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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

The “Can We Really Do THAT?” Episode Part 1- Joy of Text 3:1

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on March 11, 2019)
Topics: Source Sheets, Halakha & Modernity, Sex & Niddah

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Which sexual acts are permitted in a marriage? The answers might surprise you! Find out why co-host Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus calls this one of “the most important episodes” of the podcast. Plus we interview the creator of the hit YouTube series SOON BY YOU, Leah Gottfried, about the challenges of dating as an Orthodox Jew, and we introduce a new take on the Final Word.

These sources are Part 1 to accompany the first episode of the third season of the Joy of Text.
To view the sources for Part 2- From Wife to Husband, click here.

 

Part 1 – From Husband to Wife

 

Rabbi Yochanan: All Forms of Marital Sex are Permitted

The Talmud in Nedarim {source 1} records the opinion of R. Yochanan ben Dahavai that certain acts during marital sex impact the way the fetus will turn out.  It is clear that he views these acts negatively, and hence he believes that they will have a negative impact on the child. Among the acts he discusses are the husband kissing and looking at the wife’s vagina (“that place”). The great sage Rabbi Yochanan (not to be confused with Yochanan ben Dahavai) categorically rejects this view. He does not dispute this “science,” (see Baba Metzia 84a), but rather the assumption that these acts are problematic, stating that all acts of marital sex are permitted between husband and wife. (The statement is phrased from the man’s perspective, “Anything a man wants to do with his wife…” reflecting the general androcentrism of the Talmud.)  Based on this, it seems quite clear that a man can give his wife oral sex.

1. Bavli, Nedarim 20a-b

אמר רבי יוחנן בן דהבאי, ד’ דברים סחו לי מלאכי השרת: חיגרין מפני מה הויין? מפני שהופכים את שולחנם, אילמים מפני מה הויין? מפני שמנשקים על אותו מקום, חרשים מפני מה הויין? מפני שמספרים בשעת תשמיש, סומין מפני מה הויין? מפני שמסתכלים באותו מקום.


א”ר יוחנן: זו דברי יוחנן בן דהבאי, אבל אמרו חכמים! אין הלכה כיוחנן בן דהבאי, אלא כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה; משל לבשר הבא מבית הטבח, רצה לאכלו במלח – אוכלו, צלי – אוכלו, מבושל – אוכלו, שלוק – אוכלו; וכן דג הבא מבית הצייד. 

R. Yochanan b. Dahavai said: The Ministering Angels told me four things: People are born lame because they [sc. their parents] overturned their table [i.e., practiced unnatural cohabitation]; mute, because they kiss ‘that place’; deaf, because they converse during cohabitation; blind, because they look at ‘that place’…


R. Yochanan said: The above is the view of R. Yochanan b. Dahavai; but our Sages said: The halakhah is not as R. Yochanan b. Dahavai, but a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife. A parable; Meat which comes from the butcher, may be eaten salted, roasted, cooked or seethed; and so it is with fish from the fishmonger…

To illustrate his statement that all acts of marital sex are permissible, Rabbi Yochanan gives the analogy to eating meat– just as a man can eat his meat however he likes, he can also have any type of sex with his wife that he likes.  This analogy is, on the surface, disturbing, as it seems to suggest that the woman is a sex object to be enjoyed by the husband.  Bracketing that issue, we should realize that the larger point here is that Rabbi Yochanan is making an important values statement.  He is saying: There is nothing inherently wrong with this sex act or that onePeople just have different tastes and no value judgment should be assigned to that.  If you find a certain sex act repulsive, it is no different than finding someone’s eating choices repulsive.  This is just your emotional reaction and your tastes, not a statement about the rightness or wrongness of the act.

It might seem a little redundant to also give the analogy of eating fish, once he already gave the analogy of eating meat.  However, the Gaonic work Kallah Rabbati (source  2), uses this to make the point that there are no restrictions when it comes to marital sex, just as there are no halakhic restrictions when it comes to eating fish (as opposed to eating meat or milk, which are permissible, but only within certain limits).

2. Kallah Rabbati 1:14 

ולמה לי למיתני לדג הבא מבית הצייד, מקמא אמרו ליה לבשר הבא מבית הטבח, אמר להו מה לבשר רצה לאוכלו בחלב אינו אוכלו, הדר אמרו ליה לדג הבא מבית הצייד Why does it have to teach “like a fish that comes from the fishmonger”? Initially they gave him the metaphor of meat from a butcher’s, he responded to them, “But when it comes to meat, a person may not eat it with milk!” They then said to him, “It is like fish that come from a fishmonger.”

 

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Consent

It is important at this stage to briefly address the issue of consent. Rabbi Yochanan had stated that “Whatever a man wants to do with his wife, he may do.”  The point was that no sex acts are forbidden, but the phrasing could suggest that it is all the husband’s decision, and that he does not require his wife’s consent.  Similarly, following Rabbi Yochanan’s statement, the Gemara brings two cases of women who complained that their husband’s performed the sex act of “overturning the table” (most likely, anal intercourse), and the rabbi to whom they were appealing stated that he could not stop the husband from doing so {source 3}. It sounds, from these stories, that the husband was forcing his wife to engage in this act. 

3. Bavli, Nedarim 20a-b

ההיא דאתאי לקמיה דרבי, אמרה לו: רבי, ערכתי לו שלחן והפכו! אמר לה: בתי, תורה התירתך, ואני מה אעשה ליך. ההיא דאתאי לקמיה דרב, אמרה לו: רבי, ערכתי לו שלחן והפכו! אמר: מאי שנא מן ביניתא.. A woman once came before Rabbi and said, ‘Rabbi! I set a table before my husband, but he overturned it.’ Rabbi replied: ‘My daughter! The Torah hath permitted thee to him – what then can I do for thee?’ A woman once came before Rav and complained. ‘Rabbi! I set a table before my husband, but he overturned it.’ Rav replied; Wherein does it differ from a fish?

The suggestion that a husband can have sex with his wife without her consent goes directly against the Talmud’s statement that a man cannot force his wife to have sex (Eruvin 100b).  Ra’avad addresses this problem {source ‎4}, and first suggests that as long as the wife agrees to sex, the husband can compel her to engage in a form of sex that she is opposed to.  He rejects this possibility, and concludes that a husband can never compel his wife to engage in any sex act against her will.  The women who were complaining to the rabbi, in the Talmud’s stories, may have agreed to their husbands only begrudgingly, but they did acquiesce nonetheless.  This reflects a real dimension of marital dynamics, and not only when it comes to sex.  Often one partner wants to do something that the other is not enthusiastic about.  Sometimes the other partner will agree to go along, because they want to extend themselves for their spouse, but sometimes it is asking too much, and the partner will say no.  Bottom line: A person should never feel compelled to agree to something that they don’t want to do.  Shulhan Arukh rules simply and straightforwardly: a husband cannot have sex with his wife without her consent {source ‎5}.

4. Ra’avad, Ba’alei Hanefesh, Gate of Holiness – selection 1

והפיכת השולחן עצמו שהתירו, אומר אני דוקא בשאינה כפויה עליה והיא מתרצית עמו לדעתה על ידי ריצוי…


ויש מי שאומר שמי שהופך שולחנו כיון שהיא רוצה בתשמיש אע”פ שהיא מוכרחת בהפיכת השולחן מותר, משא”כ בבועל ושונה שלא מדעתה שכל הבעילה על כרחה היא ואסור מפני שהוא בעילת זנות. והראיה על זה כי האשה שבאה לפני רבי ואותה שבאה לפני רב, פשוטו של דבר דומה שלא היו הן רוצות ואעפ”כ התירו להן. ואני אומר שאין ראיה מזה, שאפשר שנתרצו להן על ידי ריצוי אלא שבאו לדרוש אם היה איסור בדבר אם לאו.


וכלשון הראשון נ”ל דאסור לעשות בה שום דבר שלא מדעתה עד שיפייסנה ותתרצה.

And the “overturning of the table” that they allowed, I say that this is only when he is not compelling her and she does this willingly, having been persuaded by him to agree to do so.


There is an opinion that it is permissible for one to “overturn the table” when she agrees to have sex, even if she is compelled in the matter of “overturning the table,” which would not be the case where one has intercourse with her once and again, and the second time is against her will, for in that latter case the entire act of intercourse is against her will and it is forbidden because it is a sex act of fornication. The proof adduced for this opinion is the [case of the] woman who came before Rebbe and the one who came before Rav. According to the simple reading of those stories it appears that they did not want [to do those acts] and nevertheless he permitted it to them. But I say that this is not a proof, because it is possible that they agreed [to assent to their husband’s wishes] by words of persuasion, and they were coming to the rabbi [not because this was forced on them, but to] ask if it was a forbidden matter or not.


And the first opinion [that it is forbidden if the wife does not consent to the specific act] appears to me to be correct, that is forbidden to engage in any sexual act with her against her will, and one must always first persuade her and gain her approval.

5. Shulhan Arukh, Even Ha’Ezer, 25:2

ולא יבעול אלא מרצונה, ואם אינה מרוצה יפייסנה עד שתתרצה.  He should only have sex with her agreement, and if she is not interested, he must attempt to win her over until she agrees. 

 

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Rambam and Ra’avad

Following Rabbi Yochanan’s categorical permission, Rambam rules that all forms of sexual activity are permissible within marriage {source 6}. Rambam states explicitly that the man “may kiss any part of her body he desires,” clearly permitting a man to kiss his wife’s vagina, i.e., to give his wife oral sex. 

We also note that Rambam states that ideally that a man should attempt to limit the types of sexual activity he engages in, as the primary purpose of marital sex is procreation (see also Laws of Character Traits 3:2 and 5:4). He also states that a person should limit the frequency of marital sex for the same reason (Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, 21:11 and in Laws of Character Traits, 5:4).  In a different podcast, we have discussed different attitudes towards marital sex, and Rambam is squarely in the camp that sees it as problematic and as finding its justification in procreation.  Given that, it is quite significant that he did not allow this ethos to influence his halakhic ruling, and that, as a matter of halakhah, he rules that a couple can engage in whatever forms of  marital sex they desire, and with whatever frequency they desire.

6. Rambam. Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, 21:9

אשתו של אדם מותרת היא לו, לפיכך כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה, בועל בכל עת שירצה ומנשק בכל אבר ואבר שירצה…


ואע”פ כן מדת חסידות שלא יקל אדם את ראשו לכך ושיקדש עצמו בשעת תשמיש כמו שביארנו בהלכות דעות, ולא יסיר מדרך העולם ומנהגו שאין דבר זה אלא כדי לפרות ולרבות. 

A man’s wife is permitted to him, therefore whatever a man wants to do with his wife he may do, he can have sex whenever he wants, and kiss any part of her body that he wants…


Nevertheless, it is an act of piety that a person should not act in a frivolous manner and that he should sanctify himself at the time of sex, as we have explained in the laws of Character Traits (chapter 5), and he should not stray from the way of the world and its customs, for this matter (sex) is only in order to procreate.

A number of Rishonim are not as permissive as Rambam, Rabbi Yochanan’s categorical statement notwithstanding.  Semak (Rabbi Moshe of Coucy, 13th century, France) states that while as a matter of halakhah all is permitted, as a matter of piety, a person should not engage in the acts discussed in the Talmud, since this could impact the development of the fetus {source 7}.  Apparently he believes that although Rabbi Yochanan asserted that these acts will not negatively impact the child,  a small possibility of such still exists, and it would be pious to take this into account.  Semak’s ruling has had little impact on later halakhic discussion of the matter.

7. Sefer Mitzvot Katan, Mitzvah 285

ולא ידבר בשעת תשמיש ולא יסתכל באותו מקום ולא ינשק באותו מקום, ולא ישמש שלא כדרכו, וכל זה למדת חסידות פן יבואו הבנים לידי מום, אבל לא לשורת הדין. And he should not speak to her at the time of sex, and he should not look “in that place” and he should not kiss “that place” and he should not have sex with her in the non-normal manner. All of this is in regards to pious character traits, lest the children become blemished, but it is not a matter of strict law.

Ra’avad pushes back on the statement of Rabbi Yochanan in a more serious way {source 8}.  Ra’avad makes it clear that he sees many ethical and religious problems with the acts under discussion (see below, source 9).  He thus is not prepared to accept Rabbi Yochanan’s permission on face value and tries to limit it as much as possible. He does this by stating that Rabbi Yochanan’s permission applies only to one case –  namely. the overturning of the table (anal intercourse) – since this case is explicitly permitted in the Talmud.  All other acts, including oral sex, may not have an impact on the fetus but, according to Ra’avad, remain forbidden.

8. Raavad, Ba’alei Hanefesh, Gate of Holiness – selection 2

ומה שאמר (שם) רבי יוחנן אין הלכה כר’ יוחנן בן דהבאי אלא כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה… נ”ל שאינו אלא על הפיכת השולחן בלבד כדאיתא בשמעתא… אבל על האחרות אע”פ שאינו נדון עליהם דין חמור מ”מ איסור יש בהן…  Now, regarding what Rabbe Yochanan said: “The halakhah is not like Rav Yochanan ben Dahavai, but rather whatever a man wants to do to his wife, he may do”…. it seems to me that this only refers to the “overturning of the table” alone, as is reported in the stories there,,, but regarding the other acts, even though one is not given the strict punishment for engaging in them [that the children turn out deaf, mute, and blind] nevertheless, there is still a prohibition regarding them…

Ra’avad enumerates the problems he finds with a man looking at or kissing his wife’s vagina {source  9}.  He first states that by looking at his wife’s vagina, the husband is acting towards his wife as if she were free for the taking (מנהג הפקר).  In the Talmud this phrase refers to a situation in which men take sexual advantage of a woman, treating her as if they can possess her at will (Yevamot 112b- 113b, Gittin 38b). He seems to be saying that when a man looks at his wife’s vagina, he is taking advantage of her,  using her merely to satisfy his own sexual desires.  In contemporary parlance, we might say that he is relating to her as an object and not a person.

We can certainly identify with Ra’avad’s underlying concerns here – one partner should not objectify the other one or use him or her just to satisfy their own desires.  It would seem, however, that these concerns would only be relevant to a case where the wife was not desirous of the husband doing this act, and perhaps Ra’avad understood that to be the default case. If, in contrast, the wife wants her husband to be doing this, and especially when this act involves not just looking, but also kissing, such that it contributes to the wife’s sexual pleasure, there would not seem to be any place for these concerns. 

Ra’avad also states that a looking at his wife’s vagina is immodest and acting in a shameless way, but he does not explicate why this is so, and it is hard to understand this contention given that we are talking about sex between husband and wife, which includes looking at one another naked, and deriving pleasure from doing so.   What is clear is that Ra’avad felt that the act was improper and problematic, although it is questionable whether this assessment should be binding for those who do not share his assumptions.

When it comes to a husband kissing his wife’s vagina (oral sex), Ra’avad adds yet another problem.  The Talmud states that the prohibition of bal tishaktzu (do not make yourself abominable), forbids a person to eat disgusting things or to even place disgusting things in one’s mouth.  Taking for granted that a woman’s vagina is a “disgusting thing” for a man, Ra’avad states that for a man to give oral sex to his wife would be a violation of this prohibition of bal tishaktzu. 

[As we will discuss later, poskim dispute this assertion of Ra’avad, either by fully rejecting his assumption, or by demonstrating that the prohibition of bal tishaktzu is defined not objectively but by the person’s subjective experience: what he does or does not find disgusting {sources 20  and 21}. If a man wants to do this and does not find it disgusting, then it is clear that there would be no problem of bal tishaktzu.]

9. Raavad, Ba’alei Hanefesh, Gate of Holiness – selection 3

כיון שעשה כן סמוך לתשמיש בזה את עצמו ונהג בה מנהג הפקר. וכ”ש אם מסתכלים שם שלא בשעת תשמיש שהוא מנהג הפקר והוא משסה היצר בעצמו כאשר פרשנו בשער הפרישה…


וכן המסתכל באותו מקום עובר על והצנע לכת עם אלהיך (מיכה ו, ח), ומעביר את הבושה מעל פניו, וכתיב (שמות כ, כ) בעבור תהיה יראתו על פניכם זו הבושה, לבלתי תחטאו שכל המתבייש אינו חוטא.


וכ”ש הנושק שיש בו כל אלה. ועוד שעוברין משום בל תשקצו את נפשותיכם כאשר אמרו רבותנו ז”ל (מכות טז ב) האי מאן דשתי מיא בקרנא דאומנא עבר משום בל תשקצו. ורב כהנא דהוה מעבר שושיבה על פומיה ואמר ליה רב שקליה דלא לימרו מיכל קא אכיל וקא עבר משום בל תשקצו (שבת צ ב), וכ”ש הך. 

But since he acts this way (looking at her vagina) before sex, he has degraded himself and has acted towards her as if she were “free for the taking .” And certainly [this is a problem] if he looks there not at the time of sex, that this is treating her as if she were worthless, and he incites himself with lust, as we have explained in the Gate of Separation…


And similarly, regarding looking “at that place,” he transgresses “And you shall walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8), and he removes shame from his face, and it says: “So that His fear should be upon your face” (Exodus 20:20) – this is shame, “So that you shall not sin” – for whoever is embarrassed will not sin (Nedarim 20a).


And how much more so is this true regarding one who kisses [“that place”] that has all these [problems], and in addition he transgresses, “You shall not make your souls (nefesh) detestable” as our Sages have said: “One who drinks from the horn of the blood-letter transgresses ‘You shall not act to make your souls detestable” (Makkot 15b). And Rav Kahanah who was passing a [kosher] locust before his mouth and Rav said to him: ‘Remove it, so that people should not say that you are eating it and transgressing ‘You shall not make your souls detestable” (Shabbat 90b), and certainly [such would apply] in this case.

To round out the picture of Ra’avad’s approach, it is worth looking at a passage the precedes his discussions above, where he lays out his views on the religious value of marital sex {source 10}.  Like Rambam {source 6}, Ra’avad does not identify an inherent good in marital sex in terms of bringing the couple together or the like.  He sees it’s value in something external to it: procreation, the husband’s providing his wife with something she desires, and a way for a man to protect himself against sin.  At least from the man’s perspective, he is not in favor of the focus of marital sex being about pleasure.

For Rambam, such an  attitude did not impact on his rulings regarding what sexual acts are permitted between husband and wife.  Things may have been different for Ra’avad. Given what he writes in the following passage, it is perhaps not surprising that he pushed back and limited Rabbi Yochanan’s permissive statement, particularly if he saw these acts are primarily about the man’s (and not the woman’s) desire for different types of sexual pleasure, having nothing to do with procreation or the like. 

10. Ra’avad, Ba’alei Hanefesh, Gate of Holiness – selection 4

הארבע כוונות אשר המעשה ההוא נכון עליהם.


הראשונה לשם פריה ורביה והיא הנכונה שבכולם…


והשנית לתקון הולד… וגם זו הכוונה נמשכת בכונת פריה ורביה.


והשלישית אף על פי שאין בה לא זה ולא זה אלא שהיא משתוקקת אליו… גם על זו יש קבול שכר והיא היא מצות העונה שאמרה התורה, דמיון שארה וכסותה לא יגרע שהם צרכי האשה והנאותיה.


והרביעית שהוא מתכוין לגדור את עצמו בה כדי שלא יתאוה לעבירה…


ואם לא נתכוון כי אם למלאות תאותו מן הנאות העולם הנה הוא בדרך הסתת היצר ורחוק מן השכר וקרוב להפסד…


ואחרי שראינו כל אלה שהאדם חייב לעשות חפצי אשתו ולשמחה במצוה זו בכל עת שהיא צריכה לה, על כן הזהירוהו שתהא שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת פן תסיתנו לעבור על המדה ותמשכהו אחריה אל הבלי העולם ויאבד בעבורה.  

The four intentions (or “motivations”) which are proper for that act (of marital sex) [are as follows]:


The first is for the sake of procreation, and this is the most proper of all the intentions…


The second is for the well-being of the fetus [when the wife is pregnant]… and this intention is connected to the intention for procreation.


The third is even in a case when neither of the above two apply, but merely that the wife is longing for her husband… even in this case there is reward in the act (i.e., it is a religiously positive act), and this is the Biblical mitzvah of onah. It is comparable to the mitzvah “thou shall not withhold her food and clothing,” for these are the things that the wife needs and which give her pleasure.


The fourth is if he is intending to protect himself so that his sexual desire does not lead him to sin (so he gives licit outlet to this desire through sex with his wife)…


But if his only intent is to satisfy his sexual desire with this-worldly pleasures, then he is following his evil inclination. Such an the act is distant from any reward and close to being a loss (i.e., a religiously negative act)…


After we have seen all of these sources, that a man must do the desire of his wife and make her happy with this mitzvah whenever she desires it, therefore our Sages warned us that the left hand should push away and the right hand draw near, lest his desire should entice him to do more than the appropriate amount, and he will be drawn after it towards the emptiness of the world, and he will be destroyed as a result of it.

 

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Shulhan Arukh and Poskm

We have seen that Rambam rules like Rabbi Yochanan that all is permitted, while Ra’avad limits this statement to anal intercourse.  How do we rule, in practice?  How does Shulhan Arukh rule?

 

Ashkenazim

 

For Ashkenazim, the matter is straightforward.  Rema rules like Rambam that all is permitted {source 11}.

11. Rema, in Shulhan Arukh, Even ha’Ezer, 25:2

הגה: ויכול לעשות עם אשתו מה שירצה, בועל בכל עת שירצה ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה, ובא עליה בין כדרכה בין שלא כדרכה, או דרך אברים ובלבד שלא יוציא זרע לבטלה (טור). ויש מקילין ואומרים שמותר שלא כדרכה אפילו אם הוציא זרע, אם עושה באקראי ואינו רגיל בכך (גם זה טור בשם ר”י).


ואע”פ שמותר בכל אלה, כל המקדש עצמו במותר לו קדוש יאמרו לו (דברי הרב).

Rema: And he may do with his wife what he wants – he may have sex at any time that he wants, he may kiss any body part that he wants, and he may have sex with her whether in the natural way or in the non-natural way, or whether by way of limbs as long as he does not spill his seed to waste (Tur). And there are those who are lenient and say that it is permissible in the non-natural way, even if he ejaculates, if he does this only occasionally and not as a habitual practice.


And although all such behavior is permissible, whoever sanctifies himself in permissible realms, “holy” will he be called.

Despite Rema’s explicit ruling, Beit Shmuel attempts to limit Rema’s blanket permission – much like Ra’avad tried to limit Rabbi Yochanan’s permissive ruling – and argue that it would not apply to the husband looking at or kissing “that place” {source 12}.  Some other poskim just choose to read Ra’avad’s position into the Gemara and Rema.  Others argue for this restrictive reading of Rema by pointing to Shulhan Arukh OH {source 16}, where Rav Yosef Karo rules restrictively like Ra’avad and Rema does not gloss and explicitly disagree with this ruling. 

This argument is quite weak. Rema is explicit that all is permitted, and he even states that the man may kiss “any part of the body he wishes,” which given the Talmudic discussion obviously refers to the vagina.  As to what to do with his silence in OH, it is possible that he did not feel the need to comment there, given that EH, and not OH, is the prime locus of halakhic discussions of marital sex. This approach is taken by, among others, Rav Yehudah Herzl Henkin and Rav Elyashiv Knohl {sources ‎13 and ‎14}.  Rav Knohl argues further that  perhaps even Rav Yosef Karo  did not intend to forbid such practices as a matter of halakhah {source ‎14}.

12. Beit Shmuel, Even Ha’Ezer, 25:1 (classic commentary on SA, EH, by Rav Shmuel ben R. Uri Shraga Feivish, Poland, c. 1640 – 1698)

ומנשק בכל אבר – ל”ד כל אבר דהא באותו מקום אסור כמ”ש בש”ס וכ”כ הראב”ד והטור He may kiss any part of the body he wishes’ – this does not mean literally every part of the body, for it is forbidden to kiss “that place,” as the Talmud states, and this is also the position of Ra’avad and Tur.

13. Bnei Banim 4:16, no. 3 (Rav Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Jerusalem, 1945-)

והנה בבית יוסף באבן העזר שם דייק ברמב”ם כנ”ל אבל באורח חיים שם סעיף ד’ העתיק את דברי הראב”ד שאסור להסתכל באותו מקום וכל שכן לנשק, אך לא הזכיר חבל הראשונים הנ”ל.


והרמ”א לא הגיה באורח חיים שם אבל נראה שסמך על מה שכתב באבן העזר סימן כ”ה סעיף ב’ שיכול לעשות באשתו מה שירצה וכו’ ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה עכ”ל כדעת החולקים על הראב”ד, וכן הבין הגר”א בדעת הרמ”א ושלא כבית שמואל שם . אכן הגר”א עצמו פסק כראב”ד וכן סתמו האחרונים, אבל כשיש עוד צדדים להקל או במקום מנהג פשוט לסמוך על הרמב”ם וספר האשכול והסמ”ק ור”א מן ההר והארחות חיים.

In the Beit Yosef in Even Ha’Ezer there [siman 25] he writes in accordance with Rambam [without restrictions on looking and kissing ‘that place’], but in Orah Hayim, there [siman 240], seif 4, he copies the words of Ra’avad that it is forbidden to gaze at “that place,” and certainly to kiss it. but he does not mention the long list of Rishonim [who are lenient] cited above.


Now Rema does not comment in Orah Hayim, there, but it appears that he relied on what he wrote in Even Ha’Ezer, 25:2, “That a man can do with his wife what he wants, etc., and kiss any part of her body that he desire,” in accordance with those who argue on Ra’avad. Gra (the Vilna Gaon) understood similarly regarding the opinion of the Rema [that he argues on Ra’avad], not like the Beit Shmuel there. However, Gra himself ruled like Ra’avad, and so is the standard assumption of the Ahronim, but when there are other arguments to be lenient, or in a place where a practice is already in place, it is straightforward to rely on Rambam, and the Eshkol and the Semak and Rav Avraham min HaHar and the Orhat Hayim. 

14. Et Dodim, (Rav Elyashiv Knohl, Rav Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, 1948-), p. 40, note 52

בשולחן ערוך אבן העזר ס’ כ”ה סע’ ב’ מצטט הרמ”א את דברי הרמב”ם – שהכל מותר, ובסוף מסיים “ואף על פי שמותר בכל אלה כל המקדש עצמו במותר לו, ‘קדוש’ יאמר לו.” לעומת זאת, באורח חיים פסק השולחן ערוך כראב”ד שאסור להסתכל ולנשק שם, והרמ”א לא מגיב על דברי השולחן ערוך שם כלל.


נראה שצריך לפרש זאת כך: באורח חיים השולחן ערוך כותב את מידות החסידות, כפי שנראה שם גם מסעיפים אחרים, ועל כן הרמ”א לא נחלק עליו שם. לעומת זה, באבן העזר עוסק השולחן ערוך בעיקר בשורת הדין. על כן, לא ציין איסור זה, והרמ”א ראה לנכון לציין את דעתו של הרמב”ם שהיא שורת הדין לדעתו, אלא שהוא מציין שכל המקדש עצמו במותר לו קדוש יאמר לו.  

 In Shulhan Arukh, Even Ha’Ezer, 25:2, Rema cites the words of Rambam – that everything is permitted, and in the end he concludes, “And although a person is permitted in all these matters, whoever sanctifies himself in that which is permitted to him, ‘holy’ it will be said of him.” In contrast, in Orah Hayim, Shulhan Arukh rules like Ra’avad that it is forbidden to gaze and to kiss there, and Rema does not react to the words of the Shulhan Arukh there at all.


It appears that we must explain it thus: In Orah Hayim, the Shulhan Arukh is writing the way of saintly behavior, as can be seen there from the other seifim as well, and therefore Rema did not dispute the matter with him there. In contrast, in Even HaEzer, the Shulhan Arukh is primarily dealing with what is actual halakhah. Therefore he did not cite this prohibition, and Rema there saw fit to cite position of Rambam, which is the actual halakhah in his opinion, but he also cites that anyone who sanctifies himself in that which is permitted to him, ‘holy’ it will be said of him. 

Although Rema permits oral sex and the like as a matter of halakhah, he does state that the ideal is to “sanctify oneself at the time of sex.”  The original meaning of this was almost definitely that a person should not overly indulge in such a wide range of sexual acts.  Even given that definition of kedusha, it is important to distinguish between a religious ideal, possibly only achievable or even desirable by a small section of the population, and what is actual halakhah.  It is also important to ask how that ideal stacks up against other, more central and pressing religious mandates – onah and the wife’s pleasure; the strength of the marriage; finding sexual satisfaction in marriage and not looking for it elsewhere, and the like.

Rav Shmuel Kedar, as well as other poskim, pushes this point further and states that truest form of “sanctity” in the sexual act is not one of restraint and asceticism, but rather ensuring that both partners fully consent to the act and that the act is pleasurable for both of them {source 15}.  In other words, true kedushah is achieved by not using the other person merely to satisfy your own needs, but by connecting to the other person, and being attentive to their needs as well.  This is fully in keeping with the sexual ethos articulated by Ra’avad, above {source 9}.

15. Kedushat Ohel (Rav Shmuel Kedar, Jerusalem, 1953-2006), p. 37 

ואילו הרמ”א נקט שעיקר הדין כהרמב”ם והוסיף שכל המקדש עצמו במותר לו קדוש יאמרו לו. ונראה שקדושה זו עניינה היסודי: רצון שניהן ושמחתם…  Rema rules that as a matter of law the ruling is in accordance with Rambam, and he adds that ‘whoever sanctifies himself in that which is permitted to him, ‘holy’ shall be said of him.” Now it appears that the core principle of this sanctity to which he refers is: the desire of the two of them and their pleasure… 

 

Sephardim

 

For Sephardim, the matter is a less clear.  When we turn to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim {source 16}, in his discussion of marital sex (which appears in the section of halakhot relating to the evening, following the laws of the evening prayers),  we see that he rules like Ra’avad that it is forbidden for a husband to look at or kiss “that place,” for the same reasons that Ra’avad had given (immodesty, bal tishaktzu, etc.).  However, in Even Ha’Ezer, in the laws of marital sex (which appear in the context of the laws of marriage), Shulhan Arukh makes no reference to this restriction, although he does articulate a sexual ethos that parallels that of Rambam and Ra’avad {source 17}. 

16. Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim, 240:4

אסור להסתכל באותו מקום, שכל המסתכל שם אין לו בושת פנים, ועובר על: והצנע לכת (מיכה ו, ח)… ועוד דקא מגרה יצר הרע בנפשיה, וכל שכן הנושק שם, שעובר על כל אלה ועוד, שעובר על: בל תשקצו את נפשותיכם.  It is forbidden for a man to look in “that place” for whoever looks in “that place” has no shame, and he transgresses “You shall walk modestly”…and additionally he incites the evil inclination on himself, and all the more so one who kisses there transgresses all of these and also transgresses: “You shall not make your souls detestable.”

17. Shulhan Arukh, Even Ha’Ezer, 25:2

ולא ירבה בתשמיש להיות מצוי אצלה תמיד, שדבר זה פגום הוא מאד ומעשה בורות הוא, אלא כל הממעט בתשמיש ה”ז משובח, ובלבד שלא יבטל עונה אלא מדעת אשתו.


ואף כשישמש בשעת העונה לא יכוין להנאתו, אלא כאדם הפורע חובו שהוא חייב בעונתה, ולקיים מצות בוראו בפריה ורביה, ושיהיו לו בנים עוסקים בתורה ומקיימי מצות בישראל.


ולא יבעול אלא מרצונה, ואם אינה מרוצה יפייסנה עד שתתרצה. ויהיה צנוע מאד בשעת תשמיש…

And he should not have sex too much, to be with his wife constantly, for this matter is very damaging and an act of fools, but rather whoever limits the amount that he has sex is to be praised, provided that he does not negate his obligation of onah without his wife’s permission.


And even when he has sex at the time of onah he should not intend for his own pleasure, but like a person who is paying a debt, because he is obligated in her onah, and to fulfill the commandment of his Creator to procreate, and that he should have sons to learn Torah and fulfill the mitzvoth among the Jewish people.


He should only have sex with her agreement, and if she is not interested, he must attempt to win her over until she agrees. And he should be very modest at the time of sex…

How do poskim resolve the Shulhan Arukh’s restrictive ruling in OH against his silence in EH?  Some poskim read his ruling in EH through the lens of his ruling in OH, and conclude that for Shulhan Arukh (i.e., Sephardim) these acts are forbidden. This is a reasonable read, given that nowhere in EH does Shulhan Arukh actually say that such acts are permitted. 

Other poskim, including Rav Knohl and Rav Kedar, disagree {sources ‎18 and ‎19}.  They choose to read OH through the lens of EH, and argue that Shulhan’s Arukh silence should be read as tacit permission and that his rulings in EH are more authoritative in regards to questions about marital sex, since the primary locus for this discussion is EH and not OH.  For them, Shulhan Arukh’s ruling in OH is just laying out a religious ideal, and that he does not mean to issue an actual halakhic ruling.

18. Et Dodim,  p. 40, note 52

נראה שצריך לפרש זאת כך: באורח חיים השולחן ערוך כותב את מידות החסידות, כפי שנראה שם גם מסעיפים אחרים… לעומת זה, באבן העזר עוסק השולחן ערוך בעיקר בשורת הדין. על כן, לא ציין איסור זה…


למעשה, מצטטים האחרונים את דברי השולחן ערוך באורח חיים ואוסרים את שני הדברים הללו – ההסתכלות והנישוק באותו מקום.

 It appears that we must explain it thus: In Orah Hayim, the Shulhan Arukh is writing the way of saintly behavior, as can be seen there from the other seifim as well, and therefore Rema did not dispute the matter with him there. In contrast, in Even Ha’Ezer, the Shulhan Arukh is primarily dealing with what is actual halakhah. Therefore he did not cite this prohibition…


In practice, the Ahronim quote the words of Shulhan Arukh in Orah Hayim and forbid both matters – gazing and kissing in that place.

19. Kedushat Ohel, p. 37 

ומהראב”ד נראה שיש איסורים בין איש ואשתו שעניינם צניעות כלפי שמיא, ולכן אסור להסתכל ולנשק באותו מקום אף אם יעשה הדבר ברצון שניהם ובשמחתם.


המחבר נקט כשיטת הראב”ד ואף הוסיף להחמיר עליו…


ושמא אף המחבר מודה לרמ”א רק שהראה את המסילה בה יעלו במעלות הקודש יראי ה’ וחושבי שמו.

Now from Ra’avad it seems that there are forbidden activities between husband and wife, which are based on sense of ‘modesty towards heaven’ (even during the physical intimacy of husband and wife), and therefore [according to this] it is forbidden to look and to kiss ‘that place’ even if it is done with the consent and pleasure of the two of them.


The Mehaber (Rav Yosef Karo) adopted the positions of Ra’avad, and even added on this to be stricter even still…


And perhaps the Mehaber even would agree with Rema, but he is merely pointing to a path that one can ascend to higher level of sanctity for those who are particularly righteous.

The most formal halakhic problem mentioned by Shulhan Arukh (and Ra’avad) is that of bal tishaktzu.  However, as we mentioned earlier, many poskim state that bal tishaktzu is defined by subjective standards and determined by each individual’s experience. Based on this, Rav Raphel Berdugo and Rav Hanan Aflelo, among others, rule that bal tishaktzu would not apply if  the husband did not find this act to be repulsive {sources 20 and 21}.  Thus, even according to Shulhan Arukh in OH, the problem of bal tishaktzu should not apply in most contemporary cases.

20. Responsa Torat Emet (Rav Raphael Berdugo, 1747-1821, Morocco), EH 25

וגם מ”ש הרב ז”ל עובר משום בל תשקצו הוא תמוה דבל תשקצו הוא באוכל דבר מאוס אבל בנשיקה וחיבה בעלמא מה שיקוץ בזה ודבר שנאהב לכל העולם Also regarding what the master (Ra’avad) wrote that a person transgresses bal tishaktzu, this is an astounding claim! For bal tishaktzu applies to a person eating a repulsive thing, but when it comes to kissing and mere acts of affection, what type of repulsion is there? It is in fact something that the entire world enjoys. 

21. Responsa Asher Hanan (Rav Hanan Aflelo, contemporary Sephardi posek, Ba Yam, Israel), vol. 6-7:68

כל שכן שאם חפצים בזה נראה שאין כאן בל תשקצו כי איסור זה תלוי בכל אחד ואחד, כמבואר בפרי חדש (יו”ד ס’ פ”ד סק”ג) Certainly if they both desire this it would seem that there is no concern of bal tishaktzu, because this prohibition is dependent on the individual (what he or she finds disgusting), as is explained in Pri Hadash (YD, 84:3).

In summary, these sources demonstrate that there is good basis for ruling that it is permissible for a husband to perform oral sex on his wife, not just according to Rema, but even according to Shulhan Arukh. Given the issues that are at stake here – the fulfillment of the Biblical mitzvah of onah (which requires that the husband give his wife sexual pleasure, and not just that he performs the act of intercourse); the strength of the marriage and the importance of shalom bayit; and the importance of finding sexual satisfaction in marriage and not looking for it elsewhere – it is hard to understand the position of those who rule restrictively.  It seems that such restrictive rulings here is clearly a case of a “stringency that leads to (or that is, in fact) a leniency.”