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The Marriage Disciplines

by Mr. Herman Wouk

  

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Total renunciation of sex is, in some faiths, a major discipline. In his autobiography, Gandhi calls this brahmacharya and praises its power of spiritual ennoblement. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, as well as some eastern religions, require celibacy in certain holy orders.

For such austerity, Judaism has no match. The mild disciplines we do have, in this as in every part of life, apply without distinction to all members of the faith.

Jewish married couples follow an old rule of alternating abstinence and enjoyment. During twelve days after the menses begin - or seven days after they cease, whichever period is longer - wife and husband sleep apart. For this reason twin beds have existed in Jewish homes as long as the religion itself.

The main practical result of this is that they rejoin at the time when the wife is most likely to conceive. It is the exact opposite of the rhythm system of birth control. For couples who love each other the separation is a hardship, perhaps the one real hardship in the Hebrew disciplines.

The rite of the pool, which takes a few seconds, is wholly symbolic. In all the great religions, immersion has been a symbol of purity and rebirth
Some medical authorities call this alternation good for the health of wife and husband. One marriage manualist said it was "the only answer" to continuing freshness in married love. Whatever the force of such opinion, this self-governance in sex has always been part of marriage in the Jewish faith.

The wife marks the end of the abstinence by immersion in a ritual pool built on an ancient plan. This pool (the Hebrew word is Mikvah) has been the usual place of the rite for many centuries. So crucial to the religion did the Talmud deem this ceremony that it instructed impoverished communities to sell their synagogue building, or even their last Holy Scroll, in order to put up a pool.

The all, but general abandonment of the mikvah in the United States, followed by its gradual revival, is almost a history of American Judaism in miniature. When the great migration brought crowds of Jews to these shores around 1900, they found no ritual pools, and those that the pious at once put up with scraped-together pennies were necessarily dismal and poor.

By contrast, any dwelling above the lowest slum line offered bath plumbing unknown in European experience, or indeed in any previous time or place in the world, excepting the baths of the rich in ancient Rome. It seemed odd to descend to the gloomy squalor of the remote mikvah for a rite of purity, when water was at hand in the home, in the private luxury of a tub.
 
A rationale arose against observing the rite of the pool, which soon equaled in popularity to the argument against the food laws that they were only for hot countries in the old days. The purpose of the mikvah was to make sure that women in the old country bathed once a month. This argument could not survive any true information about the rite, but the level of information had dropped low.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Purity » The Benefits

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Mikvah
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.