Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The family bed - reality & halacha

In my research concerning child molesting, I am trying to understand the very clear and explicit statement in the gemora - Kiddushin (81b) and in Berachos (24a) that normative practice was for the family to sleep together - without any night clothing. I was even told that this was common practice as recently as pre WWII Europe for Jews and non-Jews.

This is even codified in Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 21:7)Therefore a father is permitted to hug his daughter and to kiss her as well as to sleep in bed with her while their naked bodies are in contact. This is also permitted for a mother with her son – as long as they are children. When they grow up and the son is considered an adult [at 13 years and a day] and the daughter grows until she has breasts and pubic hair (Yechezkeil 16:7) – they can no longer sleep with their parents and have their naked bodies in contact – but they can only sleep together while clothed. However if the daughter is embarrassed to stand naked before her father or if she is engaged to be married or if the mother is embarrassed to stand naked before her son – even if they are still children – once the nudity causes embarrassment then they can only sleep together while clothed..


  1. "...I am trying to understand..."

    What's so hard to understand? The Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch made (as you put it) a "very clear and explicit statement."

    You don't like it? You don't agree with it? That's your issue, not the Gemorah's, not the Shulchan Aruch's, not Halacha's, and not the public.

  2. super strange.
    This is not normative life. What exactly is the gemorah implying? Was there no 'Yetzer harah' then?

  3. Come to think of it, I recall from Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel _One Hundred Years of Solitude_ a rural family he chronicled wherein a particularly virtuous & pure girl regularly moved throughout the house completely naked into her teenage years. It being a work of "fantastical realism" (whatever that means), she eventually ascends into heaven publicly at, I think, age sixteen. But I think the idea there is that if the person's thoughts are in the right place, well then who cares, it'll work out fine. It may be brought from goyisch sources, but you are dealing with "common practices" baolam, yes?

  4. Yes, the point of the gemara and the Shulchan Aruch is that a parent does not feel sexual attraction for their small children, and therefore is permitted to sleep in the same bed with them. As far as being naked, that was the common way of sleeping for everyone in the times of the gemara, whether they were sleeping alone or with someone. There was no sexual connotation to their being naked.

  5. Shulchan Aruch also said that two males can sleep together as long as there is no chashash. Now there is a chashash as homosexuality or bisexuality appears to be more prevalent.

    And what about the nudity in the male Mikvah? Might it be time to re-architect them so that it's only one man at a time, and one enters in a towel and leaves in the towel?

    You seem to be asserting that there are only absolutes in how a mother/son father/daughter would react to sleeping together. Is that indeed the case? I would have thought that primitive man is evidence that such things are nurture. What the Gemora is saying is that nurture has an absolute stopping point and that is nature, and nature commences with awareness.

    The standard male here at University doesn't look twice if some non descript blond girl happens to walk by. I can tell you, however, that males from countries where there are no blondes, eg India, Saudi Arabia etc get whiplash from the quick turn of their head to follow the blond. Ditto for females and male blondes.

  6. Normal people are not sexually attracted to their own children. While the practices described would be strange for us and for some even arousing, for people that were accustomed to it, it would was completely benign.

  7. There is no need to invoke a lack of yetzer hara back in the day. The strangeness of the situation is dramatically reduced if one considers that the *entire family* was sleeping on the bed. Even if a man was tempted to be inappropriate with his daughter, he would act with forbearance b/c his wife (and the rest of his family) was sleeping right next to him.

  8. It's not normal to have a "yetzer hara" towards one's children or parents...

  9. This is another example of the fact that a big portion what people consider to be sexualized behaviors are learned social cues rather than intrinsic/instinctual responses. We don't get into a manic rage when we see a Jewish woman in a red dress in public, but we find the idea of fathers and daughters (and mother and sons) sleeping in the same bed to be unspeakably scandalous.

  10. "The family bed - reality & halach"

    Halacha is reality.

  11. Ben,
    Don't be obnoxious. Is that how your mother slept with you? The rabbi is saying honestly that it strikes him as very mudneh and he is right.

  12. In general, it is rare to find a parent having an urge for intimacy with their own child. I'm not quite sure why, if the same individual could have for another's child. While the gemora is beyond the confines of time, the variability of human desires is not. The gemora's statements are clearly based on the norm at that time. Today, there are stringencies that must be adopted that cope appropriately with these changes. We should not use such changes in the "facts on the ground" for kulos, but we should do so for chumros.

  13. glad to see that this was picked up by a nice chillul hashem on the books just in time for the yom hadin.


    I suggest that R. Eidensohn be a bit more circumspect in his public ruminations. There are evil people out there who will use them nefariously.

  15. This is the danger of becoming obsessed with child molestation.

    You begin to see molestation everywhere, even in benign things.

    The nature of things will soon be that a father won't be able to dress, diaper, bathe, or take his own child to the bathroom without being suspect.

    Kavod Harav, with all due respect, I would suggest you speak to a gadol about your own mind becoming warped by this issue.

    People who go to war become traumatized and hear bombs and gunshots when it's just a car backfiring or a firecracker. This is no different.

  16. Is is as simple as you make it?September 2, 2010 at 3:44 AM

    What is the lashon in the Shulchan Aruch? I don't have it in front of me, but I assume the phrase you are highlighting is 'bekiruv basar'.

    There is a difference between that and just saying flat out arum.

    If the above is correct, I think you may not translating/understanding it 100% accurately.

    Who says it means totally sans clothing and covering and touching?

    Perhaps it means

    A) covered by a cover, even if no clothing on

    B) or there is clothing, but minimal,

    C) or kiruv just means there is proximity and maybe occassional inadvertant unintended touching, e.g. if people move around while sleeping.

    That is a lot different from the greater level of proximity/touching/contact that you seem to be reading into it.

  17. To Dave:
    while i make no judgment about the choice of this post or the situation described in the gemara,
    i would like to clarify that R' Eidensohn's title is actually NOT incorrect-anyone familiar with halachic discourse would recognize that poskim frequently use the term "meztius", in establishing or having established the "facts on the ground".
    How else can you understand the concept discussed in SHUT"IM that "before, we held, x, y, and,z but the metzius has changed so now we pasken..."?
    Thus, it IS a matter of what we call "realia" or reality and halacha. ergo, this phrase doesn't mean R' Eidensohn was "shtuching" halacha.

    To Chaimke: while you may not have ever been affected by this issue and don't care, it happens to be that a) this topic hits home to many people
    b) the topic is part of a larger picture of trying to understand halachic praxis through the eyes of a 21st century Jew. people aren't necessarily jumping to "shtuch" halacha, but they often sincerely want to understand-we in this century are privileged by the power of knowledge and freedom to ask, and yes, of course that brings a lot of problems/questions/difficulties...but that IS the reality. we can't hide and pretend it's the 15th century. so some of us WOULD like to understand and better appreciate halachic process, the history of halachic rulings, philosophical and psychological underpinnings, etc.
    If you're not interested, that's fine. but some of us are.
    thanks in advance for appreciating that nuance.

  18. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 2, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    "Ben Torah said...'...I am trying to understand...' What's so hard to understand? The Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch made (as you put it) a 'very clear and explicit statement.' You don't like it? You don't agree with it? That's your issue, not the Gemorah's, not the Shulchan Aruch's, not Halacha's, and not the public."

    "Ben Torah" is being so immature and ridiculous.

    Just think in a drop broader terms than narrow "Yeshvishkeit narishskeit" and start with the Torah. There are tekufos and eras, millennia and generational shifts.

    For example, prior to mattan Torah, a man could have sex with an unmarried available woman (such as Yehuda and Tamar) and "marriage" was defined as the single unattached woman moving into the man's home and living sexually with him, as the Rambam explains. That all changed after mattan Torah when common law marriage was superseded by chupa vekudishin.

    Then during the times of the batei mikdash there was a Sanhedrin that administered capital and corporal punishments that's been stopped since then, not because it does not apply, but because it can't be administered bidei adam (the Rambam says that Hashem still does it bidei shomayim).

    The ritual of Sotah was stopped, not because there are no Sotahs, but on the contrary there were too many many and it became meaningless.

    The point is that just because something is mandated or allowed by the Torah and Halacha, it does not mean that it is practiced equally and openly at all times.

    Think of cherem Rabbeinu Gershon, while the Torah and Halacha prior to him allowed more than one wife (and for Sefardim it's technically still allowed) he nevertheless put a cherem on anyone marrying more than one wife.

    The point is that not all eras and millenia are equal.

    Thus when the Shulchan Oruch, written by the Mechaber and the Rema, in the 1500s, in summing up and legislating the key mitzvas of the millenia before them, they were not advocating any form of promiscuity or lessening of sexual morality.

    On the contrary, they assume the highest levels of chezkas kashrus and ne'emenus, shmiras hamitzvas and yiras shomayim (every Jew was a Torah Jew in those days, or at least almost all were, there was no such notion as a "secular" Jew) and therefore there were certain allowances between parents and their own children, as well as different social manners, but not as a signal to indulge in any hanky panky chas vesholom, but as a sign of confidence and if anything guiding parents to minimize such contacts if at all possible.

    Those were not times of sexual freedom and free for all, they were devout people who cared for each other even with their naked bodies. Much like going to the mikva voluntarily and getting naked by men of all ages, and of course separately by women of any age who are married, compulsory, it's not a sexual act when they are naked in the mikva, but an act of holiness and sanctification. Put on your right lenses and get some perspective.

  19. "The strangeness of the situation is dramatically reduced if one considers that the *entire family* was sleeping on the bed."

    If that is so, how, then, did they conceive children (beyond the first one)?

  20. שולחן ערוך אבן העזר כה

    ויהיה צנוע מאד בשעת תשמיש. ולא ישמש בפני שום מין אדם, אפילו קטן, אא"כ הוא תינוק שאינו יודע לדבר.

    בית שמואל סימן כה ס"ק ד

    ד ולא ישמש בפני שום מין אדם - אפילו עבדים אע"פ שהם עם הדומה לחמור ולא מהני הפסק מחיצה טור ודוקא כשהוא נעור אסור אבל אם הוא ישן מותר וכ"כ בט"ז אם הוא בענין שאינו מרגיש בתשמיש מועיל הפסק מחיצה:

  21. What is the lashon in the Shulchan Aruch? I don't have it in front of me, but I assume the phrase you are highlighting is 'bekiruv basar'.

    There is a difference between that and just saying flat out arum.

    If the above is correct, I think you may not translating/understanding it 100% accurately.

    Agree. Sorry R' Eidensohn but I think you horribly mistranslated the Sh"A here. Considering that in Hilkhot Niddah the meforshim state that bekiruv basar means being able to feel body form or shape(and in some cases the weight of the body upon the furniture) through the clothing(or furniture), translating it here as naked seems reckless. Especially considering the other places in the Sh"A which speak of the necessity of wearing nightclothes.

    Taken in context of the full Sh"A especially, this passage cannot be saying what you are implying in your post.

  22. Another problem with your initial assumption in this post is that you assume that family members sleeping nude together is the norm simply because the Sh"A addresses it.

    Even cooking meat in mai chalav or chalav maisa or chalav zachar or cooking blood and milk together is patur (exempt) and eating [milk cooked with blood]
    does not transgress the lav of basar b’chalav. RAMA Chalav zachar is not called milk at all and if it fell into a pot of meat it would not be assur.

    Here we are dealing with(amongst other things) cooking semen(according the Shakh 16 human semen) with meat. Would you consider that to have been the normal practice as well?

    Jewish law(at least as my Rabbanim have explained it) often deals with theoretical situations, which we do not expect to actually occur.

  23. This discussion is fascinating, but perhaps we all are getting distracted by details that aren't really material to the more interesting discussion of whether or not this Sh"A is describing the halachos regarding common sleeping scenarios or an unusual but analytically useful boudary case.

    The discussion of what chalav zachor is ends up as a mima nafshach. The Sh"A's discussion of chalav zachar describes an unusual case regardless of whether ch"z refers to lactation from males or semen. Parenthetically, I remember from when I learned Y"D that the general consensus was that ch"z refers to male lactation, not semen - in fact, semen was my first chava mina, before being bombarded with source after source disagreeing with my initial supposition.

    Also, the exact details of kiruv basar is not so helpful in resolving the main question. The scenario described in the E.H. sounds strange to us regardless of whether kiruv basar refers to being completely naked or partially naked, b/c it necessarily refers to a level of undress. I, for one (and I assume many others) found this halacha surprising.

    The local context seems to me to suggest that the sleeping arrangement described in this EH was common. However, even the discussion of whether the Sh"A is describing a common or unusual phenomenon is itself a side discussion. That the Sh"A allows a parent and a child, even an adolescent child (provided that they are clothed), to sleep on the same bed at all is surprising! My surprise would not be lessened even if, arguendo, it turns out that the Sh"A was describing an unusual situation.


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