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In Jewish thought, sexuality has both a positive and negative potential, depending on the context in which it is expressed. Judiasm recognizes that sexual need (Yitzra De’arayot) are essential.
Sexual acts within a marriage
Maimonides discusses this issue in regards to what kind of sexual acts are permitted – and unlike many other religions, he says that married couple may do whatever at all they wish with each other. At the same time, Maimonides was personally ascetic, and as a philosopher who taught that the highest goal was to study philosophy, he discouraged what he termed “excessive” sex. That being said, he states:
“A man’s wife is permitted to him. Therefore a man may do whatever he desires with his wife. They may engage in relations whenever they desire, kiss any organ desired, engage in vaginal or other intercourse, or engage in physical intimacy without relations, provided he does not release seed in vain. Nevertheless, it is pious conduct for a person not to act frivolously concerning such matters and to sanctify himself at the time of relations, as explained in Hilchot Deot. He should not depart from the ordinary pattern of the world. For this act was [given to us] for the sake of procreation…
… Our Sages do not derive satisfaction from a person who engages in sexual relations excessively … Instead, everyone who minimizes his sexual conduct is praiseworthy, provided he does not neglect his conjugal duties, without the consent of his wife”
—Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah, 21:9,11
The basic Jewish positive attitude towards sex and sexuality within marriage is especially opposed to Western Christianity, which does not view the matter much in favor, due to a belief that sex has been contaminated by original sin.
The Rabbinical Assembly published a pastoral letter for the purpose of teaching Jews about the Jewish tradition regarding sexuality. “This Is My Beloved: This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations” was written by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff on behalf of and with extensive input from The Rabbinical Assembly. It covers:
sex within marriage
dealing with infertility
the laws of family purity (tohorat hamishpacha)
It is available from the United Synagogue Book Service, or can be downloaded for free here:
This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations
Holiness in sex: the laws of family purity
Having children and birth control
The Tankah [Hebrew Bible] does not have any specific laws relating to pornography and Judaism has always had a positive attitude to sex. In fact, some commentators note, the Bible itself contains erotica, such as the Song of Songs. However, Jewish traditions of modesty and humility (tzniut) require Jewish men and women to dress modestly. Accordingly, though not disapproving of pornography in itself, Jewish tradition frowns on engaging in pornographic modelling or acting. There are also halakhic discussions on the prohibitions of hirhur (lit. “thought”) and histaklut (lit. “gazing”), which may impact on pornography. The issue, according to Chabad website, is one of personal control over one’s urges, which pornography, it is asserted, takes away.
Love Your Neighbor and Yourself, Elliot N. Dorff, JPS
“Lifecycles – Volume 1: New Perspectives on Life Passages and Personal Milestones from Jewish Women” Rabbi Debra Orenstein, Jewish Lights.
Brings together over fifty women writers, rabbis, and scholars to create the first comprehensive work on Jewish lifecycle that fully includes women’s perspectives. Topics covered include childbirth, welcoming children into name and covenant, marriage, singlehood, conversion, parenting, divorce, mid-life, aging and more.
“God, Love, Sex, and Family: A Rabbi’s Guide for Building Relationships That Last” Michael Gold. 1998, Jason Aronson
Gold writes that this book “grew out of my years of counseling families on a variety of issues. It deals with such questions as the relationship between parents and children, sibling rivalry, making marriages that work, the role of sexuality, and the meaning of family. It is written as a passionate moderate, who believes that family is a God given ideal.”
“Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology” Rivkah Slonim, Jason Aronson Inc.
In this collection of almost 50 pieces, both women and men contribute their thoughts on this ancient and modern Jewish tradition. Part I, In Theory and Practice, contains essays that discuss mikvah and the consequences of its use from theological, philosophical, mystical, practical,and historical perspectives. Part II, Voices, offers essays that capture the attitudes and responses to this rite. Part III, Memories and Tales, offers a collection of mikvah stories from the Warsaw Ghetto to Aruba, from Communist Russia to Alaska. It will at once educate those who are unfamiliar with the mikvah ritual, inspire those who have, thus far, been hesitant to make this rite their own, and will reveal the blessing it bestows upon those who immerse themselves in its waters.
“Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss”, Nina Beth Cardin.
Providing companionship and strength for healing from others who also have grieved, this book is a spiritual companion that enables the reader to mourn within the words and ways of Judaism. Drawing on the wellspring of comfort found in traditional Jewish texts and prayer; it also offers readings and rituals created especially for parents struggling with the uncertainty and sorrow of pregnancy loss and infertility, providing a source of compassion, healing, and hope
Keruv: Understanding Intermarriage
from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. Reaching out to intermarried Jews, from within a Jewish perspective.