Halacha L’Moshe Mi Sinai
Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
May 4, 2005 – Number 5765-30
Taharat HaMishpacha II – Sex Laws
On Yom Kippur, as part of the afternoon/Mincha service, we read in the Torah the table of forbidden sexual relations from Leviticus. It seems like a strange choice for the holiest day of the year, but to the Rabbis it made a lot of sense. Yom Kippur was not supposed to be a day that is only solemn and holy, it was a day of celebration as well. When the ritual in the Temple of Jerusalem was completed, there was a joyful air in the city. Our sins were forgiven and we were inscribed for a new year. Yom Kippur afternoon was therefore, the time when families would announce the engagement of their children and wedding dates for the upcoming year. The Torah reading from Leviticus was chosen to impress upon families the importance of proper sexual behavior.
Judaism is clear that the only safe, meaningful and holy way to engage in sexual relations was with a spouse. Sex was not bad, sinful or dirty; on the contrary, it was an important part of our holiest relationship, marriage. Judaism does insist, however that sex is personal, and very private. It is nobody=s business to know anyone else=s sexual behaviors. Sex was to be the most intimate and private part of a couples life. Maybe this seems quaint in today=s era of Areality television@ but there is much to this. Marriages that do not have trust when it comes to intimacy, will not long endure.
Judaism does not regulate what kind of sex a couple can have, that is a private decision between a husband and wife. The Rabbis of the Talmud certainly understood about a varied and healthy sex life. They only insisted that sex be a mutual decision between husband and wife. Coercive sex was not permitted. Rape, forced sex even between wife and husband was forbidden. Adultery remains a capital crime in Judaism, an offence not only between a married couple but against G-d, who sanctifies a marriage, as well. One purpose of the Ketubah was to prevent sexual promiscuity, and to prevent the women from becoming the victims of sexual predators. It established a financial incentive to make things work between a husband and wife.
The Rabbis understood that sexual relations were one reason that people got married and if there were major changes in the sexual life of the couple, that too could cause problems in the family. If a man was a shopkeeper and home every evening, and he decided that he wanted to change professions and become a captain of an oceangoing ship, this decision would mean that he would be home only once or twice a year. His wife, who would stand to lose her sexual partner for such a long time, could veto his change in occupation or ask to be divorced because it would mean her having to suffer less sexual attention from her husband.
Many Rabbis, through the ages, praised men who went out of their way to be kind and considerate of their wives. In ages where men were considered to be the Arulers of the home@ and princes in their castle, Judaism encouraged a partnership between husband and wife. She was not his slave and he was required to not only care for her and be kind to her, but to provide for her what she needed in order for her to fulfil her needs. Husbands were also required to provide for their wives the cosmetics and clothing necessary for the wife to look good for her husband. (In a world where people want to look good out in the world but dress sloppy at home, Judaism teaches that what we look like out in the world is less important than that we should Adress to impress@ our spouse even when we are at home.)
Conservative Judaism has published a Pastoral Letter on proper sexual activities called, AMy Beloved My Friend@ that outlines modern Jewish Sexual Ethics. One of the most controversial parts of this letter was the section on APremarital Sex@. Judaism strongly believes that sex is best when it is a part of a committed, loving marital relationship. There are just too many things that denigrate the couple and the sexual activities when a couple are not married. However, Judaism is not a zero-sum game. Judaism insists that sex be reserved for marriage, but if someone were to choose to violate this rule, the other rules regarding sex still apply. Sex still can not be coercive. It must be a mutual decision between the man and woman. It has to be private. And the relationship must be monogamous. Judaism does not allow multiple partners. There is also little doubt that teenagers do not have the maturity or the stability to engage in sexual activity at all.
Next week: Taharat HaMishpacha III – The Mikveh