On Love and Marriage
I remember the day in ninth grade when my rebbe was faced with the awkward task of explaining the concept of anal sex. “Ah, boys,” he told us, “lets say you have some thieves, and they want to rob a house.”
Biah she’lo c’darka, or, relations that occur not in the normal way, is an important concept when considering the finer points of the acquisition of a woman through intercourse- you know, the transaction.
“Now normally,” he continued, “the thieves would go in the front door and in that case they would have access to all the rooms in the house. But if the thieves had occasion to use the back door of the house- for whatever reason- they would only have access to several rooms. Would you say that the house was partially robbed, or is it considered a complete robbing?”
Indeed, is it considered a complete robbing? I don’t remember the maskana, but I can tell you one thing- the lock on that back door is certainly a little harder to crack than the one on the front door.
Explaining this sort of thing, I suppose, is one of the hazards of teaching the mesechta on marriage to a bunch of heretofore sheltered yeshiva boys, some of whom had never heard the particulars of how sexual intercourse is supposed to go (my cousin Yaakov told me when I was seven and he was ten and my parents being reformed hippies and avid Doctor Spock readers had no qualms about filling me in on the details- which, by the way, scared the shit out of me.
“What if it gets stuck?” I remember crying as I imagined some sort of zipper between a girl’s legs). I always wondered what my rebbe, obviously a talmid chacham, was thinking when he chose to teach us the most explicit of all the mesechtos of the gemara (though I hear that Gittin is pretty heavy, too. Go figure). “A woman can be acquired in three ways,” the mishna says, “through money, a written document, or sexual intercourse.” And contrary to popular belief, Chazal are no prudes.
We learned about everything- I’m talking about ALL the varieties of lo c’darka- you name it. We learned the minimum quotas for how often a man is required to provide satisfaction to his wife. A sailor has to do it once every six months, due to the nature of his job. A merchant, once a week.
Not surprisingly, rabbis are required to pleasure their wives every day (and twice on Friday nights). We learned the law for every contingency. I remember there was another time when the question arose whether a couple were considered married if they chose to consecrate their marriage through the act of sex but they stop halfway through.
What means halfway through? Before the man finishes (can all the ladies in the house say “That’s so chauvinistic”). Anyway, rebbe gets up there to explain all this to us, you know, how to tell when intercourse is considered over and so on- as if we couldn’t figure it out ourselves- and he’s turning red again, and his words are coming out real fast on account of he’s pretty nervous, and, after sending out the boy whose parents forbade him from learning this sugya, chas v’shalom, he says quickly-
“Um, you see, if you are moving a couch from one room into another, boys, and you put the couch down halfway through, is it considered to be in the first room or the second room?”
So some kid raises his hand and asks which room the couch is further into, and then rebbe says that it doesn’t matter, and the kid asks why, and rebbe says that he can’t explain the mashal any further because of darchei tznius.
In eleventh grade after being thrown out of that yeshiva and several others, I found myself in the day school back home, where the rebbi asked my class to decide which mesechta we wanted to learn. It didn’t take me long to convince the class which one. I remember putting my previous knowledge of Kiddushin to good use when I asked some detailed questions- which relied on several m’forshim- involving myself, the rabbi’s twin daughters, and a can of whipped cream.
The rabbi fielded the questions with surprising aplomb, leveling his well-put answers evenly at me. I don’t remember the rabbi losing his cool that year (the sole exception being the time he told us that he liked to collect old and unusual things, to which my friend yelled “Like your wife?).
This in spite of all the perverse comments my friends and I threw in between lines of gemara. I still find myself calling him from time to time, asking more serious questions that have a real impact on my life. And as a character whose mind is steeped in filth, having a rabbi who actually picks up the phone when I call is really something to be thankful for.