May 19, 2019

The Most Kosher Sex of All

“Kedushah (holiness) was developed as a pietistic ideal for the virtuous few, encouraging married men to limit to the minimum the frequency and modes of sexual intercourse with their wives. Today, the Hasidic groups of Gur, Slonim, and Toledot Aharon (Toldes Aaron) have radicalized this ideal by imposing it on the community as a whole. Gur’s version is the most restrictive and the only one formalized as a set of ordinances (takunes), while Toldes Aaron’s version is the most lenient.

The radical kedushah norms have given rise to controversy and dissent. Prominent rabbis have argued that they were at odds with the Halacha, offensive to women, and harmful to men, while marriage guides within the Gur community have debated their rigidity and universal applicability. The Hasidic rebbes themselves are reticent about the topic, addressing it only in unpublished homilies and personal letters, from which excerpts appear here in print for the first time.

However, a very public dispute about the kedushah ordinances erupted in the Israeli arena in 2009, when a Gerer woman, Sarah Einfeld, appeared in a short documentary film titled in English Shrew (in Hebrew, Soreret). During the filming she decided to desert Gur and to adopt a secular way of life. In her blog, she reported on the “repression” of women in Gur and in the Haredi community as a whole, highlighting the suppression of sexuality and intimacy under the regime of the kedushah ordinances. Among other details, Einfeld described how a female marriage guide had suggested to her that whenever she felt the desire for intimacy with her husband, she should find solace in chocolate, which had a similar effect on the brain.

As is typical for Israeli mass culture, Einfeld soon became a media star. Israeli journalists, most of them secular and anti-Haredi, presented her as a heroine who had fought bravely and overcome the forces of darkness. But she attracted at least as much interest within the Haredi world, where many took it upon themselves to denounce her as a renegade tale-bearer on numerous websites.”

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