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Naturally, with regard to such a complex topic that affects human life so powerfully, there are to be found differing attitudes among religious Jews. On the one hand, the Bible has a positive attitude to marriage (see CELIBACY) and to sex within marriage, witness the fact that the patriarchs and Moses were married, and the Rabbis declare that it is a religious obligation for a husband to satisfy his wife's needs in this respect. On the other hand, it is urged that the sex drive be severely controlled and there is a definite tendency in Rabbinic thought to curtail too much sexual indulgence even in the marital bed, as when the Rabbis warn: ‘There is a small organ in man's body which when hungry is sated but when sated is hungry.’ Another Rabbinic saying has it that on judgement day a man will be told the frivolous conversations he has had with his wife. Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed, 2. 36), though his view is Jewishly atypical, approves of Aristotle's remark that the sense of touch is ‘shameful’. Risking a generalization, it might be said that the Jewish teachers welcome the sex drive as a divine gift to human beings while acknowledging, at the same time, that of all human instincts, sex is the most likely to lead people astray.

In modern Jewish thought until very recently, there have been no discussions of Jewish attitudes to sex. The reason is no doubt because of nineteenth century prudery, reflected in Jewish works of the time. Indeed, from the works of Jewish thinkers writing in European languages in the nineteenth century, one would imagine that they had no sex life at all or, if they did, they kept it very secret. It is only recently, when sex has been more frankly and openly discussed, that Jewish thinkers have begun to consider Jewish points of view. There is, in fact, no single Jewish attitude to sex except that a completely negative view of sex is not possible for thinkers in the authentic Jewish tradition.

Subjects: Religion.

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