Profile Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn

Showing posts with label Marital Intimacy Halacha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marital Intimacy Halacha. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Discussion of Marital Intimacy


Question: I have become Orthodox recently and before then had a free sexual life. What is the Torah law about sexuality? What may I do, what is forbidden?
Thank you,

Sexuality is an obligation of the Torah, not just rabbinical law. Rashi, and such is indicated in the gemora, requires a couple to sleep together all of the time without clothes, unless the woman is a Nida, (period) of course. So important is this in the eyes of the gemora, that it seriously discusses if someone may sleep with his wife when she is a nida by wearing clothes. That is, the intimacy of sleeping together is part of one's obligation, and perhaps clothes will remind them not to have touching sex. However, the gemora decides this is forbidden. When the woman is not a Nida surely it is obligatory to sleep with her without clothes every night. Nonetheless, today we don't find people doing this. There is, to my knowledge, no support for today's custom, and I have discussed this with senior experts, and they had no Talmud source, either. Thus, the appropriate thing, according to Rashi and the Talmud, is for a Jewish couple to sleep together every night without clothes. The Zohar also insists that people be together without clothes, although it does not mention they must do this every night. Thus, I cannot say that people who don't do the above are sinners, because this may not be the custom in many communities. However, one who does it is surely praiseworthy, as this is the opinion of the Talmud and Rashi, and there is, to my knowledge, no disagreement on this in the Talmud or earlier sages.

Sexual activity that is not intercourse is surely permitted during the day, and should be encouraged, as it strengthens the marriage. If one does these two things, sleeping together every night without clothes, and foreplay during the day without shame, without making a circus, probably, one will be satisfied. If not, however, one should never leave his lusts hanging loose, because to do so is quite dangerous. Very pious people have sinned because they didn't fear their lusts. So, when there is a true lust, and there is no vain emission of seed, anything goes. If there is a chance of emission of seed, this is probably also permitted in case of a severe lust, or in the case of someone, as you mention, who is a BT and can't just get up and walk away from his appetites. Technically speaking, when one engages in foreplay, etc., and by accident there is emission of seed, it is probably okay. Of course, masturbation is wrong, and any deliberate emission of seed is wrong.

There is a discussion in the Talmud and poskim about a woman who cannot become pregnant. What should she do? One opinion (I don't say we accept this opinion as halacha) is that she should practice coitus interruptus. A senior posek asked, "Why not just stop having intercourse?" He answered, "Not having intercourse is surely a sin. Therefore, we maintain the marriage according to that Talmudic opinion by spilling the seed, even if we could avoid the spilling of the seed by ceasing intercourse." I mention this, not to provide halacha, which must come from an actual rabbi who hears all of the particulars of the problem, but to mention this idea, for whatever it is worth, that marriage must be sustained. Probably, zera livatolo that comes about from foreplay, etc., inadvertently, is not sinful. If a person does something knowing that there is a good chance of zera livatolo, we should avoid doing so. However, if we are talking about people with real lusts who must satisfy them, I would not dare forbid it. I might rely upon two things, one, the opinion of Tosfose Rid that zera livatolo is mainly forbidden when one intends to prevent procreation, but not if done for one's sexual pleasures. Secondly, I would rely upon Tosfose in Baitso, 36b, that we pasken according to Reb Shimon, that דבר שאינו מתכוין מותר באופן שאפשר, אפילו על פי המועט,  שלא יצא תקלה ממעשיו. Thus, when there is even a small possibility that no emission of seed will occur, if it is a very big shaas hadechak, I would permit it. For other people, however, I would not permit this.

This is a very big problem with people who suddenly find themselves Orthodox and facing NIDA proscriptions. I was once in a Beth Din watching senior rabbis sweat out the warnings of a BT that he could not last. He didn't.

If somebody would ask me how to proceed in NIDA proscriptions for newly religious people, I would be very careful about making them fail. Of course, this is extremely serious halacha, and I mention it here only to provide some background for our situation.

I also mention that the kind of things I write here are based upon decades of working with very sick religious people, some of them who got very sick in sexual matters because of their accepting certain mistaken beliefs, that sex is bad, etc. We do our best to make a poorly written GET kosher, or to permit a woman to remarry when her husband is lost. One of the reasons for this is that if we don't permit it, we are not sure how she will behave.

The Hungarian rabbonim were very strict about shaving beards. They considered it almost a cardinal sin, because a Jew must look like a Jew. However, when the government forbade bearded Jews from marrying, one very senior rebbe permitted shaving. He explained that he did not want bastards brought into the world by frustrated Orthodox or Hassidic bachelors. Whoever rules in a way to make people boil in their lust has done a very serious thing, especially if there are clear sources to be lenient.
Rabbeinu Tam suggests that as one becomes old and is prepared for the other world, he slows down from wordly pleasures, such as sex, at least more than he used to. There are certain s people who may not have much sexual needs in their natures. On the other hand, some people have frightening desires. Most young people surely must engage in sex, with their spouses, because if not, they may, Rabbi Yehuda the Pious says, do it with others. We find among Kabbalists, who were like angels, that they sought to refrain from wordly pleasures in eating and sex, and did only what was obligatory. This does not apply to the vast majority of people, even rabbis. Nonetheless, many people believe that sex is sinful, and this idea is based on ignorance. In one of my Hebrew books, I wrote a lengthy responsa on this. It was based upon a case where a woman with a few children demanded a divorce because her husband, who was not yet thirty, was still not a "person" because he enjoyed sex. This is hideous ignorance, and it destroys marriages, and turns people into finding sex other ways.

Several senior codifiers, including Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, contradict themselves in this matter. In one place they say to do anything, and in another place adjure us to approach sublime levels. It is no contradiction. All of us must realize that we are not hedonists, nor do we want to be hedonists. We want to be spiritual, holy, and removed from anything that could drag us to sin, such as powerful sexual appetites. Therefore, we don't go around encouraging hedonism and certain similar behaviors. However, for one who has a real need for such, it is permitted, and not only permitted, but obligatory, lest he do something terrible. Incidentally, there are many Orthodox women with AIDS because their husbands were not satisfied in the house. There is one MIKVEH in New York City known as homo-central, populated by Orthodox mikveh goers. This has always existed and always will. Therefore, we must deal with our desires according to the Torah and halacha, and not according to some fantasy made up by people against the Talmud, Zohar, and codifiers. (Incidentally, never, ever, allow your child to hang around the MIKVEH.)
The proper thing is to find an equilibrium, and not to become a hedonist. Surely, we don't want to be hungry and go around all day like a bomb ready to be blown up. Each person must find the proper menu for sex, and that menu itself may change as the person develops and ages.

Please tell me if the above is clear and if you have more questions.
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Dovid Eidensohn
What Must a Spouse Do?
Dear Rabbi,
Does a spouse have an obligation to have sex? What is the degree of obligation? What if one person doesn't like what the other person wants?

Dear A,
An Orthodox Jew has sex only with one's own marital partner. Considering the flame of biology, especially in younger people, but active in older people also, this presents a problem. Since your spouse can only have sex with you, and if you refuse, the person has a problem, what should we do?

Rabbi Yehuda the Pious, one of the great Kabbalists, Talmudists and saints of all time, who lived about 800 years ago in Europe, warns us never to ignore our biological needs, and to achieve them with our partner. Otherwise, he warns, we, even pious people, are in danger. This idea is seconded by the great Radvaz, the senior rabbi in the world in the time of Rabbi Joseph Karo of Tsefas, some 500 years ago.
Therefore, the Talmud tells us that a partner must try to accomodate one the other, so the biology does not become obsessed with something that cannot be achieved within the sanctity of marriage. Such biology can be lit like a candle at the wrong time,as the Talmud teaches.

There are, however, two aspects to this. One, let us say that one person, usually the woman, is raised to think that sex is materialistic or worse, and therefore she, out of idealism, wants to minimize sex. We can tell her, as people such as me do tell her, to have sex, as she is mistaken with her idealism. This is easy.

What happens, however, when the husband wants something the wife does not like, not at all? If the wife satisfies her husband, she may become anguished herself. This is a very serious problem. Thus, in general, we can advise people to forget about the tsiniyuse or modesty when it comes to saving a spouse from the evil inclination. However, if by so doing one loses self-respect, we have a great problem.

It is easy to say, hey, maintain your self-respect. It is also not so easy to tell the woman what to do when her husband gives her a disease he picked up with another woman. We have to know that the evil inclination is stronger than most people, and when someone has a problem, it doesn't go away. We therefore encourage people to satisfy their spouse, to make sure that nothing goes outside the home.

Years ago, when I first began working with sexual problems in the community, I found more than I was able to assimilate. I remember the nurse who told me something and tried to restrain her mirth when I had no idea what she was talking about. Those of us who are not there in the emergency rooms just don't know what is going on out there. Those who are active, as I was in my younger years, with child molesters, etc., know that what the Rambam says, that no Jewish community ever existed where there was no adultery, is true today as it always was. I spoke to the Brisker Rov's son, Reb Refoel zt"l, the senior expert on community matters in Jerusalem, and he laughed at me when I presented my limited understanding of just how bad things are. From time to time I think I have reached the end, and then, some therapist or expert laughs at me, and tells me the next stage. You would never believe it, never.

Take it from me. Don't mess around with that yetser Horo. A senior rabbi has said, "Take off the makeup when  you go in the street, but don't be modest in the home."

A lengthy responsa on this is available in my Hebrew work, "Teshuvos Bayis Ne'Emon, Laws of Ribbis. It is about monetary law, or usury, but there is on lengthy responsa to a woman who wanted to be too modest, without, of course, mentioning any names.
Dovid Eidensohn