Disclaimer: This post makes references to questionable concepts, but I tried to keep it tasteful and purposeful. Don’t worry – it’s not that yucky. And yes, I got my wife’s permission first. 😉
As she entered the car after a long day’s work, I was so happy to see my wife. It seemed like a few days since I had seen her when it really had only been since that morning. Usually, she’d enter the car, give me a smile and a little kiss before asking me how my day went (she always beats me to the punch). This wasn’t the case that day.
As observant Jews, there is a length of time every month where my wife and I don’t make any physical contact. No kisses. No hugs. No hand-holding. Nothing. We even sleep in separate beds. The reasoning for this is a section of Torah that instructs Jewish couples not to make any physical contact for a week from the start of a woman’s menstrual cycle (Lev 15:19, Lev 18:19). Some sects of Judaism extend this to 2 weeks. At the end of whichever duration the Jewish couple observe, then the woman immerses according to her tradition and the couple can resume regular relations.
“I miss you.” “What are you talking about? I’m right here.”
Being that we were just married a little over a month ago, this experience was still pretty new to us and still takes some getting used to. I’ve been very used to just placing my hand on Shakhar’s hand in the car, giving her a hug around the waist while she’s cooking in the kitchen, getting a kiss as she walks by in the house – you know, normal married-people stuff. During this time, I had to catch myself several times instinctually reaching out to her, remembering, and then withdrawing just in the nick of time. These situations have to handled very delicately because by no means is the wife to be treated like she’s somehow “dirty” or unwanted. (If anything, not being able to touch her makes her even more wanted! But I’ll discuss that later…) Over the course of our “time apart,” though she was with me everyday, we did find ourselves saying, “I miss you.” This really meant, “I miss being able to touch you.” It just falls under the “there is a time and a place for everything” mentality of Judaism. Yes, even sex is immensely holy…as long as it’s at the right time.
The Upside of Not Being Able To Touch Your Spouse
After mentioning all of the “can’t do”s, you’re probably wondering the upside to this arrangement can possibly be. Oddly enough, this is one of the strongest times for Jewish couples in their marriages. Sounding weird yet? Let me explain in a way most of you can understand.
Do you remember your first date with the person you really care about — your spouse or just someone you fell for? How did you start off that first date? Did you lovingly hold them around the waist? Did you pull them in close to you? Did you cuddle? Did you even place your hand on their’s across the dinner table upon sitting down? No way! What kind of creepers-mcgee would do any of that? What did you have to do instead? You had to be sweet, charming, make them laugh. You had to be a lady or a perfect gentleman. Guys, you probably brought them flowers, opened the car door for them, made sure you weren’t wearing black shoes and a brown belt —WERE ON TIME — you know, things that make a good impression. Ladies, you probably spiffied yourself up, laughed at his jokes when they weren’t that funny, did your best to ignore his terrible breath – you know, courteous lady things. Most importantly, you had to listen and connect with them on a non-physical level. This process was laying down the building blocks of a great relationship with this person. Sadly, many couples forget that these building blocks need regular maintenance in order to preserve the foundation of this relationship – maintenance that goes beyond physical intimacy. Still, so many focus on the physical side of a relationship so much that they may not be able to stand to be with their partner anywhere besides the bedroom.
The Torah’s answer? Just like we take a Sabbath from work and commerce once a week, we also take a Sabbath from physical touch and learn to enjoy our partner is as though we were on a first date. Ask them their opinion of different things – current events, music, literature, art, sports (yep, even sports) and the bigger questions about life (“What kind of mother do you think you’ll be?”, “What foreign country do you want to visit most?”, “How do you experience God during difficult times?”). We learn to enjoy being with them also in perfect silence – maybe each reading a book. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone without touching or even speaking a single word. This time forces us to fix issues with words and actions rather than attempting to bury them in pillow talk.
Using No Intimacy To Propel True Intimacy
On this subject, I’ve heard countless renditions of this particular scenario: a slightly observant Jewish couple are having trouble in their marriage. It doesn’t seem like the spark is still there. They go to their rabbi for advice.
“Have you been keeping the laws of taharat ha-mishpachah (purity of the family/no-touchie-touchie)?”
“For the most part.”
“In what ways?”
“We’re not intimate during her time of the month.”
“That’s not what I meant. Everyone does that – it’s common sense. What I’m talking about a complete lack of touch.”
“What good is that?”
“While you can’t touch each other, you express your love in different ways. You do nice things for each other instead of to each other. You learn to enjoy each other’s company without simply hoping you’ve saved up enough brownie points to end up in the bedroom. You become companions instead of simply lovers. But in addition to all of these things, the potential for every touch becomes electric. You start to yearn for the other one while you’re still in the same room. Because you can’t, this increases your desire to. An accidental graze of the arm sends off a shockwave. When the time comes, you won’t be able to immerse fast enough. I promise, if you keep taharat ha-mishpachah, you’ll start to see a spark again.”
It’s a cliche, but I always remember hearing the somewhat crude/silly remarks of the older generation, “We haven’t made love like that since he got back from the war.” What the heck does that mean? It means a time period without being physical, like dragging your feet across a carpet, builds up the anticipation to be together. If you hold onto the door knob and drag your feet on the carpet, there’s no shock. If you drag your feet two steps and then touch the door knob, there’s a slight shock. If you drag your feet on the carpet for 45 minutes and then touch the door knob, the static shock will probably even sting a bit. Such is the power of taharat ha-mishpacha on an intimate relationship.
I’m by no means an expert in this. I’m a newly-wed and have only kept this one time through. However, I will end this piece on this note and I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but on my way to go pick up Shakhar to take her to immerse, I did this: