Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher's view of marriage - the importance of human love (regarding criticism of Gerrer Takanos/Esti Weinstein)

I first published this on 3/30/15. I am republishing this because of the current discussion of the Gerrer Takanos in connection to Esti Weinstein. The criticism of the Takanos is discussed in detail in the following article by Prof. Brown
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The following is from   Kedushah: SEXUAL ABSTINENCE IN HASIDIC GROUPS by Prof Benny Brown. The pamphlet from Rav Scher is found on Hebrew Books
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The Hazon Ish probably wrote this letter in Bnei Brak in the early 1950s. At approximately the same time and in the same place, another Litvish rabbi, R. Yitshak Isaac Sher (1881–1952), the head of the prestigious Slobodka yeshivah, wrote an article entitled Kedushat yisra’el [the Holiness of the Jewish People], which dealt somewhat more bluntly with the same sensitive issue.[...]

Rabbi Sher begins by drawing attention to an apparent controversy between Maimonides and Nahmanides, the former condemning sexual desire and the latter condoning it as holy. Rabbi Sher concludes that there is no real disagreement between them: sexual desire, like all other physical desires, is natural and should be condemned only if it is indulged by way of excessive pleasures, but it is holy when it functions within the boundaries set by the Torah, namely, in order to fulfill the commandment of onah. He proceeds to analyze the views of Rashi and Nahmanides on the matter, concluding as follows:
One does not observe the mitsvah [of onah] properly if one performs it only in order to fulfill one’s obligation. [. . .] In truth, he who performs coition without ardor violates [the commandment] “her duty of marriage [= onah] shall he not diminish” (Ex. 21:10).78 [. . .] Just as it is prohibited to abstain altogether from the act itself, which is the husband’s duty of onah in respect of his wife, so it is prohibited to refrain from physical intimacy with her, which is what the wife craves—to enjoy her physical intimacy with her husband. This entails desire that goes beyond what is required for [the performance of] the act itself. The husband is commanded to satisfy her desire as she pleases. And see [B.] YevamotOne does not observe the mitsvah [of onah] properly if one performs it only in order to fulfill one’s obligation. [. . .] In truth, he who performs coition without ardor violates [the  commandment] “her duty of marriage [= onah] shall he not diminish” (Ex.21:10).78 [. . .] Just as it is prohibited to abstain altogether from the act itself, which is the husband’s duty of onah in respect of  his wife, so it is prohibited to refrain from physical intimacy with her, which is what the wife craves—to enjoy her physical intimacywith her husband. This entails desire that goes beyond what is required for [the performance of] the act itself. The husband is commanded to satisfy her desire as she pleases. And see [B.] YevamotOne does not observe the mitsvah [of onah] properly if one performs it only in order to fulfill one’s obligation. [. . .]

 In truth, he who performs coition without ardor violates [the commandment] “her duty of marriage [= onah] shall he not diminish” (Ex.21:10).78 [. . .] Just as it is prohibited to abstain altogether from the act itself, which is the husband’s duty of onah in respect of his wife, so it is prohibited to refrain from physical intimacy with her, which is what the wife craves—to enjoy her physical intimacy with her husband. This entails desire that goes beyond what is required for [the performance of] the act itself. The husband is commanded to satisfy her desire as she pleases. And see [B.] Yevamot 62 and Pesahim 72, where it is stated explicitly that whenever she desires and yearns for her husband—this is her [rightful] onah, even if it exceeds the prescribed minimum.
Rabbi Sher goes on to attack the hasidic understanding of kedushah:
I have heard that some pretended God-fearing and pious men [mithasedim] take great care to fulfill this mitsvah for the sake of Heaven, without any desire.80 Such a person would busy himself half the night with Torah and prayer [. . .] and only then, aftermidnight, would he come home and wake up his wife, prattle to her placatingly in order to fulfill this mitsvah. [Naturally,] she allows him to do with her as he pleases, and he is proud of having managed to fulfill this commandment without [succumbing to] the evil inclination, [namely], without any impure lust. He later wonders why the sons he has produced in this way have turned out to be wicked or stupid!81 Surely, the reason is the false belief that it is wrong to perform the commandment [of onah] with desire, whereas [the truth is that] a son conceived without desire turns out to be foolish, as is well known, and when intercourse takes place without the wife’s full consent or desire, that is, when she would rather be asleep and is angry with her husband for disturbing her and doing with her as he pleases rather than as she pleases, then he violates a Torah prohibition, and his sons will possess the nine evil traits82 of the rebellious and sinful.
The Children of Israel, he contends, are so holy that they are able to “delight themselves in the Lord”84 through eating and coitus, just as Adam had done before the Sin of Eden.85 For the Lord wishes his children to “delight themselves in His goodness.” This is why they are able to perform physical acts “for the sake of Heaven,” while those who endeavor to shun the physical pleasure of sexual intercourse end up diminished mentally and spiritually. For even if they declare in advance that they intend to perform the sexual act only in order to fulfill the commandment of onah, they know all too well that when it comes to the act itself, they are bound to be distracted from their purpose by the inevitable stirring of their natural desire, and they end up performing the whole act lustfully.86 To convince the hasidim that his understanding of the matter is correct, Rabbi Sher appeals to their view of themselves as heirs to the kabbalistic tradition by adducing a series of quotations from the Zohar to corroborate his position.[...]

As an adherent of the Musar movement (musarnik), which developed in the Lithuanian yeshivot in the late nineteenth century and called for ethical self-improvement, R. Sher acknowledges that the couple achieve sanctification by ensuring that during coitus they focus on nothing other than the ethical and religious significance of the act. He takes this significance to be (a) the creation of a new human being, which resembles the work of God; (b) the union of male and female in the image of God, by which, “through the power of desire,” they come to resemble Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; and (c) a means of enhancing their love for each other, which is not only a virtue in itself but also serves to enhance their love of God and of their fellow human beings. He admits, however, that the virtue of love “is not properly developed among us [the haredim]. Those who have claimed in their learned books that marital love is contingent on transient factors (ahavah hateluyah badavar)”88 are wrong. “For surely, this love is natural, and it is a mitsvah to enhance and develop it properly,” which includes the husband’s obligation to satisfy his wife whenever she desires him.

It is for this reason, Rabbi Sher contends, that when the couple come together, the husband must address his wife in a way that conveys not only “awe, piety, and chastity,” but also tenderness, affection, and erotic love (agavim). He clearly anticipates the reader’s astonishment at the latter: “The
point of erotic love seems difficult to understand,” but he quotes the Zohar and Maimonides to bolster his argument that the husband must speak to his wife explicitly even “about her [physical] beauty.”

It is for this reason, Rabbi Sher contends, that when the couple come together, the husband must address his wife in a way that conveys not only “awe, piety, and chastity,” but also tenderness, affection, and erotic love (agavim). He clearly anticipates the reader’s astonishment at the latter: “The
point of erotic love seems difficult to understand,” but he quotes the Zohar and Maimonides to bolster his argument that the husband must speak to his wife explicitly even “about her [physical] beauty.”

Without expressly mentioning the Gerer hasidim, he condemns what he calls the bad habits arising from a common misunderstanding of the ideal of kedushah:
As for the bad habits that many of them have adopted in error, believing that in order to maintain themselves in holiness they must  refrain from talking to their wives—the rabbis must strive to make them realize that this kind of holiness is the very essence of impurity [. . .] and that the husband must speak to his wife, addressing her with wondrously affectionate words of placation. [...]

20 comments :

  1. very nice, one of the great leaders of Mussar shows his true Hochmah.
    A few weeks ago DT asked for sources on obligations on the man's side to serve his wife, and i mentioned the mitzvah of onah. I think this post goes further to support that claim (even if it is only something inside the bedroom).

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  2. @RaP - while it is important it is not brave. How can reporting the view of Rav Scher which is also the view of the Chazon Ish and the Steipler and Rav Wolbe - brave?

    Furthermore you are ignoring the traditional understanding of Shir HaShirim. According to the Arizal it is only a metaphor for the greatest tzadikim - not the common people.For the common people you need other sources

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  3. @Eddie the issue raised is an on going one. Prof Brown presents it as a major difference between the Chassidic and the Litvak world. Ironically it is the Chassidim who have the concept of "serving G-d through the material i.e., eating - who become very frum and unnatural on this topic. The Litvaks - at least some of the major gedolim - clearly assert that human beings need to be able to express love to other human beings - and thus be psychological healthy - in order to serve G-d properly.

    Even with the Litvische world - it is an on going fight. I was told recently that the letters of the Steipler and Chazon Ish are not easy to get in Lakewood anymore - even for married men.

    The Sefer Mishkan Yisroel - which has hasmakma of major gedolim including Rav Eliashiv - was written specifically to counteract the infiltration of the "frum" - basically Chrisitain view - into the mainstream of Orthodoxy.

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  4. As for the first part of your response, it is not in and of what the great Litvisha Gedolim had to say on the subject, they stated what they stated and it is what it is, and they do not need haskomas or praise, or adjectives about "bravery", in that I agree with you. However there is a divergent world view when it comes to matching this up to what is thought about and done on the subject of sexual behavior between man and wife among many in the Chasidisha velt. Generally speaking it is true to say that the words used in the literature you quote here can be mainly directed at the Chasidisha velt's practices. But there are many ironies, such as Chasidus in general is derived and based on Jewish mystical traditions (Zohar, Ari, Tanya and others) that are filled with very mature and adult treatments of the subject of sex and sexuality as metaphors in the way Shir HaShirim uses them. This has often been a big pitfall for them as they get too much into the sexualized understanding of the Divine that simply put gets them into trouble. While the Litvak mesorah which is less Kabbalistic and more scholastic and Talmudic while not dwelling on sexualized teachings, and one would imagine they would therefore be the more prudish ones, are actually the more sensitized to the actual real needs of females as expressed in the words of the Litvish Gedolim who are stressing the importance of genuine tenderness, sex manners for men, and respect for the female's needs, body and simply erotic desires that need to be respected and that in turn will have the real fruits of smart and great holy children, something I found eye opening.

    So the "brave" part is that this view is going head to head with the current view among big chunks of the Chasidish world where they do not practice what you have published and the jury is out whether they are the better off for it (as they would no doubt claim) or are suffering from it by having all those "foolish" and "inferior" children that just create more problems when they in turn go out into the world and spawn their own progeny that is then the source of abuse and all the stuff you are trying to counter and fight against. So what you have now published runs very deep and it is indeed very brave as far as I can see.

    The second part of your response I understand and agree with, but I am taking it in the very simplistic sense of just reading the words as many good Jews do who do not regard themselves as "tzadikim" by any measure yet the words of Shir HaShrim just resonate for them and openly talk in poetic metaphors that are purely sexual and erotic in nature befitting any reading of any type of such poetry in any language that any serious person would recognize for what it is. In any case, "ve'ameich, kulam tzadikim" every Yid and Jewess and Jewish home is a Mikdash Me'at with its Keruvim in the main bedroom, where loving parents create loving children etc on Shabbos and at holy times when the wife goes to the Mikva and then comes home and the husband in Mekayem his duties towards her, hopefully with all due sensitivity and respect for her person, erotic and sexual needs and desires to be a happy woman with him as her true love and spouse.

    I am being a little wordy due to the sensitivity of the subject.

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  5. anyone wanting to read doctor brown's complete article can do so:

    https://www.academia.edu/4919509/Kedushah_The_Sexual_Abastinence_of_Married_Men_in_Gur_Slonim_and_Toldos_Ahron

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  6. Thank you - the reply is very rich in many ideas, and I am particularly in agreement that the "frum" view can sometimes be non - Jewish.

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  7. @RaP - you are forgetting that World War II ended quite a few years ago. The letters of the Chazon Ish and Steipler came out in the 1950's The teachings of gedolim in opposition to the Chassidic view have been going on for many years - -including Lakewood and the Mir in Yerushalayim. Bottom line the Litvaks are not rudderless and have not been ruderless. Even the Chassidic view as a mass standard is relatively new.

    So bottom line - your theroy doesn't match historic fact.

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  8. Please translate into English

    "As for the first part of your response, it is not in and of what the great Litvisha Gedolim had to say on the subject, they stated what they stated and it is what it is,"

    RaP your understanding simply doesn't match reality. Please read Dr. Brown's article - especially on the issue of what the Kabbalistic or mysitcal understanding.

    The Kabbalistic and Mussar sources are used on both sides of this argument. Both sides have to deal with human nature as well as the halacha and many apparently contradictory sources in Chazal, Rishonin and Achronim.

    The big challenge to the Chassidic world is in fact not Kabbala but halacha as derived from Chazal and canonized in Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch

    Bottom line - this is a big issue involving big people with differing understandings - but the consequences have to dealt with properly

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  9. "According to the Arizal it is only a metaphor for the greatest tzadikim - not the common people.For the common people you need other sources."


    Rabbi E, could you explain this statement? I'm not coming to disagree with you - I simply don't understand what you are saying. (Also, a source for the Arizal would be helpful.)

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  10. Thanks, Ben. For those who don't want to sign up to academia.edu, it is easire to just download the article from this website:

    https://huji.academia.edu/BBrown

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  11. @Chaim - it is discussed in Dr. Brown's article - please read it page 34

    Rotstein goes on to explain that only the person who has reached the highest
    degree of spirituality is allowed to follow the practice—associated with
    Isaac Luria, the “holy Ari”—of hugging and kissing his wife during intercourse,
    113 since only such a refined person can “raise” or restore to their
    divine source the “holy sparks” that have fallen into the “lowly” domain of
    corporeal sexuality. For the ordinary person, on the other hand, “corporeal
    acts are very dangerous, as it is extremely difficult to transcend [the domain
    of] materiality, and very great care is required to avoid remaining in
    it.”114 With these claims R. Rotstein is effectively inverting the conventional
    view, advocated in all the traditional halakhic sources, whereby those who
    are permitted physical intimacy with their wives are the ordinary men, while
    members of the intellectual and spiritual elite are allowed to refrain from it!
    Rotstein corroborates his conclusion with what he presents as the lesson of
    experience:

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  12. I did read the Brown article. But I still don't understand your statement. I'm sorry - are you presenting Rotstein's argument - which differs with the normative understanding of most Gedolei Yisrael as Brown has noted - as that of the Arizal?!


    Then you should have written:

    "According to Rotstein it is only a metaphor for the greatest tzadikim like the Arizal- not the common people."


    And what does this mean: "For the common people you need other sources." According to whom? Acc. to most Gedolim, for normal people it is a Mitzvah, and acc. to Rotstein it is to be refrained from - he obviously doesn't believe in any "other sources" which would indicate to the contrary.

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  13. @Chaim I don't know what is bothering you. I made a statement, I backed it up with a large quote from the Brown article. It was clear from the quote what I was saying and who I was citing.

    I am sorry if it is not clear to you. If you reread my comments it should be obvious.

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  14. Rabbi E, with all due respect - please show your comment to an innocent bystander and ask him/her if they can make head or tail of it.

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  15. We still got NeR Yisroel, Chofetz Chaim, Shaar Hatorah, Telse, Riverdale & MTJ, a few real Litvish places in existence that shun the Chassidish infiltration.

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  16. @Chaim this was my answer to you which you claim the average person would not understand. I disagree with you

    @Chaim - it is discussed in Dr. Brown's article - please read it page 34

    Rotstein goes on to explain that only the person who has reached the highest
    degree of spirituality is allowed to follow the practice—associated with
    Isaac Luria, the “holy Ari”—of hugging and kissing his wife during intercourse,
    113 since only such a refined person can “raise” or restore to their
    divine source the “holy sparks” that have fallen into the “lowly” domain of
    corporeal sexuality. For the ordinary person, on the other hand, “corporeal
    acts are very dangerous, as it is extremely difficult to transcend [the domain
    of] materiality, and very great care is required to avoid remaining in
    it.”114 With these claims R. Rotstein is effectively inverting the conventional
    view, advocated in all the traditional halakhic sources, whereby those who
    are permitted physical intimacy with their wives are the ordinary men, while
    members of the intellectual and spiritual elite are allowed to refrain from it!
    Rotstein corroborates his conclusion with what he presents as the lesson of
    experience:

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  17. Of course you disagree with me - I know that already! I was submitting an easy method of verification by way of a לא חכים ולא טפש, whereupon you would discover - in my opinion - that your original statement does not lend itself easily to comprehension. That is especially true if it is supposed to be reflecting Dr Brown's view, or Rotstein's view.

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  18. Chofetz chaim rabbi zaks a lonely litvish outpost in chassidish monsey (RDE recently told me he's the only litvak left in his neck of the monsey woods.)
    Telz where the munkatcher rebbe learned. MTJ plenty of chassidim. Don't know much about the others. Ner israel a strictly american yeshiva with no real affiliation.

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  19. Haven't read it. According to the reviews on Amazon they present it as a how to do it manual - without any specific Jewish Hashkofa. However It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe Feinstein suggestings reading secular books on the topic just before the wedding

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  20. There is a worthwhile essay by R Shagar zt"l entitled "mitzvat onah" that appears in the collection "vayikra et shmam adam,"

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