Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Rambam - does he agree with Ramban about sexual lust?

 Moreh Nevuchim (3:08): Some consider all wants of the body as shame, disgrace, and defect to which they are compelled to attend: This is chiefly the case with the sense of touch, which is a disgrace to us according to Aristotle, and which is the cause of our desire for eating, drinking, and sensuality. Intelligent persons must, as much as possible, reduce these wants, guard against them, feel grieved when satisfying them, abstain from speaking of them, discussing them, and attending to them in company with others. Man must have control over all these desires, reduce them as much as possible, and only retain of them as much as is indispensable. His aim must be the aim of man as man i.e. the formation of ideas, and nothing else. The best and sublimest among them is the idea which man forms of G-d, angels, and the rest of the creation according to his capacity. Such men are always with G-d and of them it is said, "You are princes, and all of you are children of the Most High" (Tehillim 92:6). This is man's task and purpose. Others, however, that are separated from G-d, form the multitude of fools, and do just the opposite. They neglect all thought and all reflection on ideas, and consider as their task the cultivation of the sense of touch,--that sense which is the greatest disgrace: they only think and reason about eating and love. Thus it is said of the wicked who are drowned in eating, drinking, and love, When man possesses a good sound body that does not overpower him nor disturb the equilibrium in him, he possesses a divine gift. In short, a good constitution facilitates the rule of the soul over the body, but it is not impossible to conquer a bad constitution by training. For this reason King Solomon and others wrote the moral lessons; also all the commandments and exhortations in the Pentateuch aim at conquering the desires of the body. Those who desire to be men in truth, and not brutes, having only the appearance and shape of men, must constantly endeavor to reduce the wants of the body, such as eating, love, drinking, anger, and all vices originating in lust and passion; they must feel ashamed of them and set limits to them for themselves. As for eating and drinking in so far as it is indispensable, they will eat and drink only as much as is useful and necessary as food, and not for the purpose of pleasure. They will also speak little of these things, and rarely congregate for such purposes. Thus our Sages, as is well known, kept aloof from a banquet that was not part of a religious act. Wine may be treated as food, if taken as such, but to form parties for the purpose of drinking wine together must be considered more disgraceful than the unrestrained conduct of persons who in daylight meet in the same house undressed and naked. For the natural action of the digestive organ is indispensable to man, he cannot do without it; whilst drunkenness depends on the free will of an evil man. To appear naked in the presence of other people is misconduct only according to public opinion, not according to the dictates of reason, whilst drunkenness, which ruins the mind and the body of man, reason stamps as a vice. You, therefore, who desire to act as human beings must keep away from it, and even from speaking of it. On sexual intercourse, I need not add anything after I have pointed out in the commentary on Avos(1: 17) how it is treated by our Law, which is the teaching of pure wisdom--no excuse whatever should induce us to mention it or to speak of it. Thus our Sages said, that Elisha the prophet is called holy, because he did not think of it, and consequently never found himself polluted with semen. In a similar manner they say that Jacob had the first issue of semen for the conception of Reuben. All these traditional stories have the object of teaching the nation humane conduct. 


Rambam (Issurei Bi’ah 21:11): Our Sages were not pleased with someone who has a lot of sexual intercourse and he is constantly with his wife like a rooster. He is very defective and this is an act of coarse people. Rather whoever minimalizes the amount of intercourse is praiseworthy. However that is only if he doesn’t nullify his obligation to his wife – unless it is with her consent. The only reason that the Sages introduced a decree that a person cannot read the Torah - after a seminal emission until he went to mikve – is in order to minimize intercourse.

Moreh Nevuchim (3:33) It is also the object of the perfect Law to make man reject, despise, and reduce his desires as much as is in his power. He should only give way to them when absolutely necessary. It is well known that it is intemperance in eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse that people mostly rave and indulge in; and these very things counteract the ulterior perfection of man, impede at the same time the development of his first perfection, and generally disturb the social order of the country and the economy of the family. For by following entirely the guidance of lust, in the manner of fools, man loses his intellectual energy, injures his body, and perishes before his natural time; sighs and cares multiply; there is an increase of envy, hatred, and warfare for the purpose of taking what another possesses. The cause of all this is the circumstance that the ignorant considers physical enjoyment as an object to be sought for its own sake. God in His wisdom has therefore given us such commandments as would counteract that object, and prevent us altogether from directing our attention to it, and has debarred us from everything that leads only to excessive desire and lust. This is an important thing included in the objects of our Law. See how the Law commanded to slay a person from whose conduct it is evident that he will go too far in seeking the enjoyment of eating and drinking. I mean "the rebellious and stubborn son"; he is described as "a glutton and a drunkard" (Devarim 21:20). The Law commands to stone him and to remove him from society lest he grow up in this character, and kill many, and injure the condition of good men by his great lust.

Maharal (Be’er HaGolah 05:04): Unfortunately there are many scholars [e.g., Rambam More Nevuchim 3:49] - i.e., those who investigate the world with the power of their intellect – who claim that sexual relations are inherently disgraceful, shameful and an embarrassment to man. In fact these scholars unequivocally believe that the sense of touch is inherently shameful to us. The purpose of this gemora is to reject their claim. In fact it is totally incomprehensible that the foundation of all, the basis for sustaining the world i.e., propagating mankind – is built on something which is inherently disgusting and shameful. Even more problematic is that it is not respectful for G‑d that the foundation of the world is a shameful and degrading matter. As is well known if the foundation is rotten then the structure built on it will collapse. Therefore it is important to reject this view because there is nothing in the sexual relations of a man with his wife that is the slightest degrading. This positive view of sexuality is in fact Daas Torah – the view of the Torah. Bereishis (2: 25) says, And both were naked… and but they weren’t ashamed. Thus we see that there is nothing degrading about this at all because if it were degrading why shouldn’t they be ashamed? If you want to answer that they weren’t intelligent at that time –such an assertion is simply incomprehensible. We know that Adam was incredibly intelligent because he was able to profoundly understand the nature of each creature and give each creature its correct name (Bereishis 2:20) – so how can it be claimed that he was lacking in intelligence? This assertion about Adam was refuted by the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchimn 1:2)… One cannot say that before Adam sinned he lacked intelligence and after he sinned he acquired intelligence and wisdom! So obviously the matters is as we have said – there is inherently absolutely no degradation is this matter at all. Whatever is degrading is the result of man focusing on his lusts and animals desires – from that aspect it is shameful. Therefore before the sin of Adam, man merely had some inclination toward lust and desire - and there was no absolutely nothing shameful. It was only shameful when desire was no longer external but fully entered him and lust became part of his physical nature. But even then it was only shameful because of the aspect of his lust. 

Rav Yitzchok Issac Sher ( Kedushas Yisroel #1 page 5-6) You need to understand that the Ramban is well aware of this problematic understanding of the nature of intercourse, that the pious have erred in their understanding in this matter.because they are relying on the apparent meaning of the Rambam who seems to disparage lust. He strongly warns to distance oneself from such an understanding which results from following the view of the Greek philosopher which contains heresy.The truth is that the Rambam agrees with the view of the Ramban which is the genuine view of the Torah. The Rambam’s disparaging of lust is only used to explain the reason for certain of the mitzvos in which the Torah  wants to distance Jews from lust in general and certain sexual lusts to an extreme degree. For example Rambam writes about the mitzva of circumcision that it’s purpose is to weaken sexual lust in Jews. He also writes in Moreh Nevuchim ( 3:33) that the reason for many of the mitzvos is to avoid lust and degrade certain acts and to minimize their occurrence to avoid them as much as possible. Look at Rambam (De’os 5:4) where he says to learn to conduct oneself with holiness. In Rambam (De’os 5:5)) says All who conduct themselves with holiness not only sanctify their souls and purify themselves and correct their thoughts but when they have children they will be beautiful and shy and open to wisdom and piety. These words are very similar to those of the Ramban in Igros Kodesh and there are simply no differences between them. In sum everyone agrees that concerning the mitva of sexual intercourse that when done with the appropriate sanctity, sanctifies a man’s soul and purifies him and causes him to merit children who are wise and pious. And if he does it not for the sake of Heaven but for the sake of pleasure from lust then the Ramban also rejects it absolutely and totally as he states explicitly at the end of this chapter.  The words of the Greek philosopher that the Rambam cites are also regarding lust which is lowly and animalistic because he also denigrates the desire to eat in that essay. In fact if you examine the Ramban carefully you will see clearly that he is talking about lust itself and says it is not spiritually impure as the lust for eating is not spiritually impure. Lust is simply a natural energy as are all the limbs and powers that are in man and it is like all mundane matters man has the ability to sanctify or defile them.

Rav Yitzchok Issac Sher ( Kedushas Yisroel #1 page 6)  Rather the Ramban comes to raise the awareness of intelligent people that they should not err in their understanding of the language of the Rambam to think he is also referring to intercourse with his wife at the time of the mitzva of conjugal obligation. That it is also disgusting and needs to be minimized with all of his power and that this disgusting thing is only done for procreation and for the sake of Heaven. This mistake causes a man many problems as well as causing his children to be defective for violating the nine prohibited relations as Rashi explains in Nidah (17a). Because of the force of sleep he doesn’t have lust for her so much and thus has intercourse for the sake of the mitzva of her conjugal obligation (onah) or to please her and in fact he is repulsed by her and this is a violation of the 9 midos described in Nedarim (20b).  The scholars and “pious” are astonished at these words of Rashi and ask how is it possible to say that one who has intercourse solely to fulfill the mitzva with a minimum of lust is a sinner and transgressor and is punished by having wicked children? However if you look carefully at the words of Rashi he said he is saying the person is doing it simply to get the mitzva done which means he is not doing it properly. The truth is that intercourse with minimal lust is a violation of the prohibition of diminishing (tigrah) the Torah. Look at the Ramban on the Torah )Shemos 21:9) where he states that there is a Torah prohibition of the husband withholding direct bodily contact from his wife. This is an explicit statement that just as it is prohibited to withhold intercourse from his wife, bodily contact can not be withheld because she desires the pleasure and thus it is simply a matter of lust aside from intercourse itself. Thus we see that the husband has a mitzva to satisfy his wife’s lust [See also Yevamos 62 and Pesachim 72.]


Mishneh Halachos (12:321): What does Rashi mean in Nidah (17a) when he writes that it prohibited to have intercourse just for the sake of the mitzva without any desire for her? I don’t know what he means, however I will explain Rashi according to its plain meaning. If others have a different understanding I am not aware of it. In Nedarim (20b) it mentioned the issue of the nine situations to avoid intercourse. One of them is if he hates his wife – and so surely if she is disgusting to him… Therefore they say that one should not have relations with her when she is sleeping because the intent of the two of them are not the same and her thoughts don’t agree with his thoughts. This is similar to when he has a fight with her or hits her – G‑d forbid! – or forces her – all of these produce defective children.  This is described by our Sages as being like a lion which mauls its victim – because their thoughts and intentions are not unified for the good. Therefore if she is sleeping he should wake her with pleasant words. If they had a fight, he should placate her as we see with Rav (Berachos 62a). All of this is so that their intentions should be in agreement. That is why when she is asleep it is prohibited to have relations with her because then she has no thoughts at all. Thus when he is falling asleep and he is not interested in what she is thinking and he is only doing it to for the sake of the mitzva and to please her – but his heart is disgusted with her at the thought of having relations with her at that moment. Thus we see there is a lack of commonality in their thoughts which is needed to produce holy children. This needs to understood because there is much more to this idea. This seems to be the intent of Rashi who is concerned that this will result in a child from the 9 situations to be avoided. If you look at the Igros Kodesh who discusses this at length you will understand our words better. This is very simple…

1 comment :

  1. I have always wondered if Rav Emden's oppsoition to the Moreh Nevuchim was to some degree shaped by this matter? He did write about the evil of philosophy, and this view of the rambaM is also Aristotelian.


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