A reader comments that according to his understanding of Jewish law, a husband is permitted to do whatever he pleases with his wife during marital relations, and asks for clarification. At a time when the nation is focused on the scathing report of the Winograd Commission concerning the arrogant and criminal ineptitude of Israel’s leaders during the War in Lebanon, the matter of marital relations might seem totally insignificant and out of place. However, several elder Kabbalists have pointed to the widespread immodesty and sexual transgression in Israel as the deep inner cause of the war, asserting that the majority of man’s sufferings, whether through pestilence, war, or famine, result from transgressions to the Brit of sexual purity. Therefore, in dealing with the issue of sexual transgression, we are dealing with the real inner causes of the war, as the Torah states:
"When thou goest out to encamp against thy enemies, then keep thee from every evil thing. If there be among you any man that is not clean by reason of an impure emission of semen at night, then he shall go abroad outside of the camp, he shall not come within the camp" (Devarim, 23:10-11).
"For the L-rd thy G-d walks in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thy enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy, that He see no unclean thing in thee and turn away from thee" (Devarim, 23:15).
In order to make certain that Israel annihilates its enemies in upcoming wars, we must not only revamp our political leadership and army, we must also revamp our minds and our morals by turning away from the bestial ways and licentious lifestyles of the West, and return to our true holy calling.
It is true that the halachic authority, the Rama, writes that a man can do anything he wants with his wife (with her approval) but he adds that the husband must take care not to spill his semen in vain. Furthermore, he emphasizes that while many liberties are permitted, it is preferable to sanctify oneself in what is permitted and not to engage in immodest practices (Aven HaEzer, 25:10). However, the commentary, "Hilchat Michukek," comments on this ruling, by emphatically questioning the validity of any marital behavior that results in the spilling of semen in vain (see loc. cited).
In his book, "Darke Tahara," former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechi Eliahu, Shlita, sums up the matter:
"Even though there are things which are permitted for a husband to do, nothing good will come from them. Regarding this, the Gemara lists physical blemishes that can occur to a newborn when the manner of sexual relations was not conducted in a proper way, even though permitted (Nedarim 20A).
"Thus, even though it is permitted to have relations at whatever time one wants, the Jewish People are holy and don’t have relations during the daytime hours (Niddah 17A). And even though one may kiss whatever part of his wife’s body that he wants, it is forbidden to look at or to kiss his wife’s sexual organ" (Aven HaEzer, 230:4).
For more specific guidelines regarding the holiness of the marital union, readers are encouraged to browse through our website www.jewishsexuality.com for an in-depth exploration of the subject.
Another reader questioned the need for added holiness during marital relations, saying that couples have enough problems just living together without complicating their lives in the bedroom.
In more cases than not, the opposite is true. Kabbalists tell us that it is precisely unholy behavior in the bedroom that causes most marital problems. For example, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi warns that a lack of modesty in marital relations such as immodest positions, or engaging in relations in a lit room or during the day, can cause serious medical, emotional, and spiritual defects in ones offspring. In many places, the Zohar describes the damage that results from immodest, lightheaded behavior in the bedroom, emphasizing that a Jew is commanded to sanctify himself in his marital relations and not to be drawn after his lusts:
"Rabbi Abba said, I see that the masses pay no attention to, and are ignorant of, the honor due to their Master. It is written of Israel, ‘I have set you apart from the nations to be mine’ (Vayikra, 20:24), and it is written, ‘You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I, the L-rd, am holy’ (Ibid, 11:44).
"If they distance themselves from G-d, where is their holiness, since their lusts turn them away from Him? About this, the verse proclaims, "Be not as the horse, nor as the mule which have no understanding" (Tehillim, 32:9). How are men distinguished from the horse and the mule? By sanctifying themselves, and by perfecting themselves, and by distinguishing themselves from all other creatures.
"If men distance themselves from Him and behave like beasts during their marital relations, where is their holiness in their duty to be holy? Where are those holy souls that could have been brought down from Above? Regarding this, King Shlomo cried out and proclaimed, "Also the soul without knowledge is not good" (Mishle, 19:2). What lack of knowledge does this refer to? The knowledge of HaKodesh Baruch Hu (during marital relations). When this occurs, then the soul is not good. This is the soul that is drawn down to their offspring through their marital relations, it is not good, for this soul is drawn down from the Impure Side, and this is not a good soul, for their hearts are not concentrated on G-d.
"A man who incites himself with the evil inclination, and who does not focus his intention and the desire of his heart on G-d, the soul which he draws down comes from the side of the evil inclination, and this soul is not good. This is the meaning of, ‘Also the soul without knowledge is not good.’
"And this is the reason that evil diseases fall upon men, and bear witness against them of their brazenness, and reveal that G-d is repelled by them, and that He will not look on them with favor until they repent and mend their ways and return to their original purity" (Zohar, Vayikra 49b).
We saw that our Sages explain holiness as not only avoiding sexual relations that are clearly forbidden by the Torah, but also in sanctifying oneself in things that are permitted. The need for carefulness in one’s marital relations is underscored in the classic treatise on Jewish morality and holiness, "Mesillat Yesharim," a book esteemed by all of Orthodox Jewry. Regarding the need for separation, the book’s author, the holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Haim Lutzato, states:
"The rationale of Separation is epitomized in the words of our Sages of blessed memory, ‘Sanctify yourself through what is permitted to you’ (Yevamot 20a). "This is the meaning of the word separation – separating and withdrawing from something that is permitted, as if it were forbidden. The intent is to keep oneself from that which is forbidden. The understanding is that a person should withdraw and separate himself from anything which might give rise to something that could bring about evil, even though it does not bring about it at the moment, and even though it is not evil in itself.
"One might ask, What basis is there for multiplying prohibitions? Have our Sages of blessed memory not said, ‘Are the Torah’s prohibitions not enough for you that you come to create new prohibitions for yourself?’ Have our Sages of blessed memory in their great wisdom not seen what was necessary to forbid as a safeguard; and they have not already forbidden it? And does it not follow then that anything they did not prohibit, they felt should be permitted? Then why should we now initiate edicts which they felt no need for? What is more, there is no limit to this. One would have to live in desolation and affliction, deriving no enjoyment whatsoever from the world, whereas our Sages of blessed memory have said that a man will have to give an accounting to the Almighty for everything that his eyes beheld and he did not wish to eat, though permitted and able to do so (Yerushalmi, Kiddushin, 4:12). They quoted Scripture in their support, ‘Anything my eyes asked, I did not keep from them’ (Kohelet, 2:10).
"The answer to all of these arguments is that Separation is certainly necessary and essential. Our Sages of blessed memory exhorted us concerning it, explaining the Torah command ‘Be holy!’ to mean, ‘Separate yourselves!’ (Sifre, Vayikra, 19:2).
"For there is no worldly pleasure upon whose heels some sin does not follow. For example, kosher food and drink are permitted, but over imbibing causes one to put off the yoke of Heaven, and the drinking of wine brings in its wake licentiousness and other evils....
"There is no question as to the permissibility of cohabitation with one’s wife, but still ablutions were instituted for those who had had seminal emissions, so that scholars should not be constantly with their wives, like roosters. Even though the act in itself is permissible, it plants in a person a lust for it which might draw him on to what is forbidden; as our Sages of blessed memory have said, ‘There is a small organ in a man which, when it is satiated, hungers, and which, when it is made to hunger, is sated’ (Sukkah 52b).
"The best way for a man to acquire Separation is to regard the inferior quality of the pleasures of the world, both in point of their own insignificance and in point of the great evils to which they are prone to give rise. For what inclines one’s nature to these pleasures to the extent that he requires so much strength and scheming to separate himself from them is the gullibility of his eyes, their tendency to be deceived by good and pleasing superficial appearances. It was this deception that led to the commission of the first sin. As Scriptures testifies: ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat from and that it was desirable to the eyes...and she took of its fruit and ate’ (Bereshit, 3:6). But when it becomes clear to a person that this ‘good’ is deceptive and illusive, that it has no healthy permanence, and that it contains real evil, or is prone to give rise to it, he will certainly come to despise and decline it. All that a man need teach his intelligence then is to recognize the weakness and falseness of these pleasures so that he will naturally come to despise them and find it not at all difficult to spurn them....
"What one must be heedful of in the process of acquiring Separation is not to desire to leap to its farthest reaches in one moment, for he will certainly not be able to make such great strides. He should rather proceed in Separation, little by little, acquiring a little today and adding a little more tomorrow, until he is so habituated to it that it is second nature with him."
In conclusion, in order to make certain that Israel annihilates its enemies in upcoming wars, we must not only revamp our political leadership and army, we must also revamp our minds and our morals by turning away from the bestial ways and licentious lifestyles of the West, and return to our true holy calling.