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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q11.2.1 TOC Q11.2.3 >

Question 11.2.2:
Sex and Purity: Can a Jewish man only uncover his wife a hands-breadth?


This "legend" is derived from a one of several conflicting interpretations of what was said about Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos in Nedarim 20a,b. It runs as follws:

"Ima Shalom [R. Eliezer's wife] was asked why her children were so very good-looking. She told them " ` ... and when he speaks to [Rashi: copulates with] me, he uncovers a handsbreadth and covers a handsbreadth and he seems to be coerced by a demon."

The conflicting interpretations are as follows:

Not much of a consensus, as you can see. Choose whatever interpretation you like. Rashi's first explanation has the ring of truth: It was R. Eliezer's way of building up sexual excitement by foreplay. As supporting evidence, we continue to read the text: "I (Ima Shalom) asked him `Why do you do this?' He aswered `So that I should not look [with desire] at any other woman'".

Note that the Talmud in Ketubot 48 states that the proper way for a man and woman to have sex is for both to be nude; in fact it goes on to state that if one insists on wearing clothes during the act, that can be considered grounds for divorce. This was later codified in the Shulkhan Arukh (16th century), Even ha-Ezer 76:13

For a detailed and sensitive discussion of Jewish views towards sex and sexuality, see "Does God Belong in the Bedroom?" by Rabbi Michael Gold (published by JPS), and "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (published by Doubleday).

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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