The Talmud discusses the proper way to protect your Tefillin from mice or robbers. Tefillin, phylacteries in English, are sacred boxes with certain verses from the Bible written on parchment inside. Jewish men wear these during prayer and they have a very high level of sanctity. They cannot be taken into a restroom and the man wearing then cannot pass gas, sleep, or think unclean thoughts.
Shmuel states that you can put them in their bag with the opening of the bag under the pillow and the Tefillin themselves outside the pillow, and even when your wife is sleeping in the same bed. This implies that a husband and wife can have intimate relations even with the holy Tefillin there.
Rav Hamnuna shares that his Rabbi once asked him bring his Tefillin to him from under the pillow, when his wife had been to the ritual pool the night before. This means that he and his wife had definitely been intimate. The Bible, Leviticus 15:19, states that a woman having her period may not have intercourse for a week, afterwards she goes to immerse in a ritual pool, a mikveh.
On the night the woman goes to mikveh they will obviously be intimate. Our sages state that God wanted the couple to have a special experience akin to their wedding night every month. The point of asking Rav Hamnuna to bring the Tefillin was so he would learn the rule that this is a permitted storage situation even when the couple was intimate.
First, we see that it was normal for our sages to be aware that their rabbi was intimate with his wife. Spiritual leaders were not concerned that other men knew that they were sexually active. God gave us intimacy as a gift and tool for connection, when it is used properly there is nothing to be ashamed of. Judaism is a faith that teaches that while our spiritual life is the main focus, the physical body is also from God, and our physical drives can be used properly and channeled for constructive purposes.
Notice that our sages were not going around announcing their private life, or stating directly what had happened the night before. There is a certain element of privacy between a man and a wife that they cherished. Our sages quip that everyone knows what happens between the groom and bride after a wedding, but only a low life openly mentions it.
Back then, intimate relations were normal and without shame, but were a private subject. In fact, it was expected for women to dress modestly and cover their hair as well, revealing it only to their husbands. We see that our ancient Rabbis even took public action to fight indecent clothing and behavior.
By contrast, modern secular society is simultaneously lewd and prude. You see sexually explicit or suggestive content constantly in media and advertising since sex sells. But in many contexts, revealing any hint of sexual interest in a woman, let alone having an open discussion of intimacy is verboten.
Men lose their jobs over mild, vague remarks or even glances taken the wrong way. America especially has a dysfunctional mix of a puritanism than shuns sex as shameful with a pervasive media that pushes sexual content on us to win eyeballs and sell products. It’s schizophrenic.
Back 2000 years ago, intimacy was a normal human function that everyone knew about. It wasn’t a big deal. But no one went around publicly talking about it. Married women, Jewish or not, would not even show their hair in public, to avoid sexual attention other men. Now, sex is forbidden to discuss in most contexts for risk of offending someone, but half naked women are used to sell any product under the sun.
Our sages teach us to have a healthy attitude about intimacy and normal human life. Your body and your normal desires are a gift from Above to use wisely.
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