Jewish Attitudes Towards Sexuality
In Jewish Law sex is not considered shameful, sinful or obscene. Sex is not a necessary evil for the sole purpose of procreation. Although sexual desire comes from the yetzer ra (the evil impulse), it is no more evil than hunger or thirst, which also come from the yetzer ra. Like hunger, thirst or other basic instincts, sexual desire must be controlled and channeled, satisfied at the proper time, place and manner. But when sexual desire is satisfied between a husband and wife at the proper time, out of mutual love and desire, sex is a mitzvah.
Sex is permissible only within the context of marriage.a marriage. In Judaism, sex is not merely a way of experiencing physical pleasure. It is an act of immense significance, which requires commitment and responsibility. The requirement of marriage before sex ensures that sense commitment and responsibility. Jewish law also forbids sexual contact short of intercourse outside of the context of marriage, recognizing that such contact will inevitably lead to intercourse.
The primary purpose of sex is to reinforce the loving marital bond between husband and wife. The first and foremost purpose of marriage is companionship, and sexual relations play on important role. Procreation is also a reason for sex, but it is not the only reason. Sex between husband and wife is permitted (even recommended) at times when conception is impossible, such as when the woman is pregnant, after menopause, or when the woman is using a permissible form of contraception.
In the Torah, the word used for sex between husband and wife comes from the root Dalet-Ayin-Tav, meaning 'to know', which vividly illustrates that proper Jewish sexuality involves both the heart and mind, not merely the body.
Nevertheless, Judaism does not ignore the physical component of sexuality. The need for physical compatibility between husband and wife is recognized in Jewish law. A Jewish couple must meet at least once before the marriage, and if either prospective spouse finds the other physically repulsive, the marriage is forbidden.
Sex should only be experienced in a time of joy. Sex for selfish personal satisfaction, without regard for the partner’s pleasure, is wrong and evil. A man may never force his wife to have sex. A couple may not have sexual relations while drunk or quarreling. Sex may never be used as a weapon against a spouse, either by depriving the spouse of sex or by compelling it. It is a serious offense to use sex (or lack thereof) to punish or manipulate a spouse.
Sex is the woman’s right, not the man's. A man has a duty to give his wife sex regularly and to ensure that sex is pleasurable for her. He is also obligated to watch for signs that his wife wants sex, and to offer it to her without her asking for it. The woman’s right to sexual intercourse is referred to as onah, and is one of a wife’s three basic rights (the others are food and clothing), which a husband may not reduce. The Talmud specifies both the quantity and quality of sex that a man must give his wife. It specifies the frequency of sexual obligation based on the husband’s occupation, although this obligation can be modified in the Ketubah (marriage contact). A man may not take a vow to abstain from sex for an extended period of time, and may not take a journey for an extended period of time, because that would deprive his wife of sexual relations. In addition, a husband’s consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations is grounds for compelling a man to divorce his wife, even if the couple hac already fulfilled the halakhic obligation to procreate.
Although sex is the woman’s right, she does not have absolute discretion to withhold it from her husband. A woman may not withhold sex from her husband as a form of punishment, and if she does, ahe husband may divorce her without paying the substantial divorce settlement provided for in the ketubah.
Although some sources take a more narrow view, the general view of Halakhah is that any sexual act that does not involve sh’chatat zerah (destruction of seed, that is, ejaculation outside the vagina) is permissible. As one passage in the Talmud states, 'a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife'. In fact, there are passages in the Talmud that encourage foreplay to arouse the woman
In principle, birth control is permitted, so long as the couple is committed to eventually fulfilling the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply (which, at a minimum, consists of having two children, one of each gender).
The issue in birth control is not whether it is permitted, but what method is permitted. It is wellestablished that methods that destroy the seed or block the passage of the sed are not permitted, thus condoms are not permitted for birth control. However, the pill is well-recignized as an acceptable form of birth control under Jewish Law. I have also heard some say that a condom would be permitted under Jewish law to prevent transmission of AIDS or similar diseases, because preserving the life of the uninfected spouse takes priority; however, I am not certain how authoritative this view is. If this is an issue for you, you should consult a competent rabbinic authority.
Jewish Law not only permits, but in some circumstances requires abortion. Where the mother’s life is in jeopardy because of the unborn child, abortion is mandatory.
An unborn child has the status of 'potential human life' until the majority of the body has emerged from the mother. Potential human life is valuable, and may not be terminated casually, but it does not have as much value as a life in existence. The Talmud makes no bones about this: it says quite bluntly that if the fetus threatens the life of the mother, you cut it up within her body and remove it limb by limb if necessary, because its life is not as valuable as hers. But once the greather part of the body has emerged, you cannot take its life to save the mother’s, because you cannot choose between one human life and another.
Avi M. Kozma
Jewish Community in the R. Macedonia