Book Review: “Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed”

(The following guest review article does not constitute an approbation of the book by the editors of Morethodoxy.)

A Book Review by Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Rafi Ostroff

“Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed” An Outline, Analysis and Candid Discussion By Yaakov Shapiro

A collaborative review by:

Talli Rosenbaum,  Individual and couples therapist and certified sex therapist Academic advisor – The Yahel Center http://tallirosenbaum.com/

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, Founder of the Yahel Center www.facebook.com/JewishIntimacy

“Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed” is the cleverly chosen title of a new book recently self-published by Yaakov Shapiro. It is the first volume in a promised series of more books by Shapiro about sexuality and Jewish law, which are the result of the author’s self-described search for a “balanced approach in Torah.” The author’s website which includes videos of his shiurim can be found at sexualityandjewishlaw.com.

Shapiro’s biography describes him as having experienced the pluralistic gamut of Judaism, as he was born into a Conservative family that returned to Jewish observance in his youth. He was subsequently schooled, and at various times identified, as modern Orthodox, Lithuanian-Charedi and Chasidic Chabad. He earned rabbinic ordination through the Chabad system.  Regardless of his social identity within the various streams of Jewish life today, Shapiro is clearly a Torah scholar.

The author appears to have set several goals in writing this book. In comprehensively examining nearly every Jewish textual source referring to marital sex, Shapiro sets out to challenge the accepted consensus of what is halachically sanctioned in the bedroom between married couples. Moreover, he sets out, and succeeds in offering a historical perspective as to how rabbinic attitudes about sex have changed over the generations. Finally, the author admits as well to a personal objective.

Like many young Orthodox men, Shapiro reports receiving sexually restrictive premarital education as a groom and fundamental sex-positive rabbinic opinions were ignored, dismissed or distorted. He subsequently researched extensive modern-day Orthodox “family purity” and marital intimacy literature. These he found to overwhelmingly emphasize that when it comes to sex, only one path is that of the righteous and anything “out of the norm” is regarded as spiritually or physically deviant. Furthermore, he suggests that many, if not most, of these sources maintain thatcouples should be guided not by sexual passion, but rather by holy aspirations and the will to do the “right” thing in the eyes of God.

Shapiro recounts hearing stories of marital disharmony in his Chasidic community that possibly resulted from such messages.This led to a ten-year investigation culminating in a lengthy halachic discourse, meant to providecouples with what he believes to be a halachically sound “tikun.”

Shapiro examines every source relevant to the marital sexual halachic discussion, and adds a new perspective to the halachically-sanctioned sexual conducts that are believed by many to deviate from the norms of Halacha. Quoting Maimonides, the Tosefot, the Rema  and dozens of other sources, Shapiro challenges what is classically thought to be the mainstream approach of Judaism to marital sex.

Specifically, Shapiro challenges the fairly universally accepted idea that within marital sex, male ejaculation must occur only through the act of penile-vaginal intercourse. Furthermore, he tracks historically how rabbinic attitudes regarding extra-vaginal ejaculation were influenced by Kabbalistic sources.

The need for a balanced approach to extra-vaginal ejaculation restrictions has been addressed by both authors of this review.[1]. We appreciate that couples may need or want varied expressions of sexual pleasure, due to any number of reasons having to do with physical and emotional needs or desires. Therefore, the permission of varied sexual acts, as desired by both partners, may be a great source of relief and provide anxiety reduction for couples, concerned about doing the right thing. Shapiro, somewhat apologetically and with sensitivity to the female partner’s sensitivities, also emphasizes that while the language of the Talmud does not specifically address consent, (“the same way that a man may eat meat in whichever manner he pleases – whether it be salted, roasted, cooked or seared – so too may a man do with his wife whatever he pleases,”[2]), consent is always implied.

The author, relying on a combination of textual sources and logical reasoning, concludes that various sexual actsare permitted.However, one of the most pervasive topics of his discussion,mirroring a pervasiveness found in the classical rabbinic sources themselves, is the subject of  “biahshelokedarka” which the author asserts refers specifically to anal sex. While the author proves that anal sex, even to the point of ejaculation, is permitted by a majority of medieval halachic writersand by numerous key post-medieval opinions, hemight have acknowledged that the general Jewish perspective on anal sex is a negative one, even if it is permitted.[3}The author does acknowledge the potential discomfort to the woman, but he relegates such discussion mainly to the endnotes. He does note (p.16), however, that his purpose is not to encourage anal sex, per se, but toclarify the grounds of this heter[4]in order to enable the discussion on the legitimacy of ejaculation between limbs, “derech evarim,” which provides for varied and possibly more comfortable and acceptable “adventurous” sexual acts such as oral and manual stimulation to point of ejaculation.

The Talmud, while unabashedly addressing sexuality and sexual conduct of men and women, often uses “lashon sagi nahor”, as the virtue of modesty of speech is inherent in our Jewish value system. While the author acknowledges this model, he clarifies from the onset (p.16) that he purposely writes in a clear and straightforward manner, both when relating to the halachic sources and when writing about sexual conduct and behavior. He defends this approach by explaining that in matters of practical Jewish law one must speak clearly and unambiguously,and suggests thatcenturies of halachic argument over the accurate meaning of certain Talmudic sexual euphemism potentially contributed to painful marital discord. This assertion, as well as his graphic language, may not sit well with some readers.

Shapiro brings a straightforward and much needed discussion of sexuality to the orthodox Jewish world. He is a proficient ‘swimmer’, both in the ‘sea’ of the Talmud, as well as in the the thousands of additional sources that he researched for this study. For readers who appreciate halachic discourse and “seek the truth”, this book delivers what it promises; a rational and balanced approach to sexuality that will provide evidence based “permission” for couples to express their sexuality with one another, as they feel fit. For others for whom “Daat Torah” has the ultimate say, Shapiro, unfortunately, lacks the broad-shouldered credentials and the required rabbinic approbations.

As a Rav and couples/sex therapist dedicated to helping couples create and achieve passion and intimacy within a Jewish framework, we are hopeful that through this book and the discussion it facilitates, couples will claim and reclaim meaningful sexuality in their married life.

[1] See BavliEiruvin 100b, Ran Nedarim 20b BneiEima, BneiAnusa

[2] The term “shelo kedarka” translates as “not the normal way.” It is associated with the rape of Dinah (Rashi‘scommentary to the word tortureBereishit 34, 2) and compared to animal sexuality (Bechorot8a) (RO).

[3] See “I am his vessel”: Influence of male ejaculatory restrictions on women’s sexual autonomy in Orthodox Jewish marriages.http://tallirosenbaum.com/en/node/201

andהוצאת זרע לבטלה בהקשר הזוגי)  (http://www.zoogy.org/#!הוצאת-זרע-לבטלה-בהקשר-הזוגי/c16wr/5523bbc30cf21e26badc5363)

[4] One point on which I disagree with the author is in regard to his analysis and conclusion about the viewpoint of Rabbi Yosef Karoin relation to intra-anal ejaculation, (pp.135-151). From my readings of the texts, I believe it is clear that he opposes such sexual conduct even according to baseline Jewish law. (RO)

 

A Note from the Author, Yaakov Shapiro:

I want to sincerely thank Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Rafi Ostroff for their excellent book review.

Please note one correction: My website does not currently feature any video lectures, but one can find a link there to look inside the content of the book.

I would also like to respectfully point out in regard to footnote 2 of the review: a) The way I understand Rashi’s commentary on the verse in Genesis 34:2, “biah shelo cedarcah” and “biah cedarcah” are equally associated with the rape of Dinah. Indeed, the simple context of rape in Biblical and rabbinic literature is associated with “biah cedarcah;” b) I believe the translation of the Hebrew term “inoi” as “torture” in this context is perhaps extreme (see also, in this regard, end note 269 in the book); c) The way I understand the passage on Bechorot 8a, it is not speaking about “biah cedarcah” vs. “biah shelo cedarcah,” but to the nature of most animals to breed “face-to-back,” whereas humans and some animals breed “face-to-face.” All that being said, it is acknowledged in the book that “biah shelo cedarcah” is generally considered to be less than ideal even by the sources that permit it, and the distinction between baseline law versus sanctification is stressed throughout (though see page 68 and endnote 271 in regard to the express opinion of Tosfos Yeshanim, Nedarim 20b).

In regard to footnote 4 in the review, see the discussion in the book referenced there, where the analysis and conclusion are developed based on comments of well-known halachic authorities.

Finally, the review focuses on marital activities that may perhaps be associated more with interests of a husband. It should be noted that the book addresses numerous activities that would be associated with a wife’s interests as well.

 

 

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