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Question:

לגרסה העברית לחצו כאן /Read this teshuva in Hebrew

I am currently sitting shiva for my mother a”h. I am also currently in niddah and my mikveh night would be tomorrow night. I know that during shiva I’m not allowed to have sex with my husband but I wanted to know if I could go to the mikveh so that we can hug and touch, at least in a non-sexual way. I could really use a hug from my husband and his reassuring touch during this time. Would we also be allowed to sleep in the same bed?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. May God give you strength during this difficult time.

I will answer your question in two parts. In a following teshuva, I will address using the mikveh during shiva for a woman who is in niddah. For this teshuva, we will look at the rules of sexual touch and intimacy during shiva for a woman who is not in niddah.

Sharing a Bed During Shiva

Gemara Moed Katan (15b) states that a person in mourning may not have sex with his or her spouse — אבל אסור בתשמיש המטה. Gemara Ketuvot (4b) addresses the related question of whether other forms of intimacy are also prohibited. The Gemara quotes a braitta which states that the Talmudic harchakot — distancing measures — that apply when a woman is in niddah do not apply during aveilut. The braitta specifically mentions the practices of a wife pouring (literally, mixing) a cup of wine for her husband, spreading linen on her husband’s bed, and washing her husband’s face, hands and feet. These practices are understood as acts expressing intimacy between husband and wife. Rabbinically, such acts are forbidden when the woman is in niddah, either because they may lead to having sexual intercourse or because, regardless of outcome, they are seen as sexual acts themselves.[1]It seems that the harchakot were not mandated in the case of aveilut because aveilut practices are only rabbinic in nature or, at most, a positive Biblical obligation on the first day, and as a rule we do not extend the scope of rabbinic restrictions or create safeguards to protect against their violation.[2]

The braitta’s ruling which is adopted by the Gemara, is that when a wife or husband is sitting shiva, these activities are permissible. This is the ruling of Shulkhan Arukh (YD 383:1):

אבל אסור בתשמיש המטה, אבל בשאר דבר קורבה מותר,
אפילו במזיגת הכוס והצעת המטה והרחצת פניו ידיו ורגליו, בין באבלות דידיה בין באבלות דידה
“A mourner is forbidden to have sex but is permitted to act in ways of intimacy, even including mixing his cup of wine, spreading his bed linen, and washing his face, hands and feet, whether it is he or she who is in mourning.”

On the basis of this, Rishonim conclude that sharing a bed is also permissible during shiva provided that the husband and wife are wearing nightclothes. Their argument is as follows: The Talmud (Shabbat 13a) considers the possibility — which later rejects — that a couple could share a bed together when a woman is in niddah but takes for granted that they may not engage in the intimate labors mentioned above. If these practices are permitted during aveilut, then, certainly sharing a bed would be permitted. Ra’avad (Ba’alei HaNefesh, Sha’ar Ha’Prisha, 2), Ramban in the name of Tosafot (Torat Ha’Adam, Inyan Aveilut s.v. tashmish hamitah keitzad), and Rosh (Ketuvot 1:9) all conclude that a couple may share a bed when one of them is sitting shiva.

Rosh, Ramban, and Tosafot (as quoted in Ramban) permit sharing a bed without reservation. This seems to be the position of Rambam as well. Rambam states that sex is prohibited in this case and then adds that a man may be in yichud, seclusion, with his wife (Laws of Mourning 5:5). It would be a mistake to conclude from this last phrase that other behaviors are forbidden; yichud is singled out because it is not permitted in the unusual case of a bride or groom whose wedding was interrupted by the loss of a parent and they may not be in a room together (see Ketuvot 4a, Rambam Laws of Mourning 11:8; SA YD 342:1). The only act, then, that Rambam forbids is sex itself, consistent with the Gemara which never prohibits anything other than sexual intercourse. Rambam’s silence on this matter indicates that everything other than intercourse is permitted.

Ra’avad is more hesitant:

מיהו משום לך לך אמרין נזירא סחור סחור לכרמא לא תקרב, מיבעי ליה לארחוקי שלא תישן עמו במטה כלל “However, in the same way we say to a nazir: ‘Go around, go around; do not draw near to the vineyard,’ so too a man should maintain a distance and not sleep with his wife together in a bed at all [during this time of mourning].”

Although permissible as a matter of law, Ra’avad states that they should not share a bed as it could, possibly, lead to sin. The use of the phrase מיבעי ליה — a person should [not share a bed] — as opposed to ‘a person must not’ or ‘one is forbidden,’ makes it clear that Ra’avad is not forbidding this as a strict matter of halakha.

Shulkhan Arukh rules in accordance with all the Rishonim and permits the couple to share a bed, but he ends with the same caveat as Ra’avad:

ומיהו משום לך לך אמרינן נזירא יש להחמיר שלא ישן במטה כלל “Nevertheless, because of the principle: ‘Go around, go around,’ that we say to a nazir, one should be strict and not sleep together in a bed at all (i.e., even if wearing nightclothes).”

 

As a matter of halakha, it is permissible when you are in shiva for you and your husband to share a bed if you are wearing nightclothes.

What about the Shulkhan Arukh’s admonition that “one should be strict” and refrain from this? It is important to restate that this is not a strict halakhic requirement, and Ramban, Tosafot, Rosh, and Rambam never mention such a concern. In exigent situations, בשעת הדחק, when one is in need of emotional support, I would rule that one may rely on these major authorities and need not be strict.

I would further argue that even according to Ra’avad and Shulkhan Arukh who advise against sharing a bed, the situation must be evaluated based on the circumstances. There may be times and situations where the possibility of intercourse is effectively non-existent, and in such cases, the couple may share a bed. This is unlike Rabbinic edicts which are not evaluated on a case-by-case basis but which follow strict formal rules — as is evidenced by such phrases as לא פלוג, “we do not make distinctions”; כדי שלא תחלוק, “so as to not make distinctions between the cases,”; and יאמרו כל הסריקין אסורין וסריקי בייתוס מותרין, “shall we then say that all dough-cutters are forbidden and those of Beitos permitted?!”. When we are not dealing with a legislated law but rather a concern that a possible problem may arise, context and circumstances play a major role in determining whether the concern is present and operative in a given case. [3]

There are deep emotional needs that need to be taken into account in the psak in this case. If you need this physical closeness for emotional connection and support during this difficult time, then the concern for your emotional well-being would outweigh the concern to be strict beyond what is required as a matter of halakha. The words of Shakh in his principles of hora’ah, rendering halakhic decisions, are particularly appropriate (YD 242, end):

כשם שאסור להתיר את האסור כך אסור לאסור את המותר אפילו בשל עובד כוכבים ואפילו במקום שאין הפסד מפני שעל הרוב יש בו צד הקל במקום אחר מחמת שנאסר והוי חומרא דאתי לידי קולא ואף על פי שלפי הנראה לא יבא מזה צד קולא אסור שאפשר שיתגלגל ויבא קולא עד אחר מאה דברים, לפיכך אם הוצרך לאסור מחמת ספק או מחמת חומרא בזה שאין האיסור ברור כשמש צריך המורה לומר שאין האיסור ברור אלא שאנו מחוייבים להחמיר וכל שכן אם המורה מתיר בשעת הדחק וכיוצא בו שיאמר לו כן Just as it is forbidden to permit what is forbidden, so it is forbidden to forbid what is permitted, even in matters relating to non-Jews and even in cases where there is no financial loss. In most cases an [undesired] leniency in another area will result from forbidding this thing, and this ruling will be a stringency that brings an [inappropriate] leniency. Even if it appears that no [undesired] leniency will result, it is forbidden [to be strict] because it is possible that there will be a ripple effect and an [inappropriate] leniency will result a hundred steps [away from the original ruling]. Therefore, if it is necessary to be stringent due to some doubt or stringency, chumra, in cases where the matter is not outright forbidden, the posek must state explicitly that the matter is not obviously forbidden but that we nevertheless have an obligation to be strict. And certainly if the posek would be lenient in cases of exigency, he should say so.

Shakh reminds us that stringencies almost always come with a cost. It is thus critical to not be overly strict and to clearly delineate the line between a chumra and actual halakha. Even when chumrot are necessary, they must be identified for what they are. In our case, Shulkhan Arukh not only identified keeping separate beds as a stringency, but was careful to indicate that such practice is not obligatory: he writes that “one should” be strict and not that “one must” be strict. A stringency like this would not be appropriate when it comes at an emotional cost. If the mourner is in need of such closeness and intimacy, it is permitted and appropriate for them to share a bed. [4]

Sexual and Non-Sexual Touch during Shiva

Rishonim are even more permissive when it comes to sexual touch during shiva. Ra’avad, who stated that the couple should not share a bed when one of them is in shiva, allows them to engage in חיבוק ונישוק – hugging and kissing – and presumably all forms of sexual touch (see Ba’alei HaNefesh, Sha’ar Ha’Prisha, 3, in his hierarchy of degrees of required harchakot, where separating from sexual touch is only required in the case of niddah and not in the case of mourning).[5,6]

Poskim explain that Ra’avad is more permissive when it comes to sexual touch than sharing a bed because he sees sexual touch as less likely to lead to intercourse. If we assume that intercourse takes place almost exclusively in the bedroom, then being in bed together is only one step removed from intercourse, whereas sexual touch outside the bedroom is, at least, two steps removed.[7]

Ra’avad’s position is adopted by other Rishonim and the Shulkhan Arukh. Ramban writes:

ולא עוד אלא אפי’ בחיבוק ונישוק וכיוצא בהן מותר, כך כתב הרב ז”ל, וכבר הורה זקן “Even hugging and kissing and the like are permitted. This is what Ra’avad z”l wrote and the sage has issued his ruling”

(Torat Ha’Adam, ibid). Rosh implicitly endorses Ra’avad’s position, citing Ra’avad’s rulings on sexual touch and a related matter and disagreeing exclusively on the related matter (Moed Katan 3:36). This is affirmed by Drisha (Tur YD 342, no. 8), Shakh (YD 342, no. 5) and the vast majority of Achronim who understand that Rosh agrees with Ra’avad’s first ruling that sexual touch is permitted during this time.[8] As we mentioned above, Rambam (Laws of Mourning 5:5) only forbids sex itself during mourning, and by implication, would permit sexual touch.

Two Rishonim raise reservations regarding this. Although Rosh permits sexual touch, he states that the couple should avoid being naked in bed together:

ויראה דבאבילות מותר לישן עם אשתו במטה הוא בבגדיו והיא בבגדיה… אבל בקירוב בשר ראוי להחמיר “It would appear that during mourning a man can sleep with his wife in one bed when they are clothed… but to do so naked, one should be strict”

(Ketuvot 1:9). This makes a great deal of sense. While the Gemara (Shabbat 13a) raised the possibility that a husband and wife could share a bed when she is in niddah provided that they are clothed, it takes for granted that sharing a bed while naked is forbidden. It is fairly clear that sharing a bed while naked may lead to sex as there are no physical signals to remind them that she is in niddah, and the physical closeness itself may create too great a temptation. Rosh’s position is that even during mourning, where the restrictions are less severe, sharing a bed while naked should not be done because of this risk. It should be noted that even in this case, Rosh does not forbid this outright as a matter of strict halakha.

Rabbenu Yerucham, a student of Rosh, is even more strict. He states:

ראוי להחמיר שאין לו להתיר שום קורבה זולת המטה והרחצת
פניו ידיו ורגליו מדלא התיר יותר בגמרא בהדיא
“It is appropriate to be strict and not permit any form of intimacy except for pouring his cup, spreading his bed linen, and washing his face, hands and feet, since the Gemara did not explicitly permit anything else [besides these three].”

(Toldot Adam v’Chava, netiv 28, p. 232, quoted in BeitYosef, 383, s.v. vi’katav ha’Ra’avad). Rabbenu Yerucham prefaces this more stringent position with the phrase “It is appropriate to be strict” suggesting that he is only advising against such behavior but not forbidding it as a matter of halakha. As Rav Ovadya Yosef states (Chazon Ovadya, Aveilut, vol. 2, p. 177):

ובאמת שאף רבינו ירוחם לא הרהיב עוז לחלוק על הראב”ד והרמב”ן אלא כתב “שראוי להחמיר” ולשון זה מוכיח שבאמת אין כוונתו אלא להחמיר חומרא בעלמא, ולאו מדינא “In truth, even Rabbenu Yerucham did not dare to disagree with Ra’avad and Ramban. Rather, he wrote ‘it is appropriate to be strict,’ and this phrase demonstrates that his intent is only to state this as a matter of a mere chumra, but not as a matter of halakha.”

Rabbenu Yerucham’s position is challenged by Maharshal (in his commentary on Tur, YD 383; quoted in Bach, YD 383, s.v. vi’katav ha’Ra’avad and Drisha 383:1). Maharshal states that since it is permitted for a wife to wash her husband’s face when one of them is in mourning, it is obvious that touch, even intimate touch, is permitted. Maharshal concludes that although such washing is intimate, since it is done in the context of performing a task it does not present a serious risk that it will lead to sex. In contrast,

חבוק ונשוק שהוא הרגל לדבר תשמיש דאסור “[Sexual touch such as] hugging and kissing which are a lead-up to sex are forbidden.”

Maharshal ends by saying בזה להחמיר נראה וכן, “and it is proper to be strict regarding this.” These comments are significant, both because they endorse the position of Rabbenu Yerucham, and also because they limit the prohibition to sexual touch which may be a precursor to sex and do not extend it to all forms of intimate contact.

[The distinction between supportive, intimate touch and sexual touch is a critical one that is often ignored by many poskim. Many poskim prohibit a husband to hold his wife’s hand during childbirth. A woman in childbirth is considered halakhically a cholah, sick person (and at a certain stage even like a ki’cholah she’yeish bah sakanah, a sick person whose life is at risk, see SA OH 330:1); we normally allow non-sexual touch between husband and wife when she is in niddah if one of them is sick and needs the other’s assistance and no one else is in an equal position to provide such assistance (see Rema, SA YD 195:16). Nevertheless, these poskim have argued that the wife’s desire to hold her husband’s hand specifically (and not the nurse’s or doula’s hand) indicates that such touch is not neutral but of a sexual nature and hence forbidden. In my mind, this fails to recognize the difference between intimate, supportive and comforting touch and sexual touch. The former is permitted when necessary for the case of helping a sick person. In the case of childbirth, holding his wife’s hand is a form of emotional support that the husband can uniquely provide to his wife, and it is thus permitted for him to do so. This will be the topic of another teshuva.]

Turning to Shulkhan Arukh, we find that he never restricts sexual touch between husband and wife when one of them is in mourning (YD 342:1 and 383:1). Although, as we noted earlier, he advises against sharing a bed (YD 383:1). In Beit Yosef (YD 342, s.v. vi’katav ha’Ra’avad), he explicitly states that we rule like Ra’avad and permit sexual touch. Shakh (YD 342, no. 5) and other Achronim affirm that Shulkhan Arukh permits sexual touch at this time. [9]

Rema is not as permissive. Following the ruling of R. Yerucham, he states: להחמיר יש ונשוק חבוק אבל, “Regarding hugging and kissing it is appropriate to be stringent,” (YD 383:1). There are times when Rema uses the phrase ויש להחמיר — one should be stringent — to indicate that one should adopt the stringent side in a halakhic debate; in those cases Rema is forbidding a certain behavior as a matter of halakha. When Rema uses this phrase in requiring a practice li’halakhah, it almost always follows a statement recording the two sides of a halakhic debate (see, for example, SA OH 33:1; 159:6, 12 and 14; and YD 103:4). This is not the case here. In our case there is no debate but simply a statement of Rabbenu Yerucham’s view which itself was framed not as a halakhic requirement but as a stringency. Recall as well that sexual touch was treated consistently as less problematic than sharing a bed, and that even the latter was only ill-advised and not forbidden as a matter of halakha.

The consensus of the Achronim is that Rema never forbids sexual touch on strictly halakhic grounds. In the words of Shulkhan Arukh HaRav (YD 184, Kuntrus Acharon, no. 1), Rema’s statement that it is inappropriate to engage in hugging and kissing is משום לך לך ולא מדינא, “Because of ‘Go around, go around [that we say to the nazir],’ and not as a matter of halakha” (see also Rav Ovadya Yosef, Taharat HaBayit, pp. 60-66 and Chazon Ovadya, Aveilut, vol. 2, p. 177). [10]

In terms of actual practice, I would rule, following Maharshal, that it is fully permitted for a couple in mourning to touch in an intimate, supporting, and loving manner. Such touch is not in the category of sexual touch, as discussed above. Also following Rema and Maharshal, I would advise restraint when it comes to sexual touch, particularly touch that could be a precursor to intercourse. It seems to me that, in contrast to sharing a bed, there is often less need for sexual touch at this time as a form of comfort and support. If the couple says that sexual touch is a vital part of providing emotional support, then the mourner’s emotional well-being should be weighed against Rema’s advocating a stringency that is not required as a matter of halakha. In such cases, I would advise that such activity be done only outside of the bedroom and in general, the couple should use their best judgment not to engage in any activity that could move them toward having sex. I would also follow Rosh and rule that while the couple can sleep together and hold each other in bed, they should not sleep together naked during this period. [11]

Conclusion:

When a husband or wife is in mourning, the couple is forbidden to have sex. When the woman is not in niddah, as a matter of halakha, they may share a bed if they are clothed and they may engage in sexual touch. As a matter of proper cautionary behavior, they should not share a bed and not engage in sexual touch. There is no restriction on comforting, intimate touch — this is totally permissible and advisable at this time. When the mourner is in need of emotional support, they may, and at times should, share a bed. In cases where it is deemed necessary in order to provide that support, they may engage in sexual touch but should take care to do so outside of the bedroom and in a way that is not likely to lead to sex. They also should not sleep together naked at this time.

 

Footnotes: