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By Tzvi Fishman
3/21/2007, 12:00 AM

Kabbalah is not something contrary to halacha, but rather it enhances and deepens our understanding of the Torah and its commandments.

A few readers wrote that it is OK that Fishman likes Kabbalah, but it is the halacha (Jewish Law) that people must follow. In response, it should be understood that Kabbalah is not something contrary to halacha, but rather it enhances and deepens our understanding of the Torah and its commandments. While Kabbalists generally do call for added stringency surrounding the marital union, it should not be thought that the halacha is lenient in this matter. To clarify this point, below is a very abridged version of the laws of marital relations, as recorded in the "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch," an authoritative and recognized guidebook to Jewish Law.

But first, in answer to my concerned and righteous brothers who worry about discussing these matters in public, here is a statement from the Torah giant, Rabbi Aharon Cutler, may his memory be for a blessing:

"Here I want to awaken you to a painful and shocking matter about which many people err. There are many people whom refrain from speaking about these things under the pretext of modesty. May Heaven help us! In such a fallen and licentious generation as ours, where everything is exposed without shame in the open - to speak about holiness and modesty – this is considered an affront to modesty?! Can there be a greater deception on the part of the evil inclination than this?! On the contrary, it is an absolute obligation to speak about these matters in public!"

A man should accustom himself to be in a mood of supreme holiness and to have pure thoughts when having marital relations with his wife. He should not indulge in levity with her, nor defile his mouth with indecent jokes, even in private conversation with her.... He should not converse with her at copulation, or immediately before it, except about something directly needed for the act. However, if he is angry with her, when it is improper for a man to have relations with his wife, he may speak kind words to her in order to appease her. The marital union should be in the most modest manner possible. He underneath and she above him is considered a brazen act. Both at the same level is considered a pervert act. It is told of Rabbi Eliezar (Nedarim 20b), that he used to have marital relations with such awe and terror that it appeared that a demon was forcing him to do it. [It is important to note that the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, takes exception to this, saying that if a man has relations with his wife as if demons were forcing him, then the offspring will turn out like demons, G-d forbid. Instead, he maintains that the marital act should be performed in an active, robust, loving fashion, so that the offspring will be active, robust, and loving in their service of G-d.]

When engaging in the marital union, it is proper to contemplate on matters of Torah, or other sacred subjects. While it is forbidden during the act even to utter holy words, thinking holy thoughts is permitted, and even meritorious.

It is forbidden to have intercourse by light, even if the light is shut out by means of a garment, but it is permissible if one makes a partition forty inches high in front of the light. It is also forbidden to have intercourse during the day, unless the room is darkened. At night, if the moon shines directly upon them, it is forbidden, but if it does not shine directly upon them, then it is permissible if that light is shut out by a garment.

One is forbidden to look at the sexual organ of his wife. Whoever does so is devoid of shame, and violates, "And walk humbly." Also by this, he stimulates lewd thoughts within himself. Certainly, one who kisses that place violates all of this, and in addition, he violates, "You shall not make yourselves detestable."

A person must not be unduly familiar with his wife, excepting at the regular time appointed for the marital duty, as is written, "And her conjugal rights shall not be diminished." [The number of times a week depends on his constitution, occupation, and whether he travels for work.] The time appointed for Torah scholars is on Sabbath night. One must fulfill his marital duty even when ones wife is pregnant or nursing. One must not deprive his wife of her conjugal rights, unless she consents to it, and when he has already fulfilled the obligation of having children. If he deprives his wife thereof, in order to afflict her, he violates the Divine command, "And her conjugal rights shall not be diminished."

It is the duty of every husband to visit his wife on the night she has performed the ritual of immersion. Also on the night he is to set out on a journey. When a man sees that his wife is coquetting and primping and trying to please him, he is bound to visit her, even if it is not the appointed time. From such a union will come worthy children.

When having marital relations, his intention should not be to satisfy his personal desire, but to fulfill his obligation to perform his marital duty, like one paying a debt, and to comply with the command of his Creator, with the goal that he have children engaged in the study of Torah and the practice of its precepts.... If he is overwhelmed with a craving for it and he cohabits with his wife to avert sinful lust, he is destined to receive reward for it. But it is better to conquer his passion. For as our Sages say, "A man has a small organ; if he starves it, it is satiated, and if he nurtures it, it is hungry" (Sukkot 52b). But one who has no need for it, and he deliberately arouses his lust, he is following the counsel of the evil impulse.

One should not have relations with his wife unless she has a desire for it, but not otherwise, and certainly one is forbidden to force her. Nor should one be with his wife when she is actually asleep, or when he or she is intoxicated.

Semen is the vitality of the body and the light of one’s eyes. When it issues in abundance, the body weakens and life is shortened. He who indulges in having intercourse, ages quickly, his strength ebbs, his eyes grow dim, his breath becomes foul, the hair of his head falls out, his teeth fall out, and many other ailments beside these befall him. Great physicians said that one out of a thousand die from other diseases, while nine hundred and ninety-nine die from sexual indulgence. Therefore, a man should exercise self-restraint.