Sex In Orthodox Judaism

Hirhurim writes: "I sent a few questions to Sara Diament, author of an important new book for parents titled Talking To Your Children About Intimacy: A Guide For Orthodox Jewish Parents (link). My questions are in bold. You can also find a review of the book in a recent issue of The Jewish Star."

They can’t even use the word "sex" in the title.

In public, the representatives of Orthodox Judaism are far more squeamish talking about sex than fundamentalist Christians.

As Zev Chafets demonstrates in his book, A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance, fundamentalist Christians are comparatively free in talking about sex.

The sacred texts of Judaism are not squeamish about talking about sex. The Bible has lots of sex and all the hookers in it are portrayed positively.

I wonder why Orthodox rabbis are so squeamish about in this matter?

I guess this is like divorce. Judaism is the most liberal of the world religions about divorce, but in traditional Orthodox life, those who divorce tend to get shunned.

Sex and intimacy are by no means synonymous.

No wonder that so many people say that Orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in the sheet. It’s not literally true, but we tie ourselves up in knots when discussing sex.

On the other hand, Orthodox Jews seem to be far more free about having sex outside of marriage and talking about it with their friends than the fundamentalist Christians I grew up with. The sex surveys I’ve seen, such as that big one out of the University of Chicago about 15 years, show that Jews (this would be dominantly secular Jews) have far more sexual partners than Protestants and Catholics (the least).

In conservative Christianity, sexual sins are the biggest sins. That is not true in Orthodox Judaism.

Yirmiahu writes on Hirhurim: "Someone who is comfortable having "Talking to your children about sex" on their bookshelf probably isn’t going to have any inhibitions talking about the topic with their kids. Sex may not be a vulgar word but it is a private topic."

Gil writes: "The humorous choice of the title was intended to convey the discomfort of discussing this issue that the book is trying to alleviate. Thank you for attempting to understand."

Skeptic writes: Come on Gil, the criticism is not about the title, it’s about your approach to the issue — the way you use the word intimacy, the way you ask leading questions "Is this really something that needs to be discussed in public?" and then "Do you think there are possible negative consequences of raising this issue onto the communal level?"

We aren’t attempting to understand your humor, we’re trying to understand why you seem as out of touch as the very people Ms. Diament is trying to educate.

Shades of Grey posts: I have seen different ways of approaching the issue of euphemisms, which seem to be based on the situation.

Rabbi Reuvein Bulka uses the term "conjugal relations" instead of "sex". He writes on page 104 of his book that "this phrase is preferred not in order to hide behind a euphemism; rather it is to signify that the intimate expression of marital relations is not simply a biological act".…phemism& f=false

I have seen an article in a family magazine where a frum social worker wrote that engaged couples "feel ahavah for another"; similarly a respected Rav explained in a book that he uses the term "affection" instead of "love" to distinguish from the Hollywood version. Of course, in reality, hopefully spouses actually "love each other" rather than "feel ahavah for one another" !

It is interesting that R. Yecheil Yaakov Weinberg zt’l, choose to be direct in a situation , and wrote “according to Maimonides, if a Jew has sex with a gentile [woman]…”(11/15/65 letter to Prof. Samuel Atlas in TUM Journal). On the other, this was a private correspondence, and perhaps he felt the situation warranted it.

There are those who empahasize the need to be direct in specific cases:

The Tzelem website writes that " This also reflects a deeper sense of what tzniyut means—tzniyut is not being euphemistic with chatanim and kallot, tzniyut is not leaving our youth in ignorance and left to pick up sexual knowledge from the street, tzniyut is not pretending that problems in the realm of sexuality do not exist in our community."

Rabbi Simcha and Chaya Feurman wrote in article in the Jewish Press:

"When teaching children about sexual matters, it is important to be direct and clear because it is so easy for them to misunderstand. In addition, the usage of euphemisms and other indirect methods of discussing sexuality can possibly reinforce an unhealthy degree of shame…".… 41081

The caveat in all of the above would seem to be that different situations require different modes of expression.


How does the Talmud (both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem) generally deal with the concept of euphemisms.

How did R Wolbe deal with the concept of euphemisms.

Neuroscientifically speaking, when possible, I think its best to be brutally honest, precise, detailed, accurate, logical and clinical.

Vague, imprecise, ambiguous and inaccurate is not an ashkenazic minhag.

I guess it depends on the age obviously,but explaining the logical technical neurochemical angles of emotional chemistry,attachement and relationships is a bright idea at some point.

Neuroscience has alot of the logical,somewhat factual answers that psychology just yaps and yaps about endlessly.

Y. Aharon writes: I find no fault with using the term intimacy rather than sex. The former deals with more than the sex act. It describes the general physical and emotional relationship between a man and a woman. This relationship is the key to a satisfying and successful marriage and life. Unfortunately, the current, rather extreme attitude towards tzniut in Hareidi circles tends to engender a great barrier to intergender relations even where it is halachically permitted and encouraged. Girls must be taught that sex is not a necessary evil, but, rather, a divinely ordained way of engendering attachment and life. Boys must also be taught that lesson,and that sex is not only about satisfying male urges. Suitable information about the physical and emotional aspects of marital sex must be provided to young people at an appropriate age and stage in life. The Steipler Gaon, Rav Ya’akov Yisroel Kanievsky, is said to have issued a manual on sexual behavior for marrieds in order to combat the idea that sex is an inherently objectionable activity. That is the rabbinic work that I would like to have distributed rather than lectures about the evils of masturbation. If Mrs. Diament has a sensible and informative book on the subject, then it should be made widely available.

FP writes: The Gemara says a small girl is a shomer for yichud purposes when she is "yoda’as ta’am biah", which Rashi explains as meaning she knows what biah is. This age is about 6-7.

ISTM that they were more matter-of-fact about these matters back in the good old days.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Orthodoxy, Rabbis, Sex and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.