13. Flawed Sexual Union and the Resulting Children

The Sages commend those who sanctify themselves during marital sexual relations, stating that they will merit having good children (Shevu’ot 18b). This “sanctity” entails the couple concentrating solely on their wholehearted love for one another. The greater their love, and the greater their wish for good and righteous children, the holier their sexual union, through which they merit having such children (above, 1:4 and 2:5-6; below, 3:3).

In contrast, the less love and devotion they have toward one another, the more flawed their sexual union, and the greater the likelihood of imperfections within their children. The Talmud lists nine types of flaws in marital sexual relations as well as the resulting imperfections in children conceived through such unions: “Children of fear and rape; children of antipathy; children of ostracism; children of exchange; children of strife; children of drunkenness; children of estrangement; children of entanglement; and children of brazenness” (Nedarim 20b):[13]

  1. Children of fear and rape: The husband threatens his wife and coerces her into having sexual relations, or the wife forces her husband to have sexual relations with her with coercion or intimidation.
  2. Children of antipathy: The husband despises his wife and has sex with her only to satisfy his urges, or the wife despises her husband and has sex with him only to satisfy her urges.
  3. Children of ostracism: The couple has sexual relations when one of them has been excommunicated. Although a person who is excommunicated is not prohibited from having sexual relations (Shakh, YD 334:12), nevertheless, since the rest of the community must distance themselves from such people until they repair their actions, sexual intimacy with them does not have the proper devotion and joy.
  4. Children of exchange: During sexual intercourse, the husband is thinking about another woman or the wife about another man.
  5. Children of strife: The couple is in the middle of an argument and they have sexual relations before making up. Their quarrel does not permit them to forgo their ona, but they have a duty to make up before having sexual relations.
  6. Children of drunkenness: If a couple has sexual relations while one of them is drunk, their union lacks the complete focus on their love and unity.
  7. Children of estrangement: When one of the couple wants to divorce, even if they still have love for each other, their union is incomplete.
  8. Children of entanglement: A woman divorces and remarries someone else within three months (leading to confusion about paternity).
  9. Children of brazenness: When a woman demands sex from her husband in a brazen, coarse, or foul-mouthed manner, or a husband from his wife, such a union contains no love, only the satisfying of lust.
  10. Masekhet Kalla (1:16) introduces a tenth category, children of sleeping: When a man has sexual relations with his wife while she is sleeping, such a union lacks mutual love.

It is said of people conceived under these nine circumstances that since their souls are drawn down to this world by means of a union devoid of love and unity, they are flawed, making it difficult for them to connect to the sacred or to overcome their evil impulses. In addition, when parents lack love and understanding, their feelings of distance and alienation negatively impact the children, who need an environment of love, friendship, stability, and emotional warmth in order to thrive.

Of course, children conceived under these circumstances have free will like everyone else, and if they choose to do what is right, their reward will be even greater, for they will have overcome their evil impulse as well as the poor role models they witnessed at home. However, if they do not make the effort to improve themselves, their tendency toward wickedness will prevail.

When peaceful harmony between husband and wife is compromised throughout the Jewish people, and many children are conceived from flawed unions, it causes a rift between God and the Jewish people, leading to the exile of the people from their land. The purpose of the travails of exile is to purge Israel of its sinners and rebels, born of flawed unions, and to restore and rekindle faith, leading to Israel’s ultimate redemption. As it says, “I will remove from you those who rebel and transgress against Me; I will take them out of the countries where they sojourn, but they shall not enter upon the soil of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (Yeḥezkel 20:38; see also 20:40-44).


[13]. Masekhet Kalla 1:16 states that “they are like mamzerim, yet they are not mamzerim.” The implication is that these children are considered to be born out of a type of emotional adultery. A woman’s thoughts can be just as damaging as a man’s, as is evident from Tanḥuma Naso §7: “If a woman has sexual relations with her husband and is thinking about a man she saw on the street while her husband is penetrating her, there is nothing more adulterous than this.” Rather, the most important thing is for husband and wife to achieve sexual union with complete love for one another, as Rambam wrote, “with mutual desire and joy” (MT, Laws of Dispositions 5:4). Likewise, the other Rishonim wrote that lack of love is what leads to the nine types of flaw (Raavad, Sha’ar Ha-kedusha; Tur, EH 25:1). The Vilna Gaon, discussing the importance of sanctifying oneself during marital sexual relations, writes: “This refers primarily to the children of the nine flaws, of which it is written, ‘I will remove from you those who rebel and transgress’ (Yeḥezkel 20:38), who originate in the mixed multitude and the Tree of Knowledge” (commentary on Tikkunei Zohar, end of §53). Rabbeinu Baḥya likewise writes, “Sanctity is purity of thought, that he does not think about another woman or anything else, only his wife” (commentary on Bereishit 30:38). In 3:3 below we will explain the two levels of sanctity during intimacy.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman