These sources accompany the first episode of the second season of the Joy of Text podcast.
Sex Signals – The Wife Initiating Sex
1. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b
|אמר ריב”ל: כל היודע באשתו שהיא יראת שמים ואינו פוקדה – נקרא חוטא, שנאמר: וידעת כי שלום אהלך וגו’. ואמר ריב”ל: חייב אדם לפקוד את אשתו בשעה שהוא יוצא לדרך, שנא’: וידעת כי שלום אהלך וגו’. הא מהכא נפקא? מהתם נפקא: ואל אישך תשוקתך – מלמד, שהאשה משתוקקת על בעלה בשעה שהוא יוצא לדרך!||R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: Whosoever knows his wife to be a God-fearing woman and does not duly visit her is called a sinner; for it is said, “And though shalt know that thy tent is in peace.”|
R. Yehoshua b. Levi further stated: It is a man’s duty to pay a visit to his wife when he starts on a journey; for it is said, “And though shalt know that thy tent is in peace etc.” Is this deduced from here? Surely it is deduced from the following: “And they desire shall be to thy husband” teaches that a woman yearns for her husband when he sets out on a journey.
2. Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 100b
|אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יוחנן: כל אשה שתובעת בעלה לדבר מצוה – הווין לה בנים שאפילו בדורו של משה לא היו כמותן…|
איני? והאמר רב יצחק בר אבדימי: עשר קללות נתקללה חוה, דכתיב +בראשית ג’+ אל האשה אמר הרבה ארבה – אלו שני טפי דמים, אחת דם נדה ואחת דם בתולים. עצבונך – זה צער גידול בנים, והרנך – זה צער העיבור, בעצב תלדי בנים – כמשמעו. ואל אישך תשוקתך – מלמד שהאשה משתוקקת על בעלה בשעה שיוצא לדרך. והוא ימשל בך – מלמד שהאשה תובעת בלב, והאיש תובע בפה, זו היא מדה טובה בנשים. – כי קאמרינן – דמרצייא ארצויי קמיה.
|R. Samuel b. Nahmani citing R. Yochanan stated: A woman who solicits her husband to the mitzvah act will have children the like of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moses…|
But can that be right? Seeing that R. Isaac b. Abdimi stated: Eve was cursed with ten curses, since it is written: “Unto the woman He said, and I will greatly mutiply” which refers to the two drops of blood, one being that of menstruation and the other that of virginit, ‘thy pain’ refers to the pain of bringing up children, ‘and thy travail’ refers to the pain of conception, ‘in pain thou shall bring forth children’ is to be understood in its literal meaning, ‘and thy desire shall be to thy husband’ teaches that a woman yearns for her husband when he is about to set out on a journey, ‘and he shall rule over thee’ teaches that while the wife solicits with her heart the husband does so with his mouth, this being a fine trait of character among women? – What was meant is that she ingratiates herself with (or, she indicates her desire to) him.
3. Responsa, Yehuda Yaaleh, 1:55
Rabbi Judah ben Israel Assad ( Hungary, 1794-1866) was the outstanding halachic authority in Hungary after Chatam Sofer’s death.
|קושי’ גמר’ הוא על הא דבני חצופה מקרא זו דלאה ותי’ הכי ארצויי ארצי’ קמי’ ופי’ הר”ן דלא אמרה לאה ליעקב אלא שיכנוס לאהלה ולא תבעתו בפה כו’… וגם נ”ל אין ר”ל כלל בלשון צווי בע”כ תעשה כן אלא כלשון מגיד העתיד ידעתי שכן תעשה אלי תבוא היינו דברי רצוי לבד.||[Your question regarding Leah] is the question of the Gemara regarding the case of “children of brazenness” from the verse of Leah, and the Gemara answers, “That is when she appeases him”- and Ran explains that Leah only said to Yaakov that he should enter her tent, and she did not verbally demand it… It also appears to me that she did not say in any way a language of command, that he should do so against his will, but rather in a language of talking about the future, “I know that you will do such-and-such, that you will come unto me.” Those are only words of appeasement.|
4. Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 72b
|ורבי יוחנן, מאי שנא יבמתו – דקא עביד מצוה, אשתו נמי קא עביד מצוה! – באשתו מעוברת.|
והא איכא שמחת עונה! – שלא בשעת עונתה.
והאמר רבא: חייב אדם לשמח אשתו בדבר מצוה! – סמוך לווסתה…
|Isn’t sex with one’s wife a mitzvah?. It refers to his wife when she is pregnant [so there is no possibility of procreation].|
But there is the giving of pleasure of the periodical visit (onah)! It was not at the time of her periodical visit.
But Raba said: A man is bound to give pleasure to his wife with the mitzvah act (i.e., sex, even when it is not the time of onah)? It was near her [menstruation] date (when sex is forbidden)…
5. Rashi, ad. loc.
|לשמח את אשתו – אפילו שלא בשעת עונתה, אם רואה שמתאוית לו.||To give pleasure to his wife – even not during the regular period of onah, if he sees that she so desires.|
6. She’elat Yaavetz, 2:10
R. Yaakov Emden, 18th Century, Germany
|אבל עונת טבילת’. חיוב דאורייתא היא הפקיד’. כדילפינן מקרא דחייב לפקוד אשתו בשעה שמשתוקקת אליו. ואפילו שלא בזמן עונה קבועה…||But regarding the onah of the night following her immersion – this is a biblical obligation, as we learn from Scripture, that a man is obligated to “visit” his wife when she yearns for him. And even not during the fixed time for onah….|
7. Iggrot Moshe, Even ha-Ezer, 3:28
R. Moshe Feinstein, 20th C
|ולענ”ד היה נראה דעיקר העונה הוא בשעה שרואה הבעל שהיא משתוקקת אל בעלה … אלמא שמפרש כן הקרא דועונתה לא יגרע על זה שחייב לשמחה בשעה שרואה שמתאוית לו, וכן ביוצא לדרך שאמר ריב”ל ביבמות דף ס”ב דחייב לפוקדה מטעם זה שהאשה משתוקקת שהוא ודאי חיוב מדאורייתא….||In my humble opinion, it appears that the primary obligation of onah is when the husband sees that she desires him… thus we see that he explains the verse in this manner, that “her onah he should not diminish” means that he must make her happy/give her pleasure when he sees that she is desirous of him, and similarly when he is leaving on a trip, as R. Yehuda ben Levi says (Yevamot 62) that a man must “visit” his wife, because when she yearns for him, there certainly is a Biblical obligation…|
8. Lived Regulation, Systemic Attributions: Menstrual Separation and Ritual Immersion in the Experience of Orthodox Jewish Women,” Tova Hartman and Naomi Marmon, Gender and Society, 18:3, pp. 402-3.
|In addition to respecting their desire to be nonsexual, the halakhic framework, according to many of our informants, sanctions women’s sexual desires within the framework of marriage. The Torah (Ex. 21:10) charges every married man with the mitzvah of onah, that is, the commandment to provide his wife with her conjugal rights. Thus, the halakhic system establishes a sexual sphere within marriage that is distinct from procreation and encourages women to expect, demand, and enjoy an active and vital sexual relationship with their spouses…|
A woman can also initiate physical things. It’s good to say that I want this or that, especially because the woman is supposed to enjoy. In fact, the husband is not fulfilling his commandment of onah if you don’t enjoy. So that means that if you want sex, or whatever, then he has to agree, and you have the right to ask for it. (Yael).
Contrary to Freud’s (1963) image of the silent and passive woman sexual partner, because of the mitzvah of onah, Yael feels as though “she has the right to ask” when she wants sex.
Sarah echoed this sentiment: “Whatever a woman wants is the obligation of the husband. I remember that they spoke to us about how important it is that a woman should also enjoy.” This halakhic premium on women’s sexual fulfillment can be seen as a stark challenge to broad-based claims that religion represses women sexually and that women’s pleasure is achieved through surrender, passivity, and recognition of themselves as sexual objects (Nicholson, 1994).
Jane concurred that this element of niddah affirms, very practically and directly, her own needs within the sexual relationship and validates a woman’s rights to sexual fulfillment and desire more generally:
The general feeling of the mitzvah of onah makes me feel that the tradition goes against the idea that sex is all about him and his needs… The mikveh joins the larger value of what does she need, what does the woman deserve.
Just as our informant above felt that the tradition speaks with them in validating their “no” voice within their sexual relationships, similarly, these women felt that it “joins” their “I want/I need/I desire” voice – another voice traditionally silenced by men’s power. Their sexual fulfillment is validated and underwritten by a patriarchal tradition that in this instance stands and speaks unequivocally with them, demanding of its men participants, as a requirement of membership in good standing that they listen.
Final Word: Prozdor
9. Mishna Niddah 2:5
|משל משלו חכמים באשה: החדר והפרוזדור והעלייה; דם החדר – טמא, דם העלייה – טהור, נמצא בפרוזדור – ספקו טמא, לפי שחזקתו מן המקור.||The Sages spoke of a woman in metaphor: the inner chamber (uterus), the antechamber (debated if this refers to the labia or the vagina), and an upper-chamber (highly uncertain what this refers to). Blood of the inner chamber is unclean, that of the upper chamber is clean. If blood is found in the antechamber, and there arises a doubt (where it is from) it is deemed unclean, because it is presumed to have come from the “source” (the womb).|