Friday, February 16, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Mishpatim ("let's talk about sex, baby")

Okay kids, this one's PG-13. That's the disclaimer. If you're not ready for this, get your Torah-fix here for just this week.

This week's Torah Portion is Mishpatim, which literally means "judgements" or "laws". How appropriate for a portion chock full of them. What I love this Torah portion because, although it is full of mitzvot (sefer chinuch counts 53 of them, 8.6% of the 613 mitzvot can be found in this portion) there are so many fascinating things to talk about. Assuming I write one Dvar Torah on each of the mitzvot annually, I will be still writing these things at age 75. But by then the internet will have been replaced by telepathy. Anywho, Last year I talked about biomedical ethics and the obligation in our religion to have doctors that heal, that the Hippocratic Oath is inherent in Judaism. There are so many ways to incur the death penalty here. If you hit a man and he dies, you will surely die. If you hit your parents, you die. If you curse your parents, you die. If you put an empty container of OJ back into the damn fridge, you die. Understand?

Anyway, this relatively short dvar will focus on Exodus 21:10:

אִם־אַחֶרֶת יִֽקַּֽח־לוֹ שְׁאֵרָהּ כְּסוּתָהּ וְעֹֽנָתָהּ לֹא יִגְרָֽע

We don't need to deal with the content of the first half of the verse, rather the end "her food, her clothing, and her 'season' shall not be diminished". This verse, originally talking about a man who takes another wife owes these things to his wife. He must provide adequate food, clothing, and sex (which is the Rabbinic interpretation of the euphemism "season") to keep her satisfied. Without the ability and/or the motivation to provide these things, there is no possibility for the marriage to continue.

Tractate Ketubot, which some of you had studied in Advanced Talmud with me a few years ago, talks about these things guaranteed to women, particularly focusing on the last one. What is the frequency that one must give sex to one's wife? I don't have the tractate in front of me, but I remember that it depends on the profession. Someone who is a member of the "leisure class" must perform the deed DAILY (outside of the obvious week or so of Niddah and Levana) where such deeds are forbidden). Day laborers who tend to be tired have to do it twice a week. Us scholars are required to provide for our wives weekly, as do people with steady local jobs. This is where the legend of "Sex is a Double Mitzvah on Shabbat" came from, the fact that the one day off was Shabbat after the 6 day work-week and therefore this is when the scholars would come home and the workers weren't completely exhausted from work. Camel drivers have a month to get back home and sailors on the open sea, six months.

One cannot vow an open-ended vow to withhold sex from one's wife or else the Rabbis can attempt to nullify the marriage (not even requiring a get) and one must have permission from one's wife (non-coerced) to extend the deadlines.

I should note that it is not for procreation that we are commanded to do this but for our wives' enjoyment. Judaism is by no means a repressed religion. Remember: "Oneg karah leShabbat." Shabbat was made for enjoyment. So enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom.

Next season for Mishpatim divrei torah: shor she-naga, the ox that gores. (bli neder)

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