In the Jewish tradition, sex is an integral part of Shabbat, a.k.a the Day of Rest. Shabbat begins each week at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday.
For those who are unfamiliar with Shabbat, here is an abbreviated and shallow explanation: Its primary function is to create space each week to maintain a connection with G-d. It is also designed for individuals to take a break from the frenzy of the work week, for families to connect over a meal and restful activities, and for communities to connect by attending services together. It is central to Jewish life and a holiday that occurs each week.
When I converted to Judaism a few years ago, I had already been in a Jewish marriage for 12 years, and my husband and I had been raising our children in the Reform Jewish tradition. When they were young, we began observing “Shabbat light.” We would strive to be home most Fridays, make the traditional roast chicken for dinner, and sing the blessings over the candles, the wine, and the challah bread. My husband then offered the blessing of the children, and we ate–before we watched a movie and had ice cream. Hence the name “Shabbat light.”
We were not following a traditional observance where work, technology, and electricity were avoided, but what little we were doing to slow down the exhausting pace of modern-day living nurtured our family. We looked forward to Fridays, to the smell of roast chicken, and to the visits from friends who would often join us. The observance of “Shabbat light” for us connected our family in beautiful ways, even more so when we did haul ourselves to services.
It was not until my conversion meetings with my Rabbi, however, that I learned about the “other” aspects of Shabbat. Judaism is a faith rooted in practice, and I have been amazed over the years as a former Catholic to learn about how the design of Shabbat supports individual, family, and community health. It is a fascinating faith and one I love very much. So while it came as a surprise to me that sex was a part of Shabbat, I suppose it should not have. Judaism places immense value on family, and when a couple is strong, so too is the family unit.
What I learned is that there are two separate mitzvot in the Torah that involve sexual relations. One is to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and the other is for the husband to ensure he sexually satisfies his wife (Exodus 21:10). Sounds good to me! Modern interpretation likely leans toward mutual satisfaction between two people, but it is not often that women get to read about sexual information this way, so there it is in formal print, ladies. You can thank me later.
The essence, as my Rabbi described so eloquently, is that Shabbat is designed to be a restorative experience for both body and soul. It is important that couples value intimacy in their marriage, so instead of leaving that aspect to chance, it is formalized. Couples should set aside time for themselves. They should be intimate. They should prioritize their relationship and time alone with one another–and a woman’s sexual satisfaction should not be ignored.
Regardless of your own belief system, the Jewish tradition of Shabbat and its encouragement of intimacy is a beautiful guide for couples. For what marriage and what family unit would not benefit from time together each week to connect deeply?