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 todays 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
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
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
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
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 persons
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