Message From Rabbi Gold
A HUSBAND’S DUTY
“If he marries another, he shall not diminish her food, clothing, and sexual rights.” (Exodus 21:10)
On Sunday I will be teaching at Limmud, the big festival of Jewish learning held in Miami. Limmud began in England and now takes place in cities around the world. I gave two talks last year on two very different topics. This year my topic is Does God Belong in the Bedroom, the title of a book I published many years ago.
Of course, I believe that God belongs in the bedroom. The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Kahana who hid under the bed of his rabbi. He believed that what happens between a husband and a wife in the bedroom was Torah and he came to learn. When he determined that his rabbi was acting with too much levity, he came out from under the bed and said, “You would think my master never sipped the cup before.” His rabbi said, “Is that you? Come out Kahana, it is not proper” (Hagigah 5b). I do not recommend hiding under the bed of your rabbi to learn Torah. But this story certainly points to the idea that what happens in the privacy of the bedroom has religious significance.
Let me share an example that comes out of this week’s Torah reading. In mentioning various laws, the Torah speaks of the obligation of a husband towards his wife. Even if he takes another wife (polygamy was permitted at that time), he is forbidden to diminish his first wife’s food, clothing, and conjugal rights. The Torah was concerned with conjugal rights. Today we often think about marital obligations as a woman’s duty and a man’s right, but in Jewish tradition it is the other way around. Conjugal rights are a man’s duty and a woman’s right. In fact, Jewish law obligates a man to make sure that his wife has pleasure in the marital bedroom.
The Talmud expounds on this law of conjugal rights in greater detail. How often does a man have an obligation? According to the Mishnah, for a man of leisure every night, for a working man twice a week, for a donkey driver once a week, for a camel driver once a month, and for a sailor once every six months. Jewish law further expounds on this. If a man wishes to change jobs so that he is less available for his obligations, his wife has veto power. Today in our more egalitarian age, I would say that if one partner wants to take a job that causes him or her to be away from home more often, the other partner can say no.
I do discuss these issues with brides and grooms in my pre-marital counseling. Although most couples live together before they are married and think they have all the answers, I want them to look at sexuality from a Jewish point of view. I discuss this within a greater context of what I believe men and women need in a marriage. (There are differences, but now is not the time to elaborate.) The most important idea I try to put across to a bride and groom is that marriage involves a quest for holiness. Being holy is more than being ethical, it means rising above the animal within us, the part of us that is seeking our own pleasure. Holiness begins when we move beyond our own needs to see the needs of the other.
In my talk at Limmud Sunday I will speak about a ladder of holiness when it comes to sexual behavior, and many other areas of life. How do we move beyond the animal within us to a higher level that sees the godliness within us? I have lectured on this subject around the country. I often like to end my lectures with a story I first heard from the late Rabbi Robert Gordis. He spoke of a Hasidic Rebbe who asked his students, there are two men on a ladder. One is on the third step and one is on the tenth step. Which one is higher? The students answered, the one on the tenth step. The Rebbe replied, wrong. It depends on whether they are going up or down.
There is a ladder of holiness. We each need to ask ourselves in our sexual and every other area of life, are we going up the ladder or are we going down.
With Rabbi Gold
RAP WITH THE RABBI – Once a Month on Sunday Mornings, 9 am bagels and coffee, 9:30 am Class.
JUDAISM AND THE SOUL
Mar. 5 – The Mystical View of the Soul
April 9 – The Contemporary View of the Soul
May 7 – Do Jews Believe in Heaven and Hell?
WEEKLY CLASS – The Bible and Everything Else Under the Sun – Wednesdays 12:15 – 1:15 at the office of Ken Rubin in Coral Springs, 9900 Sample Road Suite 404, Coral Springs 33065. (next class 2/22).
May you and your family have a restful, joyous Shabbat.