One of the rules of dating is that when a man tires of the woman he is seeing (or in many cases when a woman tires of a man), he cannot simply call her up and end it. No, that would be too heartless and cruel. Rather, dumping her comes in the form of the famous let’s-be-friends phone call. “I really like you,” he tells her. “But I like you as a friend. I love you more like a sister.” Or, “I really like you, but the lab results have just returned and I have only four weeks to live, and I’d like to spend it with my pets.” Or, “I’m crazy about you. But I’ve decided that I’m just not good enough for you. So, I’ve found a new woman in my life who is far less perfect.” I even know a man who told a girlfriend he wanted to ditch that he had just discovered that he was gay and had fallen in love with his best friend. Excuses aside, everyone is supposed to understand that lovers cannot also be friends. Yet, amazingly, when it comes to marriage, people believe that entirely different rules apply.
Friends in Marriage
In my years of counseling couples, I have encountered two kinds of marriages. There are those couples who trust each other implicitly and explicitly. They are each other’s confidants and most trusted companions. They share every secret and they depend and rely on each other utterly. No wedge can be driven between them because they are inseparable. They have friends outside the marriage, but they relate to their friends as a single unit, as a couple. They are therefore more friendly with couples than they are with individual men and women. Communication is the norm in such marriages, not lovemaking. Their union is based far more on compatibility-similar interests-than on raw physical attraction.
These couples lack no intimacy in their life. So what’s their problem?
There is little or no passion. They have great conversations, but when they undress in the bedroom the newspaper comes out and the television is immediately switched on. Theirs is a love like water, not like fire. Based on trust and intimacy, their whole relationship is more about compatibility than attraction. It is not a passionate relationship and this has both positive and negative aspects. Positive because it means there is deep trust and they rarely argue. Why would they fight? They have no fire. They do not make each other’s blood boil. But since there is no flame, their marriage is predictable.
Lovers in Marriage
Then there are the husbands and wives who are lovers. Theirs is a passionate, fiery union. They fight and argue constantly. They do not, however, completely love or even trust each other. When they need advice about important life decisions, they do not seek it from each other. There is little calm in their marriage, and it is almost always tempest-tossed. But one thing they have is plenty of fire. They have a great intensity of emotion toward each other.
They are constantly arguing and making up, with great passion and fervor. Their lovemaking sessions are wonderful. But they can’t seem to get along and truly communicate outside the bedroom. They have physical knowledge, but not emotional intimacy. The wife has her friends, and the husband has his. They don’t really do things as a couple, and when they do, it is for a specific reason. They love each other, but they don’t necessarily like each other. They don’t share similar tastes and they are not similar types. Their marriage is a constant crescendo of highs and lows. For this reason they love each other passionately, but they also get on each other’s nerves. There is nothing dull about their marriage, but then, there is nothing serene about it either. Like a guitar, their strings are strung too tightly.
How We Achieve Both
The problem inherent in this paradox is that for any marriage to be a success, it must somehow bridge this gap and fuse together conflicting opposites. A marriage requires both fire and water in order to be a success. Any truly successful marriage must perforce distill the contradictory ingredients of passion and intimacy. We do indeed want our spouse to be both our lover and our best friend. And this is what kosher sex is all about. For kosher sex is passionate lovemaking that leads to intimacy. There are moments in our life when we want novelty, romance, passion, and excitement. We want our spouse to whisk us to Katmandu for a romantic weekend. We want to jump from hotel to hotel, ripping each other’s clothes off, laughing giddily together as we stroll down the Champs Elysees hand in hand. But there is another side to marriage as well.
After a couple of weeks of hotels and living on airplanes, we want to come home to the serenity, comfort, and predictability of our own home. At least in half of our lives we wish not for novelty but for sameness. We want a marriage where we can talk and exchange thoughts. We want companionship and friendship. We wish to share our life with a spouse who not only makes us careen through the rafters of the ceiling, but grow intellectually and emotionally, someone with whom we can not only rush to the bedroom with, but with whom we can build an entire home. In short, we desire calmness amid the frequent storms.
No marriage is truly successful or fulfilling unless both these opposites are accommodated. But fire and water cancel each other out. So how can we achieve both simultaneously?
Joining Fiery and Watery Love
Recognizing this dilemma, the Bible, more than three millennia ago, ingeniously offered the following solution. Every month, there must be two weeks devoted to physical love, and two weeks devoted to intellectual communication and emotional intimacy. And what better cycle to follow than the exact rhythm of the female body itself. While husband and wife are permitted to indulge in sex for two weeks, they will forge deep emotional bonds. They unite physically and feel close emotionally. Their passionate physical life deepens their emotion and feeling for each other.
When the woman’s menses begin, their two weeks are up-just before monotony sets in. They must separate for the five days of menstruation and for seven days thereafter and maintain a strict period of sexual abstinence. During this period they will be able to capitalize on everything that has been achieved in their physical union, transmuting the relationship onto a deeper emotional and intellectual plane. They develop the friendship side of their marriage and they focus on discovering the personality rather than the flesh.
Feeding off each other’s minds rather than bodies, they talk instead of caress, share secrets instead of kiss, and discuss each other’s workday. Focusing on the broader aspects of their life outside of the bedroom, they can discuss the children, their plans for a family holiday, their business relationships, and their relationship with their respective parents. It is a rhythm that is healthy for the woman and accords with the natural impulses that accompany menstruation. Many women have an innate aversion to sex during menstruation. A period of abstention allows the wall of the uterus to rebuild itself and affords a woman an opportunity of not having to accommodate her husband sexually at a time of physical discomfort.
As the days pass and they begin to hunger for each other, they don’t immediately follow their instincts and grab each other. Rather, they allow their nonphysical communication to build up into an intense longing. Their libidinous reserve replenishes itself until, twelve days after they have separated, their love for each other reaches its crescendo, when their inner fire and passion, which have been escalating, leap out like the eruption of a volcano, and they unite together in fiery physical bliss. Like the time when they first married, they enjoy a monthly honeymoon in which they rediscover each other’s bodies.
Symbolizing this imminent rebirth, on the night of their reunion with their husbands, Orthodox Jewish women go to a “mikveh,” a small ritual pool of water, where they immerse themselves after the twelve-day separation. Emerging from the water pool is a symbol of physical regeneration and spiritual renewal, which leads a woman back to her husband, like a bride to groom, reminding them of the enormous passion they experienced when they first discovered the pleasures of the flesh. It is a totally private affair. No one is present save for a female mikveh attendant, which reflects the beautiful feminine mystique and hidden charms of sexual eroticism.
Marriage is Meant to Be Exciting
Couples who truly wish to become lovers but also best friends must develop these two antithetical dimensions of their marriage. Anything else is a recipe for regularity that snuffs out the excitement of marriage. People are living, animate creatures. If we were only cerebral, our lives would be fairly predictable; we are emotional beings, however, and therefore hate routine, which ultimately bores us. Too many couples try to make their marriages proceed along a straight line. They share a bed constantly, and wonder why their sex life loses its spark after a short while. They have sex several times a week, with no break, and wonder why it comes in short, forgettable spasms. In truth, people cannot proceed straight, but, rather, must tack like a sailboat between passion and intimacy.
Kosher Sex in a Nutshell
Kosher sex is carnal love that leads to knowledge and intimacy. Bertrand Russell wrote in Love, an Escape from Loneliness: “Civilized people cannot fully satisfy their sexual instinct without love. The instinct is not fully satisfied unless a man’s whole being, mental quite as much as physical, enters into the relation.” Sex at its best, therefore, is an act of capitulation whereby two strangers allow themselves to be carried away to a promised land of familiarity and togetherness. Casual sex, by contrast, is where the two participants stand their ground in the wake of that tidal wave of positive emotion that sex calls forth, remaining rooted and atomized in their own sphere.
Sex for pleasure is an end in itself. But kosher sex is a journey whose destination is a couple who feel joined not only by the same roof or children, but especially through the enjoyment and pleasure they constantly give each other. The fire of sexual attraction and sexual union in the bedroom leads to the closeness and intimacy in life outside the bedroom. Conversely, when sexual attraction is diminished within marriage, the marriage falters in other areas as well. As Masters and Johnson write: “When things don’t work well in the bedroom, they don’t work well in the living room either.” Conversely, a man who is not attentive and romantic to his wife outside the bedroom cannot suddenly expect her to perform inside the bedroom. So, romance and love leads to sex, and kosher sex continues the cycle by engendering continued romance and love.
The purpose of sex is to sew two distinct bodies together as one flesh. When you want to connect the sleeve with the body of a sweater, you take a needle and thread, put the needle through the two separate pieces, and even after you later remove the needle, it has become one garment. The same is true of sex. A man and a woman share a very intense, bonding experience that leaves them sewn together with emotional thread even after they separate. Sex is a supreme bonding process that has no equal. Kosher sex is where a man and woman share a most intense experience and thereby feel themselves to be connected after the sex is over. Movies today show people having great sex. Great sex makes you feel amazing and has you howling and swinging from the rafters together with your lover. But kosher sex is not measured during the lovemaking itself, but the morning after, when you can’t get your partner off your mind:
Great sex has you screaming the deity and your mother’s name during the act. Kosher sex has you remembering your lover’s name after the act.
Great sex has you focused entirely on the body of your partner. Kosher sex has you bound with the soul of your lover.
Great sex promotes physical exhilaration. Kosher sex leads to spiritual integration.
Great sex highlights the contours of the body. Kosher sex raises the personality up from the confines of the flesh.
Great sex satisfies a hormonal urge for sexual release. Kosher sex caters to a spiritual need for human transcendence and fusion with another soul.
Great sex consists entirely of motions. Kosher sex consists of motions that elicit lasting emotions.
Great sex is undertaken by two separate bodies, kosher sex by two halves of the same soul.
Great sex is making friction. Kosher sex is making love.
Great sex is a premeditated and calculated performance. Kosher sex is the total submission to instinct, freeing the individual of all inhibition.
Great sex is about the interaction of two bodies, kosher sex the integration of two souls.
Great sex leaves no trace. Kosher sex leaves no separation or space.
Great sex is measured while you’re in bed together with your partner. Kosher sex is measured in the period thereafter, when you are physically apart but emotionally close.
Great sex can often have a man trying to remember the name of his partner from the night before. Kosher sex has a man asking the woman he loves to take his last name forevermore.
Great sex needs many new partners to sustain its passion. Kosher sex unearths deeper layers of the same partner, leading to replenishment and renewal.
After great sex, we promptly fall asleep. After kosher sex, we fall into each other’s arms.
Great sex can be had even while all one’s barriers and inhibitions are still up. Kosher sex is humans at their most vulnerable, when their defenses are down and their heart exposed.
Great sex is a performance, while kosher sex is an event.
Great sex is a form of sensual gratification. Kosher sex is the ultimate form of knowledge.
Great sex is a delight of the body. Kosher sex is a delight of the soul.
Great sex is an end to an encounter, while kosher sex is the beginning of a relationship.
Kosher sex is the solution to the modern dilemma of sex. As great as the desire for sex may be, the desire for intimacy is still greater. Kosher sex is the kind of sex that caters to this need, because kosher sex leads to intimacy. Kosher sex is passion born of romance. Kosher sex is strong and intense motions that elicit lasting and unfailing emotions. It provides what the Bible proclaims: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and leave his mother, he shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach