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First, let's look at the obligations that the Torah places on men:
They are not to have sex with their wife while she is menstruating, and for a specific period after the menstruation ceases and the birth of a child. During the menstruation period and similarly related prohibited periods, the wife is said to be "niddah".
They are not to commit sexual transgressions, that is, have sex out of marriage or commit adultery.
The Shulchan Aruch in Even haEzer Chapter 21 talks about the requirement of men being far from women lest men feel tempted to sin. This even goes as far as to forbid gazing (not to be confused with "looking at") women. This prohibition is also part of the idea of men not touching women. There are those who hold that for men to touch women (other than their wife at a permitted time) in any romantic way ("derech chibba") is a Toraitic prohibition, as all women must be presumed to be in nidda (even when a woman is not having her period, she is still in nida if she has not been to the mikvah.).Given all of this, the Talmud specifies a number of restrictions to prevent men from transgressing:
A man and his woman are not allowed to touch, if they are neither related nor married. This is because of the fear that touching might lead to sexual transgressions. As an extension of this, Orthodox men aren't supposed to sit next to women to which they are neither related nor married.
Hence, during "niddah" (the time of the women's menstrual flow), additional restrictions are in place. These extra stringencies apply because the couple is already intimate; presumably, it doesn't take much to lead to "the act". These stringencies include:
They cannot touch (even indirectly using an intermediate object).
They cannot handle an object at the same time.
They cannot sit together on an object that moves (a swing etc..).
They cannot eat from the same plate.
They cannot serve food to each other.
They must sleep in separate beds.
They may not engage in flirtatious behavior.
Although spouses must continue to dress attractively, they cannot dress provacatively.
They should cover parts of the body that are normally uncovered only in front of their spouse.
They should not wear perfume, cologne, etc.
The only exception to these restrictions is pikuach nefesh (to save a life). More information can be found in Secret of Jewish Femininity.
As a result of this, many couples that observe these laws sleep on twin beds (pushed together during non-Niddah periods and during the day, so as not to make the status public). Sometimes, "fences" are used, such as one partner putting down something so the other can pick it up.
Men and women shouldn't be mixed during prayer. This is because the presence of the opposite sex is thought to be distracting during prayer. Additionally, a person ought to pray from an orientation of aloneness, as opposed to completeness.
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
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© (c) 1993-2002
Daniel P. Faigin <firstname.lastname@example.org>