Sex and Judaism

    November 1998         
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Sex and Judaism


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Opinion & Society

Sex in Judaism

By Sara and Arthur Lipshitz

We who live in the modern western society have certain ideas on sex which are based on the ideas and mores that are prevalent in today’s society and culture. The tendency is to extrapolate those ideas and view the ideas in Judaism using our modern ideas as a reference. In regards to sex, the understanding that we have are based on accepted Christian concepts and as we shall see are not concurrent with Jewish thought.

From our Christian neighbors we heard the concept of "Original Sin." This is a notion that the first sin of Adam and Eve was sexually related. Due to this the concept of sex became engarmented in a wrapping of illicitness and embarrassment. It still is not uncommon for those idealistic and G-d searching Christians to take upon themselves a vow of chastity in order to come closer to G-d. This has been the lot of monks and nuns for centuries.

All of this being based on sex being "dirty."

In Judaism, however, since the sin of Adam and Eve was not a sexual sin, the stigma of sex as being a illicit affair has not taken hold. Classical Judaism accepts the sin of Adam and Eve as being a sin of disobeying a divine command, a command to watch the fruits of the tree of knowledge and not to partake of them. It was only after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden that we see that they we embarrassed from their nakedness.

In addition to the above, we also note that one of the first commandments that G-d gave to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply. It must be obvious to all that if G-d Himself, commanded Adam to procreate, there was no evil attached to the act.

Jewish sources reject the concept that sex is an intrinsically evil act. Judaism regards sex in a manner similar to other bodily functions such as eating and drinking. Eating and drinking can bring great ruination to man if done improperly. It requires little proof to note that obesity and alcoholism are outcomes of overindulgence and negative. Yet, eating and drinking are obviously important and beneficial functions of the body.

Going further, eating and drinking compromise an arena of holiness that is available to the Jew. At each festival, a kiddush (sanctification) is made upon wine. Each participant to the festive meal is given wine to drink. Afterwards a large festive meal is served and the participants are encouraged to eat from the tastiest delicacies that have been prepared for this purpose. Even more so, on Purim we have been told by the Rabbis that it is meritorious to drink until we become drunk. During the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, we ate of the Pascal lamb when we were already satisfied and drank four cups of wine.

In the frame work of Judaism, eating and drinking, even sometimes more than the regular meal could be a holy act. Why? Simply because we are participants in a holy commandment from G-d. Since G-d has commanded us to do such an act, then the doing of such an act for that purpose is considered a holy act.

The same is true of sex. Since G-d has instructed man to be fruitful and multiply, the very act as sanctified by the institution of marriage is a holy act. Perhaps it may be difficult to realize this, but just like eating matzoth or drinking the four cups of wine is a holy act, so too is sex. But just like overeating compulsive overeating and alcoholic imbibing is condoned, so are certain aspects of sex.

We realize that eating and drinking have purposes and used without that context, eating and drinking become acts of degradation, so too, sex. In the context of marriage, sex is acceptable; however outside that form, sex is no less dangerous to a person’s spiritual and moral being.

Throughout the history of the Jews, modesty has always been a chief virtue. Mingling between the sexes has been frowned upon. Sexual relations before and beyond the institution of marriage is forbidden, yet matchmaking has always been a noble pastime. While living a live of bachelorism was not forbidden, yet to live and not marry has always been looked down upon. Taking a wife and establishing a family have not just been considered a proper venue, but it was the backbone of the Jewish nation.

To be a holy person, one had to been married. The holiest person in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem was the High Priest. Although he had to separate from his wife prior to officiating in the Temple on Yom Kippur, still if he were not married he could not officiate. So important was his being married that a second wife was selected for him in case the first one were to die - for to be with out a wife would cause his service in the Temple to become invalid.

To conclude without emphasizing the part of the wife, would be to neglect a large part of the holiness of the sexual act. By the Jewish law, the wife was expected to separate from her husband at the onset of her menstrual cycle. This forced abstinence of the sexual life for a period of approximately two weeks, increase the intimate joy of the monthly reunion of the husband, who is required to cohabitate with his wife after she immerses in a mikva (a ritual bath). It has been said that this process of renewal on the part of the wife, has been a factor in stabilizing the marriage, for with it the wife becomes more desirable to the husband.

The Jewish view on sex is completely different from that of the Christian. No evil stigma has ever been associated with sex in Judaism when inside the marital bounds. No person has ever achieved a spiritual growth with out being married.


from theNovember 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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