What does Judaism say about marital nudity? Some married couples NEVER see each other naked (it is said)..
Rabbi Martin J Berman
The concept of tzniut – modesty is certainly an important concept in traditional Judaism. How one dress in public, how much skin is shown, whether or not you go out in public is an important question. Unfortunately, we mostly hear the issue concerning women and not men, but both are equally bound to have a sense of modesty – although how that is defined is subject to debate and various societies and that includes the Jewish community come to very different conclusions.
How should that translate to intimacy between two married people? To start with nudity, even around the same sex, is often seen as offensive in the more puritanical elements found in Jewish tradition. We are always in the presence of God and should act accordingly. Yet the Talmud discusses the question of a man saying the Shema when his wife is naked in bed with him and it states that her body is like his own – so there should be no issue. (Berachot 24a). Earlier the discussion was about a woman reciting a blessing when she is naked and separating challah (part of dough that is supposed to be given to a Kohen) and from the discussion it is clear that as long as her vagina is covered while she is sitting on the floor – something which a man cannot do. Further on it states that a man cannot recite the Shema when his wife is present and the parts of her body which are normally covered are not.
I cite these passages because none of the rabbis involved suggested under any circumstances the man should not see his naked wife and vice versa. It is true that the rabbis had serious misgivings about a man looking at his wife’s vagina and the also stated that sexual relations should not take place in a lighted room. But elsewhere we find codified that a man may kiss any part of his wife. Are there Jews who avoid seeing their spouse naked? I am sure that is the case. Is it prohibited, I don’t see why that should be. Intimacy between spouses is an important part of a healthy marriage and the fact is that Jewish tradition has great latitude about sexual play between husband and wife. In a passage just recently read as part of the daf yomi, Rav Hisda gives his daughters advice about how to maintain a good marital relationship and then even tells them how to get him excited in bed.
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Question: My wife of 19.5 years gave a non-Jew oral sex. We are a frum Orthodox family. I am a kohen. I was wondering if her act renders her assur (forbidden) to me. Must I divorce her? What is the halachah and what Jewish values are at stake here?
“They [Kohanim] shall not marry a woman deﬁled by harlotry (zona), nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God.” - Leviticus 21:7
There are several issues that must be clarified in this question.
Does oral sex count as an act of adultery? Does it render a woman forbidden to a Kohen?
What is the status of Kohanim today? Would a Kohen today be compelled to divorce a wife who has committed adultery?
What is the actual purpose of the question? What is the halachah and what Jewish values are at stake here?
When Abraham’s servant is sent to find a wife for Isaac and Rebecca comes on the scene the Torah says: “The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known.” Gen. 24:17. If she was a virgin why does the Torah add “whom no man had known”? Rashi says: “[Even] in an unnatural manner, since the daughters of the pagans would preserve their vaginal virginity but give themselves over [to other types of relations]”. There are various opinions as to what constitutes unnatural relations but it is my impression that most include fellatio in that category. From that description it could be that fellatio does not remove a woman from the status of a virgin. But does that act put her into the category of a zona (a woman who engages in illicit sexual activity)?
Maimonides makes very clear that this is the case, that it makes no difference “whether by force, or willingly, intentionally or unintentionally, whether in a natural manner or an unnatural manner” once the act has begun she is rendered a zona. This language is replicated in the later codes.
However Maimonides and the later codes also require two witnesses that the act or at least the possibility took place. Furthermore, her own admission by itself is disregarded. So too rules the Rema.
I believe that we could stop here. But we must also add that the very status of Kohanim today is not so clear. Shlomo Luria, in Yam Shel Shelomo Bava Kamma 5:35 rules that indeed “the lineage of priests and Levites are almost certainly mixed up; if not all of them, at least most of them are mixed up...and if not most than close to half are mixed up.” This is in contrast to the ruling of Maimonides that Kohanim have the presumption that they are indeed descendants from the Kohanic line. Thus, while in a case of doubt in a Torah law we rule stringently, I believe that we would not insist that a Kohain must divorce his wife in the case at hand.
Any question has a purpose behind it, whether it is for knowledge, direction for behaviour or some hidden motivation. In this case, why is he asking for a ruling? Is due to his commitment to Halachah and he wants to do what is demanded of him by our tradition? In which case I don’t think he must divorce her.
Or is it to back up what he wants to do anyway, namely divorce his wife. If that is the case, if the marriage has truly broken down and he can no longer feel that he wants to be married to her, then he doesn’t need any other reason.
Or is he torn because in his heart he doesn’t want a divorce but also wants to follow the laws of the Torah. In this case his heart is leading him in the correct direction.
We live in an age in which sexual behaviour, love and commitment are divorced from each other. A President of the United States can claim “I did not have sex with that woman” believing that fellatio is not “sex.” High school students can play games using fellatio as part of the game. When sexual behaviour is seen as merely another type of recreation we have lost the sense of kedushah – sanctity - that Judaism seeks to add to life. A life of sanctity doesn’t mean giving up the pleasures of life. It means infusing every act we perform whether it be eating and drinking, doing business or creating a home and establishing the closest relationship that can exist between two people.
Rabbi Martin J. Berman
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