri quotes halakhic sources that hold that the companions (shoshbinin) of the bride and groom could by themselves verify only that the bride had not produced bloodstains fraudulently, but they had no way of determining whether or not not her vaginal passage was narrowed fraudulently. He conjectures that in such a case the companions would have "respected women" (nashim xashuvot) determine whether or not the bride had produced narrowness by fraud.

     Two other parallels are attested in more recent times. According to A. Musil, among the fellahin of Transjordan in the nineteenth century, if a husband publicly accused his bride of not being a virgin, she would be examined by experienced women of the better families ("Erfahrene Frauen, und zwar Frauen aus allen besseren Familien, muessen das Maedchen untersuchen").10 In a twentieth century study of Morocco, D.W. Dwyer describes what might happen at a wedding if the groom

discovers that his putatively virginal bride is not a virgin. He might storm out of the bridal chamber and curse the bride and her family while pointing to the room, which a flock of women immediately enter. Thereupon the bride is immediately checked. Should her virginity still be in dispute, outside experts, old well-regarded women and/or West-ern-trained doctors, might be called in for their diagnoses.12
     The role of trustworthy women in a related matter is attested in a Hebrew certificate of accidental defloration (shetar mukkat {ets) written in Florence, Italy in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.12 The document attests to the fact that a three-year old girl broke her hymen in a fall from a chair. "Reliable, honest women" (nashim ne'emanot ukhesherot) witnessed the incident and so testified before the authorities who wrote the document and gave it to the girl's parents to save as evidence, when she marries, that her hymen was not broken by intercourse.13

Precisely what the examiners would look for and what this would be thought to prove is not stated in the sources cited. An immediate examination and search might determine whether the bride had been sutured, inserted a tampon or a container of blood, had cut herself to produce blood, or perhaps whether she had used an astringent. If the bride did not bleed or have a narrow vaginal passage, examination could certainly determine whether or not her hymen was still intact and unstretched. What could be done with this evidence, however, is not certain. Much would depend on the sophistication of the examiners. There is a natural opening in all normal hymens, but its size varies. An intact hymen with a small opening would be strong evidence that the girl had never been penetrated, proving her still a virgin and indicating that even her husband had not penetrated her, perhaps because of impotence, possibly temporarily induced by anxiety. Fresh lacerations of the hymen would indicate that she had just been deflowered and that her husband was lying or, in his inexperience, didn't realize that he had deflowered her. But they would not necessarily prove that this had been the girl's first experience of intercourse. A large natural opening of the hymen, or a previous lover with a small penis, might have left her hymen intact after previous intercourse. In the opinion of modern medical practitioners, there is no absolutely certain way to prove that a recent act of coitus was not a girl's first.15 Nevertheless, examination of the bride is a far more reliable test than examining a cloth.

     The consistent reference to trustworthy, well-regarded prominent women as examining accused brides, and as attesting to accidental damage to the hymen, in sources from Israel, Transjordan, Provence, Italy, and Morocco over a span of two millennia makes the restoration of nashim ne'emanot in 4Q159 virtual-ly certain. This document represents the earliest known attempt  in Jewish law to deal with the accusation against a bride in a way that that from a medical point of view is more reliable than examination of a garment or cloth -- an early example of forensic medicine.15

 POSTSCRIPT: Shortly before this article went to press I learned that the restoration proposed above is virtually confirmed by an unpublished passage of the Damascus Document from Qumran Cave 4. A section dealing with precautions to prevent the father of the bride from misleading her future husband contains the provision that under certain circumstances -- apparently, if she has a bad reputation prior to marriage -- a man should not marry a girl except after examination by nash[i]m ne'ema-not veyode{ot berurot mi-ma'amar hamevaqqer, "trustworthy, knowledgeable women chosen on the instructions of the mevaqqer." This passage, from the composite text of manuscript D prepared by J. T. Milik, was called to my attention by Elisha Qimron; Joseph M. Baumgarten kindly showed me the text and photographs of the pertinent fragments. For a brief description of this section of the text, see Baumgarten, "The Laws of the Damascus Document in Current Research," in M. Broshi, The Damascus Document Reconsidered (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and The Shrine of the Book, 1992), p. 54.


     1. S.R. Driver, Deuteronomy, 255; E. Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco  (London: Macmillan, 1914), 159, 228, etc. (see index s.v. "Virginity, marks of the bride's"); H. Granqvist, Marriage Conditions in a Palestinian Village (Helsingfors: Akademische Buchhandlung, 1931-1935) 2:127-130; J.J. Meyer, Sexual Life in Ancient India (New York: Dutton, 1930) 1:43 n. 1. The practice figures in the recent movie Wedding in Galilee about an Arab village in Israel. For the practice among Jews in Talmudic through modern times see B. Ketubot 16b (mappa shel betulim); Tanhuma, Korah, sec. 9; Karaite sources cited by M. Malul, "SUSAPINNU. The Mesopotamian paranymph and his role," JESHO 32 (1989):264; EJ 11:1045; I. Ben-Ami and D. Noy,  eds., Studies in Marriage Customs (Folklore Research Center Studies 4 [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1974]),  54, 174, 260, 262 (ref. courtesy of my colleague, Prof. Dan Ben-Amos).

     2. Talmudic sources mention this, as well as the fact that the hymen may not always be perforated or bleed on first intercourse. See J. Preuss, Biblical and Talmudic Medicine, trans F. Rosner (New York: Sanhedrin Press [Hebrew Publishing Company], 1978), 477, 479; cf. W.J. Sweeney III, Woman's Doctor (New York: Morrow, 1973), 260.

     3. The possibility that the bride used blood from a bird is mentioned in P. Ketubot 1:1, 25a tenth line from end; 4:4, 28c line 7. Abarbanel and Luzzatto also mention the possibility of deception (Perush {al ha-Torah...Don Yitsxaq 'Abarbanel [Jerusalem: Bnei Arbel, 1979], 209c; P. Schlesinger, ed., Perush Sdada"l {al Xamisha Xumeshei Torah [Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1965], 542).

 4. B. Ketubot 12a (see the commentaries of Rashi and Meiri [Beit Ha-bexirah {al Massekhet Ketubot, ed. A. Sofer (Jerusalem, 1947), 55-56] and Steinsaltz's marginal note s.v. mishmush); P. Ketubot 1:1, 25a; T. Ketubot 1:4ff. Ploss and Bartels cite a south Russian practice of strip searching the bride to be sure she is not attempting to feign virginity (H. Ploss and M. Bartels, Das Weib in der Natur- und Voelkerkunde [11th edition, ed. Ferd. Frhr. von Reizenstein; Berlin: Neufeld and Henius, 1927], 2:51). For the Near Eastern background and parallels to the shoshbin see M. Malul, "SUSAPINNU. The Mesopotamian paranymph and his role," JESHO 32 (1989):241-278; Ha-shoshbin beteqes ha-nissu'in bemoroqo: {Iyyun bemeqorotav shel mosad xevrati {atiq yomin (forthcoming).

     5. Sifrei Deuteronomy secs. 235-237; B. Ketubot 11b, 46a; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Nacarah Betulah, 3:6, 12. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Peshitta read in v. 20 "But if the charge proves true and (evidence of) virginity was not found in her." According to A. Rofe, this is in the spirit of the halakhic view that conviction does not depend on the cloth alone (Rofe, Mavo' Lesefer Devarim [Jerusalem: Akademon, 1988], 149 n. 27). Josephus, Ant. 4:246, speaks vaguely of "what evidence [the husband] may have."

     An interesting defense of the literal interpretation of the cloth is offered by Luzzatto, who suggests that the Torah intentionally relies on the cloth, despite its inconclusiveness, in order to protect non-virgin brides from excessive punishment. In his view, although the Torah does not require judicial punishment of girls who lose their virginity before engagement (Exod. 22:15-16; Deut. 22:28-29), popular sentiment would have demanded the execution of those who had done so and concealed the fact. Hence, he holds, the law is designed to discourage husbands from bring-ing charges by warning them that they would be unable to prove the charges and would then be punished for making them (Luzzatto, 542).

     6. 4Q159, fragments 2-4, lines 8-10 (from J.M. Allegro, with the collaboration of A.A. Anderson, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan 5. Qumran Cave 4/I (4Q158-4Q186) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 8 and pl. II; corrected readings from J. Strugnell, "Notes en marge du Volume V des 'Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan,'" RQ 26 (1970), 178, and R. Weiss, review of DJD 5, in Qiryat Sefer 45 (1970):58 col. i (repr. in R. Weiss, Studies in the Text and Language of the Bible [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1981], 326 [in Hebrew]). T.H. Gaster assumes that there is no lacuna following uviqqeruha and construes ne'emanot as an adverbial accusative, "reliably," modifying the verb (The Dead Sea Scriptures, 3d ed. [Garden City: Anchor/Doubleday, 1976], 93; cf. the one-letter restoration uviqqeru[hu] ne'emanot by Mr. Y. Buchsenbaum of Jerusalem, cited by Rofe, Mavo' Lesefer Devarim, 158). However, the parchment is broken on the left edge of the final letter of uviqqeruha, and there is certainly a word missing (velo') in the same spot one line below.

     7. For this meaning of baqqer see M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (repr. New York: Pardes, 1950), 1:187.

     8. Meiri, Beit Ha-bexirah {al Massekhet Ketubot, ed. Sofer, 56, to B. Ketubot 12a.

     9.  These and other techniques  are catalogued by E. Duehren (pseud. of Iwan Bloch), Das Geschlechtsleben in England Vol. 1 (Studien zur Geschichte des menschlichen Geschlechtslebens, II. Part 1, Die Beiden Erescheinungsformen des Sexualle-bens. Die Ehe und die Prostitution. Charlottenburg: H. Barsdorf, 1901), 369-381 (mostly from European sources); Ploss and Bartels, Das Weib in der Natur- und Voelkerkunde 2:48-51; see also Daisy H. Dwyer, Images and Self-Images: Male and Female in Morocco (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 64 (ref. Dr. Rachel Wasserfall and Prof. Harvey Goldberg).

     According to Duehren, similar practices were common in classical antiquity, but he cites no source. Prof. Mirko Grmek of Paris kindly referred me to Galen's Peri euporiston (De remediis parabilibus) ("On Handy Medications") II, 26: 12 and 38, where various pastes are prescribed for application to the vulva in order to make raped and nonvirginal women seem like virgins (C. G. Kuhn, Claudii Galeni, Opera Omnia 14 [Hildesheim: Olms, 1965]: 478, 485-486; my colleague, Prof. Martin Ostwald, was kind enough to translate the Greek for me). Duehren states that European writers on the subject all rely ultimately on Avicenna (Ibn Sinaa), the great Persian medical authority (980-1037), and Albertus Magnus (Germany, 1200-1280). A case in point is I.B. Sinibaldus, Geneanthropeia (Frankfurt, 1669), 446-449, who paraphrases Avicenna on the use of astringents by pros-titutes and deceptive brides (Mr. Michael Klassen was kind enough to translate Sinibaldus for me). Galen, Avicenna, and perhaps Albertus must be the ultimate sources for the Meiri's reference to medical books. For the use of astringents by English prosti-tutes to narrow the vaginal passage see J.T. Henke, Gutter Life and Language in the Early "Street" Literature of England (West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1988), 57f. s.v. "Clinker-devise" (reference courtesy of Mrs. Frankie Rubinstein).

     The stitching of the labia is mentioned (from Persia) by Ploss and Bartels, 2:50 (source of information unclear; it is cited by Duehren, 370 n. 1, from an earlier edition of the  same work). Hymenorrhaphy (stitching of the hymen) is still performed in various parts of the Mediterranean world. Gynecologists from Egypt and Greece have told me of the practice in both countries, and I have heard unconfirmed reports that it is done in Sicily and Spain. The practice is echoed in literature in "The Pretended Aunt," attributed to Cervantes, where the "niece" begs her "aunt" not to stitch her up yet again, and in the Spanish renaissance play "Celestina" (ca. 1525), where a madame is said to have "marred and made up again 100,000 maidenheads." See F.M. Duttenhofer, trans., Muster-Novellen des...Cervantes, 3 (Pforzheim: Dennig, Linck, 1840):154-155 (the passage does not appear in the English translations of Cervantes that I have consulted); Fernando de Rojas, Celestina, ed. D.S. Severin (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1987), 45 (ref. courtesy of Prof. Robert Melzi of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania).

     10. A. Musil, Arabia Petraea 3 (Wien, 1908):208.

     11. Dwyer, 63.

     12. A. Rofe, "La fede di castita di Rici Nunes Franco," Annali (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples) 47 (1987):435-440.

     13. The girl is examined by her mother and other women, according to a form for such cases given in Tiqqun Soferim of R. Moses Almoslino of Salonika (ca. 1515-1580; published with glosses by R. Samual Jaffe, Leghorn [Livorno], 1789), no. 32; cf. A. Gulak, 'Otsar Ha-shetaro (Jerusalem, 1926), no. 400 (Italy, 1644; ref. courtesy of Jonas C. Greenfield). "Women who examined the matter" are also relied upon in a similar certificate isued by the Islamic court of Aleppo in 1756, according to Abraham Marcus (private communication; three such documents are mentioned in his The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity [New York: Columbia University Press, 1989], 324 [ref. courtesy of Frank Stewart]).

 There were, of course, others who might examine accused brides. Dwyer, 63, notes the role of doctors in modern Morocco. In pre-modern times this role was performed by midwives (see Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco, 229f.; Marcus, p. 324. M. Friedman, Ribbui Nashim Beyisra'el [Tel Aviv: Mosad Bialik etc., 1986], 169-170, 263). According to the Midrash Hagadol, Isaac himself examined Rebekah digitally before their marriage (Midrash Hagadol to Genesis 24:67 [ed. M. Margulies; Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1967, 411]; according to Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 16, p. 38a, the examination consisted of digital defloration [ref. courtesy of my colleague, Prof. Judah Goldin]). According to the  aprocryphal Book of James, sec. 19-20, Mary was likewise examined digitally for virginity by Salome (New Testament Apocrypha, ed. E. Hennecke & W. Schneemelcher, 385; ref. courtesy of Prof. Tikva Frymer-Kensky and my colleague Prof. Robert A. Kraft).

     14. My thanks to the physicians I consulted on the subject,   Drs. Panayotis Apostolides, Michael Ellis, Steven Sondheimer, Theodore Tapper, Robert Weinstein,  and an Egyptian gynecologist who wishes to remain anonymous (the practice is illegal in Egypt).

     15. Since the scroll indicates that this type of examination was known in pre-Talmudic times, the rabbis presumably knew of it and rejected it (cf. Preuss, 477-478).  The Talmud describes a test performed by Rabban Gamaliel III on a bride who did not bleed and claimed she was still a virgin because her husband never penetrated her, but the method is folkloristic rather than medical: the woman is seated on an open barrel of wine; if the aroma of the wine comes up through her mouth she is declared a non-virgin; if it does not come up, she declared a virgin (B. Ketubot 10b; cf. Preuss, 478). Curiously, Maimonides mentions that the bride is examined in such a case (bodeqin 'otah), but he does not specify the type of examination (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot  Ishut 11:12). According to the Maggid Mishneh, Maimonides thereby implies that other types of test are also accept-able. Perhaps, as a physician, he means to leave room for direct examination of the bride as mentioned by the Meiri.

     W.W. Hallo has argued that an Old Babylonian document (18th century B.C.E.) reflects examination of an accused fiancee by female elders (or female witnesses; sibatum can mean ei-ther). See Hallo, "The Slandered Bride," in R.D. Biggs and J.A. Brinkman, eds., Studies Presented to A. Leo Oppenheim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 95-105. Precisely what the woman was accused of is debated. Hallo's interpretation has been challenged by Landsberger ("Jungfraeulichkeit: Ein Beitrag zum Thema 'Beilager und Eheschliessung,'" in J.A. Ankum et al., ymbolae Iuridicae et Historicae Martino David Dedicatae (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 2:90 n. 6); R. Westbrook, Old Babylonian Marriage Law (AfO Beiheft 23 [Horn, Austria: Ferdi-nand Berger & Soehne, 1988], 44 n. 109; 116.