After our listener question about cuddling on the wedding night, our guest, Ora Weinbach, talks about her experiencing teaching sexuality at Abraham Joshua Heschel High School. We ask: What does a sex ed curriculum look like? What it’s like to teach sex-ed to a co-ed class? What’s a parent’s role in all this? And finally, what does sex ed have to do with a bad batch of chocolate chip cookies?
Biat Mitzvah – The First Act of Intercourse
The Talmud nowhere states that the couple must have intercourse on the wedding night. It does refer to the first act of intercourse as beilat mitzvah, “the (or “a”) mitzvah intercourse” in a discussion of hymenal bleeding (Mishnah Niddah 10:1), and when a couple is permitted to have sex on the wedding night before the burial of a parent (Ketuvot 4a-b).
Tosafot (source 1) states that the first intercourse is called a mitzvah because it creates a strong emotional bond (a “covenant”) between husband and wife. Shitah Mekubetzet (source 2) says that this term means that even the first act – which was believed not to be able to lead to conception – was a mitzvah; later acts of intercourse would be considered even more of a mitzvah. Neither of these Rishonim states that this term should be taken to imply that there is a mitzvah to have intercourse on the wedding night.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (source 3) quotes Nodah BeYehudah who, basing himself on Tosafot (source 1), argues that there is no special obligation to have sex on the wedding night. Rav Moshe disagrees with this and states that there is a particularly strong obligation to have intercourse on the wedding night because it can be assumed that the wife is very desirous of this (and the mitzvah of onah obligates the husband to have sex with his wife when she desires it). Even for Rav Moshe, if the wife was not interested in intercourse on the wedding night, there would be no obligation for the couple to have it (and indeed, they should not have intercourse if she does not want it).
ואם עדיין לא פירסה נדה רק הגיע עונת הוסת (בליל החופה) אין איסור ייחוד דאפילו חיבוק ונישוק מותר אלא שהמחמיר תע”ב… ומש”כ הנו”ב דיוצא לדרך הוא יותר חובה מבעילה ראשונה אחר החופה מדלא מצינו לשון חובה בבעילה ראשונה אלא לשון מצוה והוא רק מטעם התוס’ כתובות דף ד’ ע”א ד”ה בועל בעילת מצוה שהוא טעם על בעילה ראשונה מתי שיהיה אף אחר זמן עיי”ש
לע”ד לא נכון כלל דהוא חובה היותר גדולה מחיוב עונה שבתורה ולאו דלא יגרע, דהא אין לך משתוקקת יותר לבעלה תיכף אחר החופה… ועיקר חיוב עונה הוא כשמשתוקקת לבעלה, ולכן ברור ופשוט שביאה ראשונה שאחר החופה הוא חיוב ומצות עונה היותר גדולה, והתוס’ נתנו טעם על מה שקורין רק לבעילה ראשונה בעילת מצוה יותר משאר ביאות מחוייבות ממצוה דעונה, דהוא בשביל שאיכא עוד עונה לבד חיוב מצות עונה וצ”ע דברי הנו”ב.
Iggrot Moshe, Even Ha’Ezer IV:86
If she still has not yet become a niddah, but time of her period has arrived (on the night of the chuppah) they are not prohibited from being alone together, and even hugging and kissing are allowed, though he who is stringent should receive a blessing… And that which the Noda B’Yehudah wrote that [for a man to have sex with his wife] before he goes on a journey is more of an obligation than the first intercourse following the chuppah, since nowhere did we find language of obligation regarding the first act of intercourse, but rather language of mitzvah. And this term [“mitzvah”] is only because of the reason that Tosefot (Ketuvot 4a) gives (that it creates a covenant between husband and wife), which applies to the first act of intercourse, whenever it takes place, even if it is after the wedding night, see there.
Shakh (source 4) records that there was a standard practice that couples would not have intercourse until two to three days after the wedding night. He gives no reason for this practice, although it seems obvious that this was done to forestall the niddah status that would apply to the bride after the first act of intercourse as a result of the tearing of the hymen (dam betulim). Shakh opposes this practice, but does not explicate why.
The reason for Shakh’s opposition is made clear in Be’er Ha’Golah (source 5) who, quoting Shlah, states that this practice leads to wasteful emission of seed. In other words, the sexual touch and activity between husband and wife during these days when they are not having intercourse, can lead (intentionally or unintentionally) to ejaculation outside the wife’s vagina. For these poskim, this would constitute a wasteful emission of seed. Pitchei Teshuvah (source 6) quotes Meil Tzedakah who is also against the practice but advises not speaking out against it, as doing so will only be counterproductive. It is clear that this practice was widespread and well-established despite rabbinic opposition.
In contrast to the assumption of the poskim cited above, Rema (source 7), basing himself on R”I in Tosafot, rules that ejaculation, when it takes place as a part of martial sexual activity, even when not in the context of vaginal intercourse, is not considered a “wasting of seed” and is permitted (if not done as a regular substitute for vaginal intercourse). Drisha (source 8) takes it for granted that this ruling applies equally to “sex by way of the limbs” (e.g., oral or manual), and not just to “non-natural” (i.e., anal) intercourse. According to these poskim, there would be no problem postponing intercourse for a few nights, even if done with the expressed intent to engage in sexual activity that could lead to ejaculation.
Rav Knohl (source 9), a contemporary posek, in his companion booklet to his book on the laws of Niddah, states clearly that the mandate of onah, the husband’s obligation to have sex with his wife, requires that he ensure that he is satisfying her and attending to her needs. Thus, not only is there no obligation to have intercourse on the wedding night, but if it will be unwelcome and takes place before either of them are ready, it is actually forbidden to do so.
האיש, כמצווה על מצוות העונה, חייב לשים לבו ולהשתדל ככל שיוכל שתקוות אלו של רעייתו יתממשו, ולא חלילה להיפך.
מתוך כך נובעת ההדרכה שגם בלילה הראשון החיבור חייב להיות מתוך הסכמה ורצון הדדי. אם האשה או האיש עדיין אינם בשלים לחיבור, ודי להם בקרבה גופנית חיצונית בלילה הראשון, יסתפקו בכך… הדבר מובן ומצוי ואין לאחד מהם לדחוק את השעה…
אין שום חובה להגיע לחיבור מיד. הדבר תלוי שניהם. גם אם ייקח הדבר כמה לילות, אין רע בכך… חיבור, שכולו כאב גופני לאשה ולפעמים גם נפשי, מוטב שלא היה מתרחש כלל.
“Time of Lovemaking,” Rav Knohl (companion booklet to Ish vi’Isha, The Marriage Contract), p. 13.
The man, as the one commanded regarding onah (the obligation to have sex with his wife), is obligated to take to heart and to endeavor as much as he is able, that this hopes (/expectations/desires) of his wife will be realized (when they have sex), and not, God forbid, the opposite.
From this principle emerges the guidelines that also on the first night, the “joining” must be based on mutual consent and desire. If the woman or the man are not yet ready to have intercourse, and they are not interested in more than outer bodily contact on the first night, then they should be satisfied with that… This [desire not to have intercourse on the first night] is understandable and common, and neither one of them should rush the matter…
There is no obligation to get to intercourse right away. The matter depends on the two of them. Even if it takes a number of nights, there is nothing bad about this… Intercourse which is all physical pain for the woman, and at times even emotional pain, is better to have not taken place at all.
The Mishnah (source 10) assumes that the bleeding that occurs after the first intercourse is hymenal and not uterine bleeding, and does not render the woman a niddah. Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai disagree as to how long of a period after this first intercourse the bleeding can be attributed to this cause.
The Talmud (source 11) records an opinion that argues against the Mishnah and states that immediately after the first act of intercourse, her husband must separate from her immediately, and she is considered to be a niddah. This opinion presumably treats hymenal blood as menstrual blood, and Rav and Shmuel, as well as Rav Yochanan and Reish Lakish ruled this way.
It is not clear why the Rabbis would treat hymenal blood as menstrual blood, and this matter is discussed extensively in the Rishonim. [There were, in fact, different practices in the times of the Geonim as to whether and to what extent this rule applied (see, for example, source 12)]. Rambam (source 13) sees this rule as part of the general trend to treat all blood, and even the smallest quantity of blood, as niddah/zavah blood.
[ו] א”מ אוסרין כלה על בעלה כל שבעה מפני שנעשית נדה מפני התאוה, ובני א”י <אומרים>: ע”י שהוא מוציא <את הבתולים> בצער מותרת לו מיד.
Book of Differences in Practice Between Those of the East (Bavel) and Those of the West (Land of Israel) [A work of the Geonic period]
 Those of the East forbid a bride on her husband all seven days (following first intercourse), because she becomes a niddah due to sexual desire, but those who live in the Land of Israel say: Since he removes the hymen with pain, she is permitted to him immediately.
Shulkhan Arukh (source 14) rules accordingly, that hymenal blood renders the woman a niddah. He also follows those Rishonim who apply this rule even if no blood is found after intercourse; the assumption is that there was blood, but it was masked by the husband’s semen. Rema nuances this and rules that if no blood is seen, the woman is only a niddah if the husband did a “complete penetration,” in which case we have to assume that the hymen tore and there was blood.
Can They Still Hold Each Other?
The requirement to separate immediately after first intercourse can be very difficult on the bride and groom – not only does it not allow continued intercourse or sexual activity, but – if the standard laws of niddah are followed – would forbid them to touch even casually or to share the same bed. In practice, this means that they cannot even hold each other after this first act of intercourse. In what seems to be a response to this or to similar concerns, Rashbam – together with other Rishonim from Rashi’s school – assert that “for the honor of the wedding” the couple may continue to share a bed (and presumably engaged in non-sexual touch), if they are wearing nightclothes (whereby the risk of continued intercourse is minimized).
Ravyah (source 15) cites this position of Rashbam, but is inclined to rule against, as do almost all other Rishonim. Following this, Shulkhan Arukh (source 16) rules that the couple may not share a bed after the first act of intercourse.
פסק רבינו שמואל [הלכה] בועל בעילת מצוה ופורש בין הגיע זמנה ובין לא הגיע זמנה בין בוגרת בין נערה בין קטנה בין ראתה בבית אביה קודם שנישאת בין לא ראתה. ופורש, ולא להרחיק ממנה כנדה, אלא פורש מתשמיש, היא בכסותה והוא בכסותו, דאינה טמאה אלא מדרבנן, שהרי דם בתולים טהור, ומשום כבוד חתנות לא רצו להחמיר ולהרחיק יותר… עד כאן יסודו:
ואני לא ידעתי מנין לו שפסק דאינו פורש לגמרי ממנה אלא כל אחד בכסותו, טפי נראה לי דלגמרי פורש, כדין נדה, שהיא צריכה נקיים וטבילה.
Ravyah, Tractate Niddah, no. 183
The Rashbam ruled that the law is that he performs the intercourse of mitzvah and then separates [from her], regardless of whether she is of the age to see [her period] or not, of whether she is mature or not, or whether she already saw [her period] in her father’s house before she was married, or whether she did not. This “separation” does not mean that he should distance himself from her as if she were a niddah, but rather that he separates from engaging in intercourse, but they can remain she in her nightclothes and he in his. For she is only impure according to the Rabbis, and the hymenal blood is [in principle] pure (i.e., not niddah blood), and out of respect for the wedding they did not want to be stringent and distance him further… Until here is what he [Rashbam] laid down.
But I do not know on the basis of what he ruled that the husband does not have to separate from his wife fully, but that they can remain in the same bed, each on in his or her own nightclothes. It appears to me more [correct to say] that they must separate completely, just like a niddah, for she (the bride) requires clean days and immersion
What If She Is Not a Virgin?
As stated, the rule that a woman is considered a niddah after first intercourse is based on a concern for hymenal bleeding. Thus, this law does not apply if the woman is not a virgin – either because she has been married before or because she has had intercourse prior to marriage. This is implicit in the language of Shulkhan Arukh (source 14) who refers to a man “who marries a virgin,” and stated explicitly in a number of modern sources, including The Laws of Niddah, by Rabbi Forst (source 17).
Binyomin Forst, The Laws of Niddah, vol. II, p. 471
This halachah obviously applies only to a besulah (virgin) – a woman who never had biah (sexual intercourse) before. A woman who was previously married is not subject to the laws of dam besulim (hymenal blood).
Fn. 36: Or a woman, such as a ba’alas teshuvah (one who became observant later in life), who previously had biah.
What If Her Hymen Was Torn In Some Way Other Than Intercourse?
What if a woman’s hymen has been torn prior to the wedding night not as a result of intercourse, but rather due to strenuous physical activity, some accident, or an intentional tearing by a finger or an instrument? [A woman whose hymen has been torn through some means other than intercourse is referred to in halakha as a ‘mukat eitz,’ someone ‘wounded by a stick.’]
Some poskim (source 18) ruled that the laws of dam betulim, hymenal blood, apply to such a woman as well, and she would be considered a niddah after first intercourse. Against this, Rav Moshe Feinstein (source 19) ruled that a woman who has had her hymen torn by an instrument as part of a medical procedure to allow for easier intercourse, is not rendered a niddah neither by the initial tearing of the hymen (since it occurred not through intercourse), nor by the subsequent act of intercourse (since the hymen was already torn). Rav Moshe does qualify this and states that if blood was found, she would be considered a niddah. A number of contemporary poskim have applied to Rav Moshe’s ruling to all cases where a gynecologist, after inspection, reports that it looks similar to a hymen after first intercourse or that, given its condition, the woman will probably not see blood after intercourse.
עי בשו”ת זרע אמת ח”ב ס’ פ”ד במוכת עץ שבא עליה החתן ביאה ראשונה ולא מצא דם אם גם כן צריך לפרוש ממנה כדין ביאה ראשונה דבתולה והעלה דגם היא צריכה לפרוש דמה שאמרו בפ”ק דכתובות מוכת עץ יאן לה טענת בתולין אבל מ”מ לא כלו בתוליה לגמרי מכל וכל ואין לה פתח פתוח כמ”ש התוס’ בכתובות ט’ ע”א ע”כ הלכה זו שייכת גם במוכת עץ עיי”ש
Darkei Teshuva 193:5
The Zera Emet (2:84) wrote regarding a groom that has intercourse with a mukat eitz (a woman whose hymen has torn not due to sexual intercourse) for the first time, and he does not find blood, whether he too needs to withdraw from her like the law of sex for the first time with a virgin. He raised the possibility that he too should need to withdraw from her based on what is written in the first chapter of Ketuvot that a mukat eitz does not have the claim of the hymen, but nevertheless her hymen is not completely eliminated, and she does not have a petach patuach. This is as it is written in Tosefot Ketuvot 9a. Thus, this halakha (of hymenal blood) applies also to a mukat eitz.
נשאלתי מאחד כאשר לא היה אפשר לו לבעול ביאה ראשונה מצד שהפתח היה סתום ביותר והוצרכה לרופא שיפתח את הפתח באינסטרומענט ולהוציא הדם בתולים ואם לא יבעול באותו יום אמר הרופא שיש לחוש שיתדבק עוד הפעם אם יש בזה דין פרישה עד אחר ספירת ז’ נקיים וטבילה.
והשבתי שמותרת לבעלה ואינה צריכה ז’ נקיים וטבילה כי הרי דם בתולים הוא בעצם דם מכה ורק במה שיצאו ע”י ביאה אסרו חכמים ולא ע”י הכאת עץ ומאשינקעס … ולכן אין לנו אלא מה שמצינו שאסרו חכמים שהוא רק כשיצאו הבתולים ע”י ביאה.
ואם ע”י ביאתו אח”כ ימצא דם עדין יתלה בדם בתולים ויצטרכו לפרוש עד שתספור ז’ נקיים ועד שתטבול. ואם לא ימצא דם לא יצטרך לפרוש דיש לתלות שכל הדם יצא ע”י מעשה הרופא אף אם יאמר שעשה רק פרצה דחוקה משה פיינשטין
Iggrot Moshe, YD 1:87
I was asked about an individual who, when it was not possible for him to have the first act of intercourse with his wife because the opening (vagina) was exceedingly sealed, and she needed a doctor to open the opening with an instrument and to remove the hymen, and if he doesn’t have intercourse on that day, the doctor said that there is a risk that it would seal again. Does this [the opening the hymen with an instrument] require that the couple separate until the woman has counted seven clean days and immersed [in a mikveh]?
I replied that she is permitted to her husband and does not require seven clean days and immersion. For, in actuality, the hymenal blood is in essence the blood of a wound [and should not, in principle, render the woman a niddah]. It was only when it was torn through intercourse that the Sages forbade [continued intercourse and physical touch], but not when it was ruptured by a stick or an instrument… Thus, the only case that we have [as problematic] is the case that the Sages forbade, which is only when the hymen is ruptured through intercourse.
Now, if as a result of his having intercourse with her after [this procedure], he (sic.) finds blood, then he must attribute it to the hymenal blood [with the standard law that] they will be required to separate until she counts seven clean days and immerses. If, however, he does not find blood, he is not required to separate, for we can assume that all the blood [of the hymen] has already exited [her body] as a result of the doctor’s procedure, even if the doctor says that he only made a small opening.
Tearing the Hymen With One’s Finger
The Talmud (source 20) records an interesting fact: there were women in Rebbe’s (Rabbi Yehudah haNassi’s) house who intentionally used their fingers to tear their own hymen prior to their wedding. These women were called “Tamar,” based on the belief that the Biblical Tamar did likewise. The Talmud does not record why they did this, but it is likely that this was to increase the likelihood that they would conceive on their wedding night, since the Talmud believed that it was not possible to conceive from an intercourse that took place when the woman had an unruptured hymen.
We find that this practice ascribed to the women of Rebbe’s house continued in the Land of Israel during the Geonic period (Sefer HaHilukim, source 21), although here the hymen is removed by the groom, not by the bride. The reason for this is not clear. Rabbi Reuven Margoliot, in his critical notes on Sefer HaHilukim, believes that this was to demonstrate that the woman was in fact a virgin, since this would make it easier to detect the presence or absence of hymenal blood.
[מ] א”מ נוגעין בבעילה בצינור באמה, כדרך שנברא, ובני א”י באצבע.
Book of Differences in Practice Between Those of the East (Bavel) and Those of the West (Land of Israel)
 Those of the East, in the act of intercourse, touch in the “tube” with the “organ,” as is natural (lit., “in the way in which he is created), but those who live in the Land of Israel do it with a finger.
Ra’avad (source 22) theorizes that the women of Rebbe’s house acted the way they did so that the first act of intercourse would not render them a niddah. This seems to be a little anachronistic, as the ruling that hymenal bleeding renders a woman a niddah only began to be adopted in the Amoraic period. Nevertheless, according to Raavad, if a woman used her finger to tear her hymen, the halakha of dam betulim would no longer be operative. [From the juxtaposition to the previous section, it is possible that Raavad only made this claim according to the position that a woman is not a niddah until she actually sees hymenal blood, and not just from the first act of intercourse itself.]
ואיכא מאן דאמר דהאי דאמרינן בועל בעילת מצוה ופורש לא שנא היכא דבעל ומצא דם ולא שנא היכא דבעל ולא מצא דם, דחיישינן שמא עם צער הבתולים אתא דם החדר שהוא טמא. ואיכא מאן דאמר דוקא היכא דבעל ומצא דם, אבל לא מצא דם אינו צריך לפרוש. ומסתברא לקולא, והוא דבדקה שפיר בבית החיצון ולא חזיא שום אדמימות… ודומה לי כי מפני החומר הזה נהגו מעוכות של בית רבי (יבמות לד ב) שלא יבאו לידי זה הספק בבעילת מצוה.
Raavad, Ba’alei HaNefesh, Gate of Separation, sec. 3
There are those who say that when the Gemara says, “he performs the mitzvah act of intercourse and separates,” it makes no difference if he had intercourse and found blood or if he had intercourse and did not find blood, for we are concerned that due to the pain of the [rupturing] of the hymen, uterine blood, which is impure, will flow. Others hold that [she is rendered a niddah]only when he had intercourse [with her] and discovered blood, but if no blood was discovered, he does not have to separate. It makes sense to be lenient in cases where she did a thorough checking in the “outer house” (vagina), and saw nothing red… And it appears to me that it was as a result of this stringency (to treat hymenal blood as menstrual blood), that the women of Rebbe’s household who crushed [their hymen with their fingers] had adopted such a practice (Yevamot 34b), so that no doubt should arise [that they might be a niddah] when they had the first act of intercourse.
Malkiel, in his academic article on the topic of “digital defloration,” (source 23) discusses these sources, and quotes Rabbi Menachem Kasher who extends Raavad’s explanation to the practice of the groom to remove the hymen with his finger. Although performed by the groom, asserts Rav Kasher, the hymenal bleeding would not render the bride a niddah, since there was no act of intercourse, and the halakha of dam betulim would be avoided even when intercourse took place afterwards.
Manipulating Virginity: Digital Defloration in Midrash and History, David Malkiel, Jewish Studies Quarterly, Volume 13 (2006) p. 124
Rabad closes with the suggestion that the Tamars of Judah the Patriarch’s household deflowered themselves in order to obviate this very problem, since they could then be certain of not bleeding on their wedding night. This would explain why a woman might deflower herself prior to her sexual initiation, but not why a groom would deflower his bride with his finger. Menahem Mendel Kasher, a twentieth-century rabbinic scholar, proposed that unlike normal sexual activity, digital defloration does not stimulate the “blood of desire,” i. e. bleeding brought on by orgasm or its imminent prospect, which renders a woman impure and forces her to separate from her partner for the requisite period of time. In support of this suggestion, Kasher notes that on the customs list, Palestinian and Babylonian Jews differed on this issue, too: the former forced the couple to separate following consummation, but the latter permitted them to cohabit, provided that the defloration was digital, since this procedure would not produce orgasmic bleeding.