The Use of Accessories for Couples Pleasure According to Jewish Ritual Law and in the Spirit of Judaism / Rabbi Bezalel Safra
Conjugal relations and love between husband and wife are a primary value in Judaism, superseding virtually everything, both for their own sake and because they are the foundation for the world’s existence and growth. This is evident in many Jewish laws and sources:
- The first divine commandment in Torah is “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
- It is permissible to sell a Torah scroll to make a marriage possible (Maimonides, Hilchot Sefer Torah 10:2): Normally, one is never allowed to sell a Torah scroll, even if the money will be used to perform a commandment. Two commandments are an exception because of their overriding importance: the study of Torah and marriage (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 1:2).
- Communities must build a mikvah (ritual bath) before a synagogue.
- For the sake of harmony between husband and wife, God’s name is erased (the sotah ritual).
- Non-observance of this commandment constitutes grounds for divorce (Talmud, Ketubot 48; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 76:13).
And so on.
When it comes to marriage, the Torah writes “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The Torah also states, “…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), of which Rabbi Akiva said, “This is a principal rule” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9), and it refers, above all, to one’s closest “neighbor” – a wife toward her husband, and a husband toward his wife.
Unlike philosophies that view conjugal relations as something beastlike, material, and negative in which we engage only out of necessity, Judaism sees a positive, holy relationship. Pleasure in conjugal relations, when the couple’s intentions are holy – that is, for the sake of love and to provide one another with joy – is kosher, good, and holy.
Eating, too, may be called material and beastlike, yet the Torah tells us that the material can be made holy and some meals are considered commanded (seudat mitzvah) if eaten in accordance with all the rules of Halacha. Furthermore, the Talmud says: “Are the things prohibited by Torah not enough for you that you have to prohibit other things as well?” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 89). Elsewhere it says: “The human being is destined to stand in judgment before the Holy One for everything the eyes saw and did not desire to eat, even though it was permitted and could have been eaten, as it says (Ecclesiastes 2:10): ‘And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Kidushin 84). On the contrary, God wants His children to enjoy his bounty: “Everything I created – I created for you” (Ecclesiastes Rabba 7). And when God fed us manna in the desert, He made it sweet “…the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31) so that we would enjoy it.
And just as one may enjoy food and take pleasure in the wonderful flavors God created and over which we recite blessings, and just as the rabbis do not rule that it is preferable to eat without enjoying the food, but acknowledge that enjoyment was devised by God for our benefit, this also applies to sexual enjoyment provided that we use it properly as prescribed in Jewish law.
Nahmanides, in The Holy Epistle (Igeret Hakodesh), wrote: “The joining [of husband and wife] is holy and pure when it is done appropriately and at the right time and with the right intention… We, who possess the holy Torah, believe that God created everything as His wisdom decreed and created nothing shameful or ugly. For if we say that copulation is shameful, then the sexual organs are contemptible.”
While a statement in Talmud Nedarim 20 circumscribes this, describing a type of sexual asceticism, the rabbis make it very clear that “The ruling is not according to Yohanan ben Dahabay; whatever a man wants to do with his wife he may do. This is analogous to meat from the butcher shop: he may eat it raw with salt, roast it, stew it, or boil it…” Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi (the Re’em) commented on this by saying that there is no lack of holiness in any sexual act and Rabbi Avraham ben David (the Ra’avad) noted that all sexual acts between husband and wife are permitted a priori. Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (Sefer Haroke’ah) wrote likewise, saying that this did not represent any sort of flaw in one’s holiness, because it was all done for the sake of the wife’s pleasure.
It is important to note that the Talmud compared conjugal relations to meat, with regard to which each person has a personal preference yet all are equally legitimate, whether stewed, broiled, or boiled. Just as this is fine with regard to food, it is also fine with regard to conjugal relations.
Maimonides rules (Laws on Forbidden Sexual Relations 21:9) that a husband’s wife is completely permitted to him and therefore whatever he wants to do is permitted: have sex with her as often as he wants, kiss every part of her body he wants, and penetrate her vaginally and anally, as long as he does not spill his seed in vain. Nonetheless, he advises, it is a measure of holiness for a man not to take this lightly and that he should therefore strive for holiness during the conjugal act. (It is necessary to distinguish between holiness and the law: anyone who is careful to observe the law is considered righteous though not necessarily holy.)
The Torah also tells us that “Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.” The root used for “sporting” is tz.h.k., the same root used for laughter, meaning that lovemaking is a joyful thing. The Torah does not hide this and sees fit to speak this way of Isaac – who represents the quality of judgment, the holiest of the holy – and tells us of his sporting with his wife.
Talmud Sotah 11b speaks of the enslavement in Egypt where the wives had to work hard to seduce their husbands who did not want to bring children into the world because of Pharaoh’s decree to kill the male infants. The women beautified themselves with the help of copper mirrors for the sake of physical seduction. Yet, nonetheless, God decreed that these mirrors were His most beloved objects, which were subsequently used to make the copper basin for the Tabernacle in which the priests immersed to purify themselves.
“Three partners create the human being – the father, the mother, and Holy One Blessed Be He” and the partnership occurs at the moment of union. “If they merit it, the Shekinah rests between them.”
Man is commanded to please his wife: “…her food, her raiment, and her conjugal rights, shall he not diminish” (Exodus 21:10) and he “…shall cheer his wife whom he hath taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5). The second verse applies not only to the first year of married life (when men were exempted from military service for this sake), but as long as they live (in Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil’s Sefer Mitzvot Katan, 285, and Sefer Haredim 20:8).
To fulfill the commandment of conjugal rights the husband must cause his wife joy and bring her to climax. Marital relations are not enough. According to the Tosfot, the definition of this commandment as causing the wife joy is a Torah-level obligation (de’orayta), and it is therefore incumbent on the husband to learn how. Endearment, embraces, and kisses are part of this commandment.
Partners who are happy with their marital relations are happier and calmer. The whole atmosphere at home changes and improves family harmony and “puts peace in the home” (Talmud Sabbath 152).
In Talmud Sabbath 140b, Rabbi Hisda (a hassid!) instructs his daughters on how to sexually entice their husbands (who were holy Amorite scholars!), and Rashi’s comment on the text reads “…so that his desire and love would grow.” Similarly, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, in Responsum 14, writes: “He must embrace and kiss her… frolic with touches and all sorts of embraces to fulfill his own and his wife’s desire.”
The human being is a merger of body and soul. The body and its needs are holy. The conjugal rights commandment is part of serving God. The Sages called the bedroom “the holy of holies” (Rashi on the Book of Kings) and the cherubs above the Ark of the Covenant were fused.
The wife, too, must please her husband in every way that gives him pleasure. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is mutual. Ezra the Scribe ordered that garlic be eaten on Friday night to facilitate the conjugal rights commandment, as garlic arouses love and fortifies the seed (Talmud Baba Kama 82a).
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, in his book The Home’s Joy and Blessing (Hebrew), p. 44, writes “If, despite the husband’s efforts, he is consistently unable to bring his wife to the pinnacle of joy, it seems that it is a commandment to bring her joy using this device… Also, when a couple can reach joy without the help of a device, they may still use it as they wish. The more a man brings his wife joy, so the commandment is enhanced. However, if a man or a woman excite themselves on their own, this is forbidden, because the joy must be reserved for the love between them.”
In his book Knowing How to Love, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel a priori permits the use of accessories to enhance joy. Other rabbis permit their use only if there is special need, but not a priori. This is all provided the husband does not spill his seed in vain and, of course, there are no immodest images so that the husband will not think about other women.
It is therefore important that the products be of high quality and not harmful, be presented in a discreet manner, and be accompanied by appropriate guidance and a positive attitude.
Why is this subject important now? What has changed compared to the past?
- Longer life expectancy: Couples live longer. An aging coupledom needs renewal and variety.
- Higher divorce rates: People have greater self-awareness and want meaningful romantic love and satisfaction. Dissatisfaction with conjugal relations can lead to indifference and divorce.
- Ubiquitous temptations: Temptations abound – even at home, on the internet – leading to more infidelities. It is therefore important that coupledom provide satisfaction for both husband and wife.
- Greater openness and a return to what is natural.
Accessories solve problems
About 30 percent of men and a higher percentage of women experience problems with sexual intimacy. 37 percent of women feel no desire and more than 30 percent suffer during intercourse. After the age of 40, the female body changes; also, women suffer sexual side effects of various medications. Therefore, most accessories have to do with female arousal, but also stimulate couples arousal.
Are accessories recommended only for people suffering from such issues, or are they for everyone?
Every couple can change in terms of sexual experience. There is always what to learn. Thus, accessories are intended for people who want to improve the marital bond and add variety. Obviously, one can manage without, but they are helpful, just as are technological innovations in every other aspect of life. Still, we do not recommend them for newly married couple, but for later in life. First, the couple should get to know one another and experiment (unless it is clear that there are problems that need immediate resolution).
It is important to state that, if there is trouble in the marriage, no accessory and no new baby is going to save it. Couples must work as a couple and talk. A lot. And, if necessary, go to couples therapy. What is most important is to commit and take responsibility for one’s married life.
Our connection with the Creator also goes through our marital bond – the marriage covenant. A covenant is a bond. And if the couple merits it, God rests in their home. Therefore, a good marriage expresses the holiness of the covenant. By contrast, a flaw in the coupledom is a flaw in the covenant. The Song of Songs and Kabbalah extensively use the couple and their union as a metaphor.
Masturbation is a sin because it is selfish, the opposite of coupledom. For men, masturbation is certainly forbidden and must therefore be avoided. For women, there is a difference of opinion among the Rishonim (leading rabbis of the 11th-15th centuries). Neither the Shulchan Aruch nor Maimonides forbid it, though according to Kabbalists it is forbidden.
The five golden rules of conjugal life (compiled by Pu’ah Institute)
- Only with one’s wife (this includes even thinking about other women during sex).
- Only when permissible (i.e. not when the woman is menstruating and counting her seven clean days).
- Only in private (discreetly, where the couple will not be seen).
- Only with the wife’s consent.
- Only if the act does not shame the wife or cause her hurt.
These are the five red lines. As long as these are not crossed, everything is permissible.
There are other important instructions (we recommend learning the relevant books), such as coming together at night, under covers, in the dark (this is said for penetration, not for foreplay), not while the man is drunk or the woman asleep, and more. Some forbid the man kissing his wife’s sex organ, although Rabbi Moshe Isserlish does not.
It bears remembering that holiness means living life naturally with great joy and pleasure. Sexual desire and arousal are thus an integral part of holiness. Therefore, Maimonides in his commentary on the Mishnah, says that those who strive for holiness will perform the sexual act in its natural way; the rabbis described this as the man sanctifying himself during the sexual act, because nature is holy and Godly (provided the act is performed in accordance with Jewish ritual law, at the appropriate time and place and with the appropriate partner).
One might ask: Is it possible that, because of the products, the wife may “manage” without her husband? Products do not provide warmth or love, compliments or embraces. It is not a bond or a covenant or coupledom. The products are for couples to use so the husband can pleasure his wife and vice versa.
When the husband gives his wife joy, it means he loves her and desires her happiness, and when the wife receives the climax from her husband she loves him and desires him. This creates the unity, which is the height of love and holiness, as The Zohar says (Kedoshim 81): “When the male and female mate, they are made holy in the highest holiness. This is perfection and they are called ‘one.’ Therefore, the man must please his wife, so that both share the same desire. And in this way the Holy One Blessed Be He, Who is One, casts His Shekinah on the one born from the union.”