[Avodah] De-Chokifying Arayos

Kenneth Miller via Avodah avodah at lists.aishdas.org
Wed Jul 29 05:11:28 PDT 2015

Ooops! Yesterday I accidentally pressed "send" when I meant to "save draft". The result was a post that was far from finished. Here is what I had intended to publish:

R"n Toby Katz wrote:

> It seems to me we are using the words "psak" and "poskim" too
> loosely.  If it's psak you want, I think all sources, rishonim
> and acharonim, agree that marital intercourse is always mutar
> (assuming the usual, the wife is not a nidah, it's not forced,
> it's not Yom Kippur, etc).  What we are really talking about
> here is hashkafa, not psak -- even if it is in the Shulchan
> Aruch.  What frequency is optimum? ... ...

Maybe, and maybe not. Let's look at the words.

I'm focusing on Orach Chaim 240. The word "asur" appears a fair amount of the time, but there are other categorizations used as well, such as "lo y'hay" (don't be that sort of person), or "lo [insert verb here]" (don't do that). I was once told that the word "asur" is to be taken literally, but the other terms are not as strong, and simply means that these actions are ideally to be avoided, actually mutar (which might also be RTK's point).

But IF that is how we are to understand the vocabulary, then we have a whole new way of reading the Shulchan Aruch. Here are some examples of this new way of understanding: It's not assur to shmooze between Geulah and Tefillah of Maariv (236:2) or to say Shehecheyanu on the Lulav on the second day (662:2) or to say Hallel on RH and YK (584:1) or to get a haircut before Mincha (232:2). It's not assur to daven only in your heart, but it's better if you pronounce the words with your lips. (101:2)

I will concede that these examples are indeed less severe than cases where the Shulchan Aruch DOES use the word "assur". But nevertheless, we do not take these halachos as mere suggestions. Despite the lack of the word "asur", we DO accept it as normative psak halacha, and not as "hashkafa", to use RTK's word.

So why should Siman 240 be different? Why would we suddenly take the words of Siman 240 to be hashkafa, and wave off the Shulchan Aruch, saying that his derech is different than our derech? Shouldn't we accept it as normative halacha? Even if I feel these halachos to be strange or difficult, shouldn't I at least accept them as a goal to strive for? And if I *don't* strive for them, doesn't that require teshuva?

> Surely that is at least partly subjective, and any of the
> various sources that apparently disagree with each other can
> be drawn upon when you're looking for something to back up
> what your gut tells you is right.

Maybe, but one had better be VERY sure that those sources actually exist, and that they have ample support in the poskim. Otherwise - as I asked a couple of posts ago - how is this any different than what the conservative and reform do?

"It's a big machlokes - there's gotta be someone who paskens the way I want, so that's what I'm gonna do." I shudder when I hear otherwise-observant people saying such things. There are indeed some cases where there is such a *lack* of consensus among the poskim that one can do as he wants (one of my teachers paskened this way and for this reason regarding brachos on dessert), but I do not see Siman 240 in this category. We seem to be abandoning the consensus of the Shulchan Aruch and Nosei Keilim, and running to minority rishonim.

> Also it seems to me that with all the talk about minimizing
> this-worldly pleasure -- which in general is a Torah-dik thing
> to do -- we are also losing sight of the husband's obligation
> of onah. For a wife, physical closeness is tied to emotional
> closeness and it is often not, strictly speaking, a this-worldly
> pleasure but a real emotional need, which a husband has at least
> some obligation to fulfill.

Are we really sure that (for the wife) physical closeness is tied to emotional closeness from the Torah's perspective? Or perhaps that is only an invention of minds which have been clouded by the outside culture? Could it be that Onah requires physical closeness, but not emotional closeness?

I get mixed messages on this. On the one hand, an awful lot of Siman 240 is devoted to husband and wife both being of the proper frame of mind, and this is extremely strong evidence to the real importance of emotional closeness. But when I see halachos about keeping conversation to a minimum, and keeping the time involved to a minimum, then I wonder how much closeness can be achieved.

I had posted:

: Zeh haklal: Eating is proper as long as you don't overdo it.
: Sex is proper as long as you minimize it.

R' Micha Berger responded:

> ... because of the biological differences. Sex differs in two ways:
> ... 2- You can survive without it. A few days without food though...

Really? Can we really survive without it? You and me, I suppose, but that's because we are male.

RTK referenced mitzvas onah. In the Torah's view, sex is as essential as food and shelter are. But only for women.

Regardless of whether we're talking about physical closeness or emotional closeness, it seems that the Torah is concerned about closeness only for the woman, and not for the man. For women, closeness is a need which must be met; for men, closeness is a taavah which must be controlled.

Let's not allow ourselves to get confused between needs and taavos. A person may desire something so much that he thinks it to be a need, but he is deluding himself. Nowhere do I see any responsibilities of the wife which are comparable to Mitzvas Onah. Yes, she'll be a "moredet" if she refuses, but (as I understand it) that is due to the social contract implicit in the concept of marriage, which is a very cry from a Chiyuv D'Oraisa.

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