As a general introduction to the laws of Yichud and for a glossary of its terms, it is of great benefit to the student to study the source material of these halachos, primarily a passage of the Talmud at the end of Tractate Kiddushin. The following quotes serve only as the source of the halachah; however, regarding practical halachah, one should refer to the succeeding chapters of this book. Furthermore, the quotes below are only selected relevant passages, and not the full text of the Gemara.

1. Mishnah Kiddushin 80b

A man may not be secluded with two women, but one woman may be secluded with two men. Rabbi Shimon says: Even one man may be secluded with two women when his wife is with him, and he may spend the night with them in the same room of an inn if his wife is also present, because a wife will tend to be wary of her husband’s actions in this situation and will easily awaken if anything improper occurs. A man may be secluded with his mother or with his daughter.

Gemara:

A man may not be alone with two women, but one woman may be alone with two men.1

Q. What is the Biblical source for Yichud?2

A. Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yishmael, for it is stated,3 “If your brother, the son of your mother, shall instigate you (in private, saying, ‘Let us go and serve another deity.’).” Now, is it only a brother who is the son of your mother who is likely to instigate you to idolatry, whereas a brother who is the son of your father is not likely to instigate you? Why does the verse identify the instigator as being specifically a maternal brother? Rather, this tells you that a son may seclude himself with his mother, but it is forbidden for any other person to seclude himself with any ervah4 mentioned in the Torah.

But one woman may be secluded with two men:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav that this applies only in reference to men who are kosher (of high moral character), but regarding prutzim — men of low moral character — even if she were secluded with a group of ten, it is not permitted.

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: They taught in the Mishnah that one woman may be alone with two men only in reference to being in the city, but in regard to being on the road it is not permitted, unless there are three men.

Rabbah said: If a woman’s husband is in the city (Baaloh B’ir), we are not concerned with seclusion.

Rav Yosef said: If a door of the room in which the man and woman are secluded is open to the public thoroughfare (Pesach Posuach Lireshus Horabim), we are not concerned with seclusion.

Rav Bivi once visited the house of Rav Yosef. After he ate bread with his guest, Rav Yosef said to his servants, “Remove the ladder from under Bivi.”5 But did not Rabbah say that when her husband is in the city we are not concerned with seclusion?6 Rav Bivi was different, because she was a close friend of his and therefore felt familiar with him (Libo Gas Boh).7

Whenever men and women gather at one spot there is the risk of misconduct. Therefore, at an assemblage of men and women, Abaye would arrange rows of jugs as a partition between them.8 Rava would arrange rows of reeds.9 Avin said: The sore spot of the year is Yom Tov.10

A man may be secluded with his mother:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav Assi: A man may be secluded with his sister,11 and he may dwell alone in the same house with his mother or daughter.12

Rava said: Although the Mishnah ruled that in general it is forbidden for a man to be alone with two women, a man may be alone with two sisters-in-law,13 with two co-wives,14 with a woman and her mother-in-law,15 with a woman and the daughter of her husband (i.e. a woman and her stepdaughter),16 and with a woman and a girl who knows the meaning of cohabitation17 but will not yield herself to cohabitation.18

Mishnah Kiddushin 82a: A bachelor should not accustom himself to being a teacher of small children, and a woman should not accustom herself to being a teacher of small children.

Gemara:

Q. What is the reason why a bachelor may not be a teacher of young children?

A. Because of the children’s mothers. And a woman should not be a teacher because of the children’s fathers.19

Mishnah Kiddushin 82a: Anyone whose business is with women (Asoko Im Hanoshim), i.e., whose trade provides for the needs of women, may not be alone even with many women.20

2. Talmud Sanhedrin 21a

[This piece of Gemara previously dealt with details of the act of Amnon and Tamar (Shmuel II, ch. 13ff.). Following this incident King David and his Beth Din made a rabbinic decree forbidding Yichud even with an unmarried woman.]

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: At that time (of Amnon and Tamar) they instituted a rabbinic decree against seclusion with a married woman and with an unmarried woman. (The Gemara asks): But seclusion with a married woman is Biblically prohibited, not just forbidden by rabbinic decree! For R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon ben Yohotzadak: Where is there an allusion in the Torah to the prohibition of seclusion with a woman who is an ervah? For it is stated: If your brother, the son of your mother shall instigate you in private saying, “Let us go and serve another deity.” Now, is it only a brother who is the son of your mother who is likely to instigate you to idolatry, whereas a brother who is the son of your father is not likely to instigate you? Rather, this tells you that a son may seclude himself with his mother, but no other person may seclude himself with any ervah mentioned in the Torah. [Since seclusion with an ervah is forbidden by Biblical law, as R. Yochanan asserts based on this verse, how can Rav Yehudah have said in the name of Rav that King David’s court decreed this prohibition in the aftermath of the incident of Tamar?] The Gemara answers — Rather, say that Rav actually said the following: At that time, the rabbis instituted a rabbinic decree prohibiting seclusion with an unmarried woman, which had not been prohibited under Biblical law.21

3. Talmud Avodah Zarah 36b

[The Gemara discusses the prohibition of a relationship between a Jewish man and an idolatress. It states that the disciples of Shammai and Hillel came and decreed that the Yichud of a Jewish man with an idolatress is forbidden].

The Gemara asks:

Regarding seclusion, the court of King David already instituted a decree, for Rav Yehudah said that at that time (of the incident of Amnon and Tamar), they decreed against the seclusion of a man with a woman. Why, then, would the disciples of Shammai and Hillel — who lived much later — have to prohibit seclusion with an idolatress?

The Gemara answers:

They said: There the decree of King David’s court prohibited seclusion with a Jewess but seclusion with an idolatress was not prohibited. And they, the disciples of Shammai and Hillel, came and decreed even regarding seclusion with an idolatress.

The Gemara asks:

But seclusion with a Jewess is prohibited according to Biblical law, for R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon ben Yohotzadak: Where is there an allusion in the Torah to the prohibition against seclusion of a man with a woman? For it is stated, If your brother...etc.

(The Gemara answers):

The Biblical prohibition against seclusion refers to seclusion with the wife of another man, or with any other woman who is an ervah. And King David came and decreed even regarding seclusion with an unmarried woman, which had not been prohibited previously. And the disciples from Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel came and decreed against seclusion with an idolatress.

4. Talmud Megillah 14a

[The Talmud dwells on the topic of the prophetess Devorah.]

“And she sat under a palm tree” (Shoftim 4:5). Why did Devorah choose to judge Israel while sitting under a palm tree, rather than under a different species of tree?22 R. Shimon ben Avshalom said: Because Devorah was careful not to transgress the prohibition against Yichud. She therefore chose a palm tree, whose branches are very high, so that she and others with her would be clearly visible.

The Historical Development of the Prohibition of Yichud

What is clear from the above sources is that the Torah forbids Yichud with an ervah. Later in the times of King David, the prohibition of Yichud was extended to include Yichud with an unmarried woman. Still later, in the times of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, the prohibition was extended to include a non-Jewish woman. Thus the prohibition of Yichud has seen a historical development, which today for all practical purposes prohibits Yichud with any woman, whether she is married or not, Jewish or non-Jewish.

Exceptions to the Rule

What is also clear from the above source material is that there are a number of exceptions to the rule of Yichud. We have seen the terms Baaloh B’ir, Ishto Meshamroso, Shomer and Pesach Posuach, the halachos of which will be discussed in the further chapters.

We have also seen that some people are more susceptible than others to the prohibition of Yichud, such as those in the categories of Parutz, Asoko Im Hanoshim, and Libo Gas Boh. Therefore, when one studies the halachos of Yichud, one must be aware that there may be exceptions to the rule for these categories of people.