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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sex thru a hole in the sheet

Do some ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews have sex through a sheet? 

Following are some supposedly authoritative sources claiming that they do, others stating they don't, one that said both, and proof that a very famous and highly regarded rabbi, did have sex through a sheet with one of his wives.

Christopher Hitchens says: Yes they do.....erm, no they don't

The late Christopher Hitchens was probably best known for his atheism and antitheism, but he discovered at aged thirty-eight (around 1987), that his maternal grandmother had been Jewish—which qualified him as a Jew under Israel's Law of Return. Roane Carey wrote in 2011: "The discovery moved the atheist to contact the only rabbi he knew personally to explore what he might be missing. His meetings with Rabbi Robert Goldburg didn’t shake Hitchens from his unbelief. But, as he wrote in a 1998 essay, it did prompt him to think that Judaism “might turn out to be the most ethically sophisticated tributary of humanism.”

In his 2007 book 
God is Not Great, Hitchens wrote about sex between Orthodox Jewish couples:
"Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet, and subject their women to ritual baths to cleanse the stain of menstruation"

In later editions of God is Not Great, the above line has been revised, and reads:
"Orthodox Jews may not conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet, but they do subject their women to ritual baths to cleanse the stain of menstruation."

Jewish writer Evelyn Kaye, former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, wrote in her 1987 book The Hole In The Sheet:
"... the story of The Hole in the Sheet. Personally, I have never seen such a sheet. I do not have any first-hand knowledge of the actual design of such a sheet. But whenever I mention this story to an Orthodox Jew, there's a moment of immediate recognition that this is they way it should happen. Or at least they way the story says it should happen.
In order to protect the modesty of the wife during intercourse, a sheet is kept between her and her husband, with a hole at the appropriate place for the correct connection to be made.
If you want to be an outstanding Jew, and if you want to make sure that you see nothing at all, I'm sure that the sheet is probably the best idea. However, human nature is notorious weak, and who knows but in a moment of unexpected passion even the most Orthodox of the Orthodox may throw the sheet aside? On the other hand, perhaps they don't."

Sara Einfeld is an American Ultra-Orthodox Jew, who divorced her husband and started a blog called Hor Basadin, literally: “A Hole in the Sheet” More on her story: Her blog (in Hebrew).

She was a member of the Gerrer Hasidic sect, who have ridiculously strict rules regarding contact between men and their wives:
  • Wives must walk behind their husbands
  • After giving birth, wivese cannot go to a mikvah bath for 6 months
  • Men cannot show any affection towards their wives (foreplay) even during intimacy
  • Men cannot be with their wife (outside of mikva night) unless they get permission from their superior

There are hole in the sheet jokes in a 2004 episode of the very Jewish, urinating on Jesus comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiaism, and the 1998 film A Price Above Rubies, starring Renée Zellweger, who describes her own family as "lazy Catholics and Episcopalians"—nice.

A sheet with a hole in it, features in the memoirs of Reva Mann (published 2007), the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a very amusing pooh poohing of the "slander against the Jews", that they have sex through a sheet.

Jew in the City says "complete myth"

What does the Talmud say?

There was at least one rabbi who had sex through a sheet.

Jewish sexologist Dr. Mitchell Tepper, and sex expert Annette Fuglsang Owens, published Sexual Health: Moral and Cultural Foundations in 2006, in which they wrote of bed-sheets often seen hanging on washing-lines in Israel and Eastern Europe, that have triangular-shaped holes in the middle. They also wrote:

"The Jerusalem Talmud (Yevamot 1b), a somewhat less authoritative source for the codification of Jewish law and custom than the Babylonian Talmud, relates that Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta had sexual intercourse five times "through a sheet." The reason for this was that he was required to perform the rites of levirite marriage, the practice of marrying a sister-in-law whose husband has died childless. Levirite marriage, no longer practiced today, was enacted solely for the purpose of procreation. Under normal circumstances, sex with one's sister-in-law is considered adulterous. In order to reconcile this seeming contradiction, he used a sheet, thereby minimizing the sensual component. This rather obscure source does not appear as a precedent for encouraged behavior in any canon of Jewish law or compilation of communal custom."

The cited entry in the Jerusalem Talmud about Rabbi Yosi having sex through a sheet reads: 
"[N] Does that which Abba Saul said regarding one [who is obligated to perform levirate marriage] with his sister-in-law accord with R. Yosé b. Halapta? For R. Yosé b. Halapta? entered into levirate marriage with his sister-in-law. He ploughed five times and planted five plantings, and he had sexual relations through a sheet [so as to preserve the chaste character of his action], and these are the [results of his sexual relations]: R Ishmael b. Yosé, R. Eleazar b. R. Yosé, R. Menahem. b. R. Yosé, R. Halapta b. R. Yosé, and R. Abedemos b. R. Yosé [The question is to be answered affirmatively. A proper motive is required in entering into levirate marriage.]"
— Jerusalem Talmud: Yebamot 1:1. I brought a pdf of an English translation of the Jerusalem Talmud from on Nov 18, 2011. Although it no longer appears to be available for purchase on their site, as of Nov 20, 2012. 

Rabbi Yosi (Jose) ben Halafta (2nd century AD), is held in such high esteem by Rabbinical Jews, that he is referred to as just 'Rabbi Yosi'. He is one of the most frequently quoted "sages of blessed memory" in the Mishnah, the part of the Talmud known as the Oral Torah, the teachings from "G-d" passed down to Moses verbally. Rabbi Jose has extensive entries in The Jewish Encyclopedia (Vol. VII, pp.241-242), and, of course, wikipedia, which explains why he is still such a famous and influential rabbi to Rabbinical Jews today. The wikipedia entry mentions the five sons of Rabbi Jose through his sister-in-law cum wife, and cites the quoted entry from the Jerusalem Talmud. But unsurprisingly, no mention is made of the sheet.

(last updated: Jan 6, 2013)

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