Sex Signals – The Wife Initiating Sex
קושי’ גמר’ הוא על הא דבני חצופה מקרא זו דלאה ותי’ הכי ארצויי ארצי’ קמי’ ופי’ הר”ן דלא אמרה לאה ליעקב אלא שיכנוס לאהלה ולא תבעתו בפה כו’… וגם נ”ל אין ר”ל כלל בלשון צווי בע”כ תעשה כן אלא כלשון מגיד העתיד ידעתי שכן תעשה אלי תבוא היינו דברי רצוי לבד
Responsa, Yehuda Yaaleh, 1:55
[Your question regarding Leah] is the question of the Gemara regarding the case of “children of brazenness” from the verse of Leah, and the Gemara answers, “That is when she appeases him”- and Ran explains that Leah only said to Yaakov that he should enter her tent, and she did not verbally demand it… It also appears to me that she did not say in any way a language of command, that he should do so against his will, but rather in a language of talking about the future, “I know that you will do such-and-such, that you will come unto me.” Those are only words of appeasement.
Rabbi Judah ben Israel Assad ( Hungary, 1794-1866) was the outstanding halachic authority in Hungary after Chatam Sofer’s death.
אבל עונת טבילת’. חיוב דאורייתא היא הפקיד’. כדילפינן מקרא דחייב לפקוד אשתו בשעה שמשתוקקת אליו. ואפילו שלא בזמן עונה קבועה…
She’elat Yaavetz, 2:10
But regarding the onah of the night following her immersion – this is a biblical obligation, as we learn from Scripture, that a man is obligated to “visit” his wife when she yearns for him. And even not during the fixed time for onah….
R. Yaakov Emden, 18th Century, Germany
ולענ”ד היה נראה דעיקר העונה הוא בשעה שרואה הבעל שהיא משתוקקת אל בעלה … אלמא שמפרש כן הקרא דועונתה לא יגרע על זה שחייב לשמחה בשעה שרואה שמתאוית לו, וכן ביוצא לדרך שאמר ריב”ל ביבמות דף ס”ב דחייב לפוקדה מטעם זה שהאשה משתוקקת שהוא ודאי חיוב מדאורייתא….
Iggrot Moshe, Even ha-Ezer, 3:28
In my humble opinion, it appears that the primary obligation of onah is when the husband sees that she desires him… thus we see that he explains the verse in this manner, that “her onah he should not diminish” means that he must make her happy/give her pleasure when he sees that she is desirous of him, and similarly when he is leaving on a trip, as R. Yehuda ben Levi says (Yevamot 62) that a man must “visit” his wife, because when she yearns for him, there certainly is a Biblical obligation…
R. Moshe Feinstein, 20th C
Lived Regulation, Systemic Attributions: Menstrual Separation and Ritual Immersion in the Experience of Orthodox Jewish Women,” Tova Hartman and Naomi Marmon, Gender and Society, 18:3, pp. 402-3.
In addition to respecting their desire to be nonsexual, the halakhic framework, according to many of our informants, sanctions women’s sexual desires within the framework of marriage. The Torah (Ex. 21:10) charges every married man with the mitzvah of onah, that is, the commandment to provide his wife with her conjugal rights. Thus, the halakhic system establishes a sexual sphere within marriage that is distinct from procreation and encourages women to expect, demand, and enjoy an active and vital sexual relationship with their spouses…
A woman can also initiate physical things. It’s good to say that I want this or that, especially because the woman is supposed to enjoy. In fact, the husband is not fulfilling his commandment of onah if you don’t enjoy. So that means that if you want sex, or whatever, then he has to agree, and you have the right to ask for it. (Yael).
Contrary to Freud’s (1963) image of the silent and passive woman sexual partner, because of the mitzvah of onah, Yael feels as though “she has the right to ask” when she wants sex.\
Sarah echoed this sentiment: “Whatever a woman wants is the obligation of the husband. I remember that they spoke to us about how important it is that a woman should also enjoy.” This halakhic premium on women’s sexual fulfillment can be seen as a stark challenge to broad-based claims that religion represses women sexually and that women’s pleasure is achieved through surrender, passivity, and recognition of themselves as sexual objects (Nicholson, 1994).
Jane concurred that this element of niddah affirms, very practically and directly, her own needs within the sexual relationship and validates a woman’s rights to sexual fulfillment and desire more generally:
The general feeling of the mitzvah of onah makes me feel that the tradition goes against the idea that sex is all about him and his needs… The mikveh joins the larger value of what does she need, what does the woman deserve.
Just as our informant above felt that the tradition speaks with them invalidating their “no” voice within their sexual relationships, similarly, these women felt that it “joins” their “I want/I need/I desire” voice – another voice traditionally silenced by men’s power. Their sexual fulfillment is validated and underwritten by a patriarchal tradition that in this instance stands and speaks unequivocally with them, demanding of its men participants, as a requirement of membership in good standing that they listen.
Final Word: Prozdor