Chapter: Simḥat Ha-bayit U-virkhato – On the Mitzvot of Marital Intimacy and Procreation

Preface

1 When the present volume, Simḥat Ha-bayit U-virkhato, was first published in Hebrew five years ago, it posed a dilemma that we had not faced before. On one hand, it is very much a part of the Peninei Halakha series … Continue reading

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01. The Importance of the Mitzva

A complete person is one who lives in a joyful and loving marriage. A man is not complete without his wife, and a woman is not complete without her husband. The essence of their union is expressed through the mitzva … Continue reading

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02. Principles of the Mitzva of Ona

The mitzva of ona is for the husband to couple with his wife, in an atmosphere of love and ecstasy, and to pleasure her as best he can, until her ecstasy climaxes in orgasm; he remains coupled with her until … Continue reading

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03. The Meaning of the Word “Ona

The Torah states, “He shall not withhold she’erah, kesutah, or onatah” (Shemot 21:10). Ramban (ad loc.), following one view in Ketubot (48a), interprets she’erah to refer to flesh-to-flesh contact during intimacy, kesutah to refer to the bed and bedding used … Continue reading

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04. The Mitzva of Ona Is Independent of Procreation

Another mitzva, the mitzva of procreation (pru u-revu) is fulfilled by means of the mitzva of ona. This, too, demonstrates the greatness of the mitzva of ona, as through it a man and woman become privileged to partner with God … Continue reading

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05. Revealing the Ultimate Unity

In order to more fully understand the sanctity of this mitzva, we must first explain that God wished to benefit humanity. He created the world incomplete, to provide people with the opportunity to perfect it and make it a better, … Continue reading

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06. The Importance of the Sexual Union of Husband and Wife

The sexual union and unification of husband and wife is so marvelous that it serves as a metaphor for the supernal union of God and the Jewish people, as we read: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will … Continue reading

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07. The Joy of Ona

Under normal circumstances, each person must look out for himself, for if he does not take care of himself, who else will? This sad reality can be obscured by shallow friendships and frivolous entertainment, but in moments of clarity, when … Continue reading

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08. Redemption from Slavery Was in the Merit of This Mitzva

When our ancestors were slaves, the Egyptians wanted to prevent the men from reproducing, in order to wipe Israel out. To that end, they weighed them down with backbreaking labor from dawn to dusk and forced them to sleep in … Continue reading

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01. The Parameters of the Mitzva – The Pinnacle of Pleasure

The mitzva of ona is for a man to bring pleasure and joy to his wife as best he can and to achieve complete sexual union with her, lovingly and with abundant joy (as explained in 1:2 above). Every man … Continue reading

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02. The Man’s Duty and the Woman’s Mitzva

The obligation of ona is incumbent upon the man, as the verse states, “He shall not withhold she’erah, kesutah, or onatah” (Shemot 21:10). Ramban explains that she’erah refers to flesh-to-flesh contact during intimacy, kesutah refers to the bed and bedding … Continue reading

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03. The Man’s Mitzva

A few hours before having sexual relations, a husband should express his love for his wife and his eager anticipation of their upcoming intimacy. Doing so will correspondingly arouse his wife, filling her with love and desire. They should both … Continue reading

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04. Derekh Eretz

God created man and woman to yearn for one another naturally. This sexual attraction is a good thing; indeed it is the foundation of the mitzva of ona. The Sages declare: “The way of the world (derekh eretz) preceded the … Continue reading

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05. The Woman’s Mitzva

As we saw in section 2, even though the mitzvot of marriage and ona devolve upon men, women are equal partners in the fulfillment of the mitzva. Without her responsiveness to her husband, the mitzva is emptied of all its … Continue reading

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06. Women and the Virtue of Nonverbal Cues

The Sages say, “Any woman who propositions her husband to fulfill the mitzva [of ona] will have children the like of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moshe” (Eruvin 100b). This is what our matriarch Leah did: … Continue reading

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07. The Times of Ona

The mitzva of ona depends on a husband’s stamina as well as his profession, as the Sages say in the Mishna: “The ona of which the Torah speaks is daily for tayalim (see below for a definition), twice a week … Continue reading

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08. Beyond the Set Times

In addition to the set obligation of the mitzva of ona, which for most men is twice a week, it is a mitzva for every husband to have sexual relations with his wife when she desires him, as long as … Continue reading

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09. Mikveh Night and the Night Before Traveling

It is a mitzva for a man to have sexual relations with his wife on the night she immerses in the mikveh (SA EH 76:4). If he does not do so, he has neglected a mitzva of the Torah and … Continue reading

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10. Friday Night

The Sages say that the habit of Torah scholars is to fulfill the mitzva of ona on Friday night (Ketubot 62b), and of them it is written, “That yields its fruit in its season” (Tehilim 1:3). Halakhic authorities add that … Continue reading

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11. Men Who Have Difficulty Fulfilling the Mitzva

Everything we have learned regarding the man’s duty of ona relates to healthy men, who transgress a Torah prohibition if they subtract from the set frequency for ona. If this behavior continues, it is obvious grounds for divorce, and the … Continue reading

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12. Women Who Have Difficulty Fulfilling the Mitzva

As we learned (section 1 above), the essence of the mitzva is for a husband to pleasure his wife and give her as much joy as he can, until she reaches orgasm. However, this is not in the hands of … Continue reading

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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 … Continue reading

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14. Inappropriate Times for Sexual Relations

Marital sexual relations are prohibited during times of national crisis, such as widespread famine or war. Only those who have not yet fulfilled the mitzva of procreation may be intimate during such times (Ta’anit 11a; SA 240:12; MB ad loc. … Continue reading

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15. Privacy

Privacy (tzni’ut; lit. “hiddenness”) is an expression of the sanctity of the mitzva of ona; Rashi explains the Sages’ exhortation to sanctify oneself: “Engage in sexual relations in a private manner” (Nidda 71a). This precious mitzva is meant to express … Continue reading

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16. Sexual Intimacy with the Lights On

It is forbidden to have sexual relations during the day, as it is forbidden to do so in the light. This is a matter of modesty and privacy, which is a characteristic Jewish trait (Yevamot 79a). The Sages said, “The … Continue reading

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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, … Continue reading

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18. Anal Intercourse

Normal sexual intercourse is vaginal, but some people desire anal intercourse, which the Talmud calls bi’a she-lo ke-darka, “abnormal intercourse.” Clearly, if anal sexual intercourse is painful for the wife or done against her wishes, it is forbidden. But what … Continue reading

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19. Oral Sex

The Talmud relates that R. Yoḥanan b. Dahavai said, “The ministering angels told me four things…. Why are people born mute? Because [their fathers] kissed the vagina…. Why are people born blind? Because [their fathers] gazed at the vagina” (Nedarim … Continue reading

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01. Depraved Lust

The human sex drive is a powerful thing; it can be extraordinarily positive, and it can drag people down to the depths of depravity. It can lead a person to pursue another person’s spouse, to engage in forbidden sexual relations, … Continue reading

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02. Free Will

Since desire and lust can bring a person so low, some gentile philosophers and theologians maintain that the way to reach spiritual heights is to stay as far as possible from lust and desire. Some rejected marriage entirely, and other … Continue reading

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03. Two Levels of Sanctity in Marriage

There are two levels in the sanctity of marriage. The basic level is when a couple upholds their marriage vows, remaining faithful and not betraying each other. The higher level is when a couple also tries to deepen their love, … Continue reading

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04. Between Love and Lust

Two paths are available to couples: on the good path, the emphasis is on love; on the bad path, the emphasis is on lust. One who follows the evil impulse cares only about himself, chasing women to satisfy his desires. … Continue reading

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05. The Sanctity of Avoiding Sexual Transgression

As we have learned, the basic level of sanctity in marriage is when a husband and wife form a halakhic relationship and avoid sexual transgressions (gilui arayot). Rambam lists 37 Torah prohibitions in his Laws of Sexual Prohibitions, which can … Continue reading

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06. Mitzvot as a Safeguard Against Sin

In addition to the intrinsic value of the mitzva of ona, which gives expression to the love between husband and wife, the mitzva also serves as a shield against adultery. For this reason, unmarried people are more vulnerable to sexual … Continue reading

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07. Mental and Spiritual Health

It is important to add that joyful fulfillment of the mitzva of ona improves one’s mental health and well-being. God created human beings with different drives, with the sex drive prominent among them. While not everyone is the same with … Continue reading

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08. Purity and Impurity

We still need to explain two halakhot, one Torah law and one rabbinic, that seem to indicate that despite the sanctity of the mitzva of ona, it has an aspect of impurity as well. According to the Torah, semen ejaculated … Continue reading

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09. Ezra’s Ordinance

As we mentioned above, the Torah declares semen impure. Ezra the Scribe and his court extended this, ordaining that any man who had sexual relations or otherwise ejaculated semen may not pray or study Torah until immersing in a mikveh … Continue reading

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10. Levels of Holiness and Mindfulness

Let us review some essentials: The mitzva of ona is unique in that its sanctity is revealed in material reality. Moreover, even physical passion and desire, which are generally inclined toward the evil impulse, are transformed by it into a … Continue reading

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11. Rambam’s Approach

Rambam, consistent with his worldview, sees bodily needs and pleasures as mere means to the ultimate end – spiritual service of God. Nevertheless, God created flesh-and-blood human beings, who must take very good care of their bodies, since it is … Continue reading

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12. Ascetic Sanctity and Sublime Love

There is another approach as well. It agrees that there is sanctity in the sexual union of husband and wife, which causes the Shekhina to dwell with them and thereby reveals divine unity in the world, unites heaven and earth, … Continue reading

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