Likkutei Sichos-Acharei Mos: Giluiy Arayos-Exploring the logic behind the restrictions on consanguineous marriages and relationships

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Parshas Acharei Mos

Giluiy Arayos-Exploring the logic behind the restrictions on consanguineous marriages and relationships

(Based on Likkutei Sichos Tazria Vol. 12 Sicha 1)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Acharei Mos, we learn of the various forbidden relations otherwise known as Giluiy Arayos. Just as there exist eating restrictions for the special diet that G-d gave the Jewish people, so too there exist marriage and intimacy restrictions which are binding on His holy nation. Now, what are the reasons behind these marriage and intimacy restrictions? Why does G-d care who one marries and falls in love with? If the two people love each other and care for each other and agreed to exchange vows and be loyal spouses, then why should G-d get involved? This is a common question of attack that liberal society poses against legislative and government restrictions on marriage, and on whom one may marry. In theory, the same question can be asked against the laws and restrictions written in the Torah on this subject. Obviously, there must be some divine wisdom behind these restrictions, and a driving logic with dictates their necessity. Indeed, various reasons have been offered regarding the marriage restrictions, which we will explore in the coming paragraphs. However, the Rebbe, based on Rashi, offers a unique approach in understanding this matter. Whenever a logic or reason is given behind a prohibition, one can search for a case of exception to which the logic and reason is not relevant, and thereby argue its permissibility. However, the reason we will discover below is above and beyond any possibility of exception and leaves no room for dialogue on the application of the prohibition. There are a number of important lessons that can be derived from this talk, including our view on consanguineous marriage and intimacy.


Explorations of the Sicha:

1. Why does the Torah give consanguineous marriage restrictions? What is the logic and reason behind the prohibition of marrying relatives?

2. Does the prohibition against consanguineous marriage defy logic?

3. How is the prohibition against Giluiy Arayos a new and special type of Chok?


1. The Mefarshim-Why did the Torah prohibit Giluiy Arayos, marriage with relatives?[1]

Regarding the prohibition of Giluiy Arayos, we find a number of reasons offered in the Mefarshim:

  1. A matter of respect: Some Mefarshim[2] explain that the reason why the Torah prohibited marriage with Arayos/relatives is because one is required to show respect to certain relatives, such as a parent and the like, and it is therefore improper to have an intimate relationship with them which will often diminish one’s level of respect.
  2. To diminish marital intercourse: Other Mefarshim[3] explain that the reason why the Torah prohibited intimacy with Arayos/relatives is because relatives are commonly found in one’s vicinity, and many of them are found nearby on a constant basis. Hashem desired that man diminish his frequency of marital intimacy in order so he elevate his level of refinement and holiness for the service of G-d. Now, if marital relations were to be permitted with one’s relatives, then man would frequently engage in intercourse due to its great availability. Hence, in order to diminish the frequency of intimacy and encourage a holy life devoted to G-d, the Torah restricts us from having intimacy with relatives.

2. The negation of the above reasons:[4]

The above reasons that are offered behind the prohibition against incestuous relations are difficult to accept. Not all relatives share a hierarchy relationship of respect, and therefore there would be no damage involved if these relatives were to be permitted in marriage. Likewise, the second reason also does not seem to make sense, as of the Torah truly desire to diminish the frequency of intimacy then it should’ve prohibited polygamy. Practically, the Torah permits one to marry even 1000 wives, and hence clearly its reason behind prohibiting intimacy with relatives could not be simply explained away as an attempt to diminish man’s frequency of intimacy.[5]

[Other reasons commonly mentioned in society behind the restrictions on marrying relatives is due to that it may cause genetic damage within the offspring. This reason is not mentioned in the classical Mefarshim, and is seemingly likewise negated based on the fact that not all of the forbidden relationships that are restricted by the Torah truly bring this effect. Furthermore, the Torah allows first cousins to get married even though that there is a slightly higher chance of bearing damaged children as a result. In other words, if we were to accept that incest was prohibited by the Torah due to that inbreeding can lead to harmful genetic conditions, then it would’ve prohibited all types of inbreeding and not be selective in its list of restrictions.]

We will hence offer a new reason recorded in the Ramban, and Rashi, as elucidated in the Rebbe’s talk

3. The prohibition of Giluiy Arayos is a Chok:

The Ramban[6] in his commentary on the laws of Giluiy Arayos explains that in truth there is no logic or reason behind the Torah’s prohibition against marrying relatives. On the contrary, says the Ramban, from an intellectual perspective, there is no better option then to keep the inheritance in the family, and marry off one’s daughter to his elder son. Not only is there no reason to avoid such relationships but on the contrary, we can find reasons for why it should be considered praiseworthy and advantageous. Why then does the Torah prohibit it? The Rambam says that indeed this law is considered a Chok, an unexplainable statute, of which its reason is only known to G-d. This means that there is no known reason to man behind these restrictive relationships, and the reason is known to G-d alone, similar to any other Chok of the Torah such as Shatnez, Parah Aduma, and the like.

We will now explore the opinion of Rashi on this matter, from which after research and proper analyzation, seems to novelize a new understanding of this Chok of Giluiy Arayos.

4. The opinion of Rashi-Exploring his commentary on the introductory verse of Giluiy Arayos:

In the opening statement on the subject of Giluiy Arayos the Torah states[7], “Speak to the Jewish people and tell them I am Hashem your G-d. Like the actions of Egypt in which you dwelled, you shall not do.” Rashi comments on this verse, on the words “I am Hashem your G-d,” “I am the one who told you on Sinai that I am Hashem your G-d. You have already accepted my authority of kingship and now accept upon yourself my decrees.” Now, what was bothering Rashi in his commentary and what is he coming to teach us?


So, it seems that Rashi was bothered by the fact that we already know that Hashem is our G-d and hence why specifically here in the introduction to the laws of Giluiy Arayos, does the verse feel it necessary to repeat the statement. It is this question that Rashi is coming to answer and explain, and in his explanation, he clarifies to us that these words represent an important message from G-d prior to him handing us the marriage restrictions. What is the message of the statement? Rashi explains that prior to Hashem commanding us of the laws of Giluiy Arayos, Hashem desired to command us to accept upon ourselves His decrees, as we already agreed to accept Him as our King, and hence it is only befitting that we now also accept upon ourselves his decrees.

5. The two Questions on Rashi’s commentary:

The above explanation of Rashi raises several questions, two of which we will mention here:

  1. This is not the first time in Scripture that we find the term of “I am Hashem your G-d” in approximation to a command, and in those areas, Rashi does not explain it in the way he does above, and rather he explains it to represent a promise of reward for those who obey Him.[8] Why then here does Rashi explain this in a completely different way? In fact, even here by the above verse Rashi brings a second explanation in which he explicitly states as he normally explains it in other areas, that it is being said as a message of promise of reward for those who obey the command and retribution for those who disobey it.
  2. Another question that can be raised against Rashi’s commentary is regarding why he considered the laws of Giluiy Arayos so unique that it requires an introductory command from Hashem that we accept His decrees. The same way we already accepted G-d as our King on Sinai so too we already accepted His commands, and therefore the introductory command seems superfluous. Furthermore, we do not find this introductory command of accepting G-d’s decrees brought prior to other commands and hence why should it be brought here specifically prior to the laws of Giluiy Arayos?

6. Answering the first question-This is the first time that we find “I am Hashem your G-d” being used prior to the command and not after:

In answer to the first question of why Rashi here does not comment on the term “I am Hashem your G-d” as he does elsewhere, one can explain that this is due to the uniqueness of the order of this statement. Normally, in Scripture we find this statement of “I am Hashem your G-d,” brought after a command is given. In such an instance, Rashi accepts the explanation that its message is to tell us that G-d gives reward for obeying the command. However, when this statement comes prior to even mentioning the command, as it is in our case regarding the decree of Giluiy Arayos, it is not so logical to state that it is coming to promise us reward for a command that we were not yet informed about. Hence, Rashi gives a first and main explanation that in truth this statement of “I am Hashem your G-d” here by Giluiy Arayos, is an independent command, and is commanding the Jewish people to accept upon themselves G-d’s decrees. After this command is given, the Torah then continues with the commands relating to Giluiy Arayos.

What remains however to be understood is the second question brought above regarding why this new command of accepting the decrees of G-d is necessary if we already accepted them on Sinai at the time that we accepted His kingship.

7. Answering the second question-Giluiy Arayos is a new type of command and Chok:

The answer to the above second question lies in the fact that the laws of Giluiy Arayos represent a new type of command that we had never yet been given or accepted to follow.  Rashi states that the laws of Giluiy Arayos is considered a decree, which is otherwise known as a Chok. However, this Chok of Giluiy Arayos is a unique Chok and is not similar to other forms of a Chok that we have already accepted. By other Chukim, the mind does not necessarily obligate the opposite of the Chok. Meaning that although by all Chukim we fail to understand the purpose behind the command or its necessity, nonetheless, they do not contradict intellect or reason. For example, while he may not understand why we can’t wear Shatnez, which is a garment made of wool and linen, our mind does not tell us of any reason of why we should specifically wear it. However, by the command of Giluiy Arayos, not only do we not understand why the Torah gave us these restrictions, but furthermore they actually contradict our intellect and reason. Accordingly, prior to mentioning the commands relating to Giluiy Arayos Hashem needed to command us to accept upon ourselves His decrees, His Chukim, even if they contradict our intellect and reason. In other words, while certainly we accepted on Sinai to fulfill G-d’s decrees and commands, it is possible that this was only in relation to commands that have some understanding or at least don’t contradict our rhyme and reason. However, commands of a nature that go against what our intellect would obligate, we never accepted on Sinai, and therefore the Torah here prior to this new type of Chok, asks us to accept even G-d’s commands of this form. Accordingly, the statement of “I am Hashem your G-d” here by Giluiy Arayos is not specifically connected only to this specific command of Giluiy Arayos, but is connected to any command that contradicts one’s logic, and is a general instruction to accept even these forms of commands upon ourselves.

What we now need to understand is why the restrictions of Giluiy Arayos are not only considered to not be understood by our intellect but on the contrary are considered to contradict our intellect and reasoning, and hence fall under the category of a new type of command and Chok.

8. The arguments to promote consanguineous marriage [i.e. marriage within the family]:

The reason that the command of Giluiy Arayos which restricts marriage and intimacy from taking place within the family is considered a new type of Chok which contradicts intellect is based on the fact that there is strong intellectual argument to make to promote specifically marriage within the family, as mentioned earlier in the opinion of the Ramban.

The lineage argument:

First and foremost, there is an advantage regarding lineage. Lineage plays a most important factor when looking for a spouse for marriage, as the Torah itself teaches us regarding the marriage of Aron to Elisheva. The Torah[9] states that Elisheva was the daughter of Aminadav and the sister of Nachshon, and Rashi there explains that this is coming to teach us that one should look at the lineage and siblings of the prospective individual for marriage. Likewise, when Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to take a wife for his son Yitzchak, he refused to allow him to be married off to a girl from outside of his family, due to reasons of blemished lineage. Hence, we see that lineage plays a major role in choosing a partner in marriage. Accordingly, it would make the most sense for a person of good lineage to choose someone from his own family for the sake of marriage, and the closer the relative, the more advantageous this would be.

The unity argument, and higher success for a lasting marriage:

The purpose of marriage is for the sake of having children and becoming one unit. Now, seemingly this can be more harmoniously fulfilled specifically when one marries a relative, with whom one already naturally shares a love and bond and maintains a similar personality trait. [For example, in some South Asian, Middle Eastern, and north African countries, as many as half of marriages are consanguineous. In Pakistan, half of the population marry a first or second cousin, more than in any other country. In rural areas this can be 80%. The custom in all of these countries is similar, as marrying within the immediate family guarantees that wealth stays in the family. Partners will have similar socioeconomic status and similar family customs. A good relationship may already exist among parents in law. And divorce rates are believed to be lower.[10]] Nonetheless, despite this, in the laws of Giluiy Arayos we are specifically commanded to not marry a relative, through whom this greater bond and unity of marriage can be achieved.

The Biblical precedent for consanguineous marriages:

Prior to the giving of this command of Giluiy Arayos we find that not only does the Torah not shy away from consanguineous marriages, but actually mentions it without any discouragement and in one case actually promotes it. As we know, G-d created the world with a single couple which automatically forced the first generation of humanity to marry their blood relatives in order to continue the human race. The sons of Adam and Eve married their own sisters, and on this was dependent the entire continuity of humanity. Furthermore, Yaakov married four sisters and from this derived the entire Jewish people. Furthermore, according to many opinions, the Shevatim married their paternal sisters, and in the case of Shimon’s marriage to Dina, a full paternal and maternal sister were married. Furthermore, Amram married his own aunt, Yocheved, and they became the parents of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Hence, we find that not only was the entire start of humanity the result of marriages that would later be prohibited due to Giluiy Arayos, but furthermore, the entire population of the Jewish people, as well as its greatest leaders, came specifically from these forms of forbidden relations.

 The economic argument:

Another strong argument that can be raised to promote consanguineous marriage is the monetary aspect, to keep the wealth within the family. This is indeed one of the main reasons behind why consanguineous marriages are practiced until today in many Asian and African countries, as stated above.

Due to all the above, it is understood that the decree is against Giluiy Arayos are not a typical Chok and decree of G-d that we already accepted to follow on Sinai, but rather a new type of decree which completely defies logic, and therefore required a separate introductory command to ask us to accept also this form of decree.

The genetic disorder counterargument:

It is most wondrous that the most obvious argument to discourage and legally prohibit consanguineous marriages is the fact that inbreeding causes an increased rate of genetic disorders in the offspring. One study shows that the frequency of genetic disorders in children born from consanguineous marriages are twice as high as those of nonrelated parents.[11] Hence, it is quite strange and wondrous that no one thought to bring up this argument, not even the most practical of thinkers such as the Rambam, and thus we must conclude that there must be some reason why this argument is not relevant.


The simplest answer to this question seemingly lies in the fact that not all of the prohibited marriages included in the Torah’s list of Giluiy Arayos can cause genetic disorders. For example, what risk of genetic disorder could there be to the offspring when a man marries two sisters, or a mother and daughter, all of whom are under the prohibition of Giluiy Arayos. Furthermore, if this were to be the reason for the Torah’s restrictions, then it would have prohibited marriage with all relatives that can carry a higher risk of genetic disorders. Why then does the Torah permit and even encourage a niece to marry an Uncle, and why then does the Torah permit cousins, even first cousins, to get married, as has been practiced throughout the generations even amongst the families of greatest of Tzadikim? Hence, we cannot accept that the genetic disorder factor is the reason behind the prohibition, and at most it is a separate external factor not relating to Jewish law. Furthermore, perhaps one can propose that the higher risk of genetic disorder found in inbreeding is itself due to the Torah’s prohibition of Giluiy Arayos, and that prior to this prohibition, there indeed was no higher risk, and hence we find that inbreeding was common prior to the giving of the Torah, and resulted in the birth of the greatest of our leaders, and is responsible for the continuity of the Jewish and human race.


The Kabbalistic reason:[12]

According to Kaballa, the prohibition of Giluiy Arayos is due to mystical reasons relating to that the mixture of seeds of certain relatives causes severe damage above in the upper worlds, and feeds an enormous amount of energy to the Kelipos. In truth, the various prohibited relations amongst relatives exist in the world of Atzilus in a holy manner. Meaning, that in the world of Atzilus, the Sefiros have all types of unifications, even though they are considered relatives, such as Aba, Ima, Barta, etc. Thus, in the Sefiros of the upper worlds, the unity of Arayos is actually very holy, and sublime. However, this only applies in the world of Atzilus. However, below Atzilus, these relationships are not only no longer a source for holiness, but actually feed tremendous impurity to the Kelipos. The forbidden relations tap into a treasure of G-dly energy in the world of Atzilus, and when they take place in this world, the G-dly energy ends up feeding the Kleipos. It is similar to one who takes the special treasure chest of the King and hands it to robbers. The treasure chest may only be viewed in the kings chamber and may not be removed from there, and one who does so and hands it to the public, ends up committing a most grave offense against the king.


Now, prior to the giving of the Torah, it was possible for very holy members of the Jewish people, such as Yaakov Avinu, to mimic the world of Atzilus and thereby enter into relationships of Giluiy Arayos without letting it give a nurture to evil, and only reap its great benefits. However, once the Torah was given, we are no longer on such levels to prevent the Kelipos from nurturing from it and causing an enormous abundance of evil.


9. The restrictions of Giluiy Arayos already partially existed prior to Sinai:

There still remains one matter that needs to be clarified. The concept of Giluiy Arayos and some of its restrictions already existed prior to the giving of the Torah and is part of the seven Noahide laws which is binding even on Gentiles. Hence at least some of its restrictions were already accepted by the Jewish people on Sinai and even beforehand. Accordingly, it is not understood why the special command of “I am Hashem your G-d” is necessary prior to the official detailed laws of Giluiy Arayos which were given after Sinai, if their concept was already accepted by Sinai and prior.

Seemingly, the answer to this question lies in the fact that these restrictions were never officially accepted as part of the Torah and Jewish religion until this point, even though some of the prohibitions already existed as part of the general seven Noahide laws. In other words, the acceptance of the Jewish people of these laws was not part of their new relationship with G-d, of having accepted him as their king on Sinai, but simply due to the general obligations of morality imposed upon even Gentiles. In addition, the fact is that most of the relatives prohibited to the Jewish people after the giving of the Torah remain permitted for Gentiles, and only a minute number of consanguineous marriage restrictions actually applied. It is hence this new amount of marriage restrictions that required the introductory command of “I am Hashem your G-d.”


The divine lesson:

· Giving the right argument for the restrictions on consanguineous marriage: Many people in society believe that the legal prohibition against incestuous relations as adapted by most countries in the world is due to medical concern of the increased rates of genetic disorder. The problem with this view is that it does not truly justify the negation of all types of consanguineous marriage, as seemingly if there will be no offspring born as a result, then the worry is solved. Other people believe that the legal prohibition is due to reasons of morality and religion, as it is considered immoral to have intimacy with a relative or other form of Giluiy Arayos. The issue with this perspective is that the concept of morality is very objective, and does not have any true measuring stick, and certainly holds little legal argument. Accordingly, we see the increase of marriage rights legislation passing in various countries for unions that are forbidden even upon gentiles due to Giluiy Arayos, and an increase of people who are willing to engage in such forbidden forms of intimacy. Perhaps one of the reasons behind why society is becoming so open for embracing forbidden relations is because they are focusing on the wrong aspects of why it is to be restricted. It is not just because it can create damaged offspring, or because it feels immoral, but because it is a direct decree of G-d, as part of the seven Noahide commands that is binding on all humanity. The vast majority of society believes in G-d or a higher force, and expressing to them the truth, that these relationships are forbidden because they transgress G-d’s laws for civilization, and once brought a flood to the world, should be a primary focus, and not just their immoral and/or physiological effects. Doing so would certainly fall under the Rebbe’s campaign of spreading the seven Noahide laws to the gentiles, and having them embrace it as G-dly ordained commands, irrelevant of their rationales.

· Coping with forbidden lusts: Having a hidden strong attraction for a forbidden relative, or other form of Giluiy Arayos, can be very debilitating for an individual, and destroy his self-image, viewing himself as a deviant and perverted and sick human being. In extreme cases, this self-consciousness can lead to depression and suicide. The Torah’s perspective on this matter, based on the above talk, is quite simple. The lust itself is not the center of the prohibition, but rather the thought, speech, or action, of acting it out. So long as the person controls his thoughts, speech, and actions, from transgressing the prohibition then he is a good law-abiding Jew, and the fact that he contains this inner attraction does not define him as a bad person. It is not the perversion of this attraction that creates the prohibition, but the prohibition that creates the perversion. In previous times, the attraction for certain[13] relatives who were forbidden under Giluiy Arayos was very common, and such attraction was not considered a perversion at all. In fact, prior to the destruction of the first Temple, the lust for Giluiy Arayos was so strong that the Temple was destroyed because of its rampant transgression, and the Sages needed to remove it from humanity so the world can survive, as brought below. The point is that the Torah did not prohibit the attraction, which is an uncontrollable human emotion, but rather prohibited acting, or even thinking, it out. Hence, if a person unfortunately suffers from deviant lusts and attractions, his focus is to be on controlling it from entering his mind, speech or action, and not on his self esteem and how he may be a perverted and deviant individual, which is completely irrelevant to G-ds command. With this perspective, perhaps with time Hashem will help the person overcome these attractions and forget about them altogether, as has occurred in many instances.


Why are most people today not attracted to their relatives?

The Talmud[14] states that in the times of Nechemia[15], after the destruction of the first Temple, the Sages prayed to G-d for the spiritual power in charge of the Yetzer Hara of idolatry to be given to them, so they can destroy it. After they were successful in suppressing it, seeing that it was an auspicious time, they prayed to also be given the inclination for sexual relations. This request too was granted, and they captured the spiritual force in charge of sexual lust. However, destroying this inclination would cause children to no longer be born. They kept it in captivity for three days and saw that in that three-day period, no eggs were laid. Instead then of destroying the spiritual force in charge of the inclination, they blinded it, and this diminished the lust and attraction that one has towards relatives. Hence, unlike in previous times, most people no longer are challenged with lust and attraction for their relatives.



[1] This section is not taken from the original Sicha and is an additional segment added by the author to lead up to the Rebbe’s novelty in his talk.

[2] 2nd reason in Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim 3:49, brought in Chinuch 190

[3] Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:49, brought in Chinuch Mitzvah 190; See also Even Ezra 18:6 “Since man’s inclination is like an animal’s, it is not possible to prohibit all women, and hence the verse prohibited only those women that are found with him constantly.”

[4] This section is not taken from the original Sicha and is an additional segment added by the author to lead up to the Rebbe’s novelty in his talk.

[5] Ramban 18:6

[6] Ramban 18:6

[7] Acharei Mos 18:2-3

[8] See beginning of Parshas Vaeira

[9] Vaeira 6:23

[10] See


[12] See Chinuch Mitzvah 190; Derech Mitzvosecha Issur Ervas Achos Ishto

[13] This, however, excludes a mother, for which the Talmud states no such natural attraction exists,

[14] Yuma 69b

[15] The Talmudic statement is expounding the verse in Nechemia 9:4 which states “Vayitzaku El Hashem Bekol Gadol”

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