17. In the Presence of Sacred Texts

Even though the sanctity of the mitzva of ona is very great, it is still necessary to separate different realms; the mitzva of ona involves unbounded physical liberation and joy, whereas Torah must be studied with a sense of dread, awe, fear, and trembling, and a Torah scroll must be treated with seriousness and gravity (as explained below, 3:9). Therefore, marital relations are forbidden in a room in which there is a Torah scroll written with ink on parchment as it was written at Mount Sinai. If at all possible, the Torah scroll should be removed from the room. If that is not an option, a barrier must be set up between the Torah and the bed in such a way that the scroll is considered to be in a separate domain. The barrier must be at least ten tefaḥim (30 in or 76 cm) high and four amot (6 ft or 1.82 m) wide (Darkhei Tahara 22:41). The scroll must also not be visible to the couple.

It is forbidden to have sexual relations in a room where there are tefilin, a mezuza, or any other handwritten sacred text. However, if one covers these objects with two covers, it is permitted. The regular tefilin case or mezuza cover can serve as the first cover, but the second covering must be specifically for this purpose. The tefilin must be covered with a sheet or towel or placed in an additional case. Usually, a mezuza already has two covers, at least one of which is opaque, making it permissible to have sexual relations (or change a baby’s diaper, etc.) in that room.

As for printed Torah texts on a shelf or elsewhere in the room, their binding serves as one cover, and it is proper to cover them with an additional cover, like cloth or paper. Under pressing circumstances, when this is impossible to do so, they may have sexual relations provided that they make sure to cover themselves with a blanket, so that they are not naked in the presence of the books.[17]

Some say that it is necessary to perform netilat yadayim (ritual handwashing) after relations (Shlah; Darkhei Tahara 24:3). However, in practice, there is no obligation to do this, and those who wish to go straight to sleep may do so.[18]


[17]. There are several uncertainties with respect to printed books. The first is whether they have the same status as manuscripts. According to most poskim, they have the same status as handwritten sacred texts (this is the opinion of Masat Binyamin §99; Taz, YD 271:8; MB 40:4; and the overwhelming majority of poskim; however, Ḥavot Ya’ir §187 and Eliya Rabba 40:2 rule leniently under pressing circumstances). The second is whether a book binding is considered the first covering. Some say that it is (Birkei Yosef and Ḥesed La’alafim), while others maintain that it is not (MA and MB 40:4). In combination with the prior uncertainty, one may be lenient (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 40:14; Darkhei Tahara 22:49; Piskei Teshuvot 40:3).

Under pressing circumstances, the blanket covering the couple may be considered a covering for this purpose. Then, together with the binding, there are two covers, once the view that printed books do not have the same level of sanctity as manuscript books is factored in (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 40:17; Darkhei Tahara 22:57).

Be-di’avad, it is permissible to have sexual relations in a room where the mezuza does not have a double covering, in accordance with the view of Ma’amar Mordechai 40:2, namely, that the requirement for two coverings applies to tefilin but not a mezuza, which is set in place and which is more than ten tefaḥim off the floor. This is the position of Responsa Zivḥei Tzedek §40 and Halakha Berura 40:9.

[18]. The Rishonim and most Aḥaronim do not mention a requirement of netilat yadayim. However, SA 4:18 states that some say it is necessary to do netilat yadayim after sexual relations. One possible explanation is that this refers to a person who gets out of bed following relations and starts going about his business. In contrast, a person who simply goes to sleep can fulfill the obligation of netilat yadayim upon waking. This is the opinion of Taharat Moshe 3:17 and R. Meir Mazuz. Likewise, R. Yosef Messas writes that the custom is not to do netilat yadayim after relations (Mayim Ḥayim 2:1:3).

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman