The Vow of ‘Onah

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Often as I follow leads God puts before me, I find a “Pearl of Great Price.” I found this pearl referenced in chapter nine in the book, “Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing” by Jay Stringer. Dr. Jay makes some dramatic points about true intimacy, what it is, what it’s not and how sexual addiction perverts the entire essence of intimacy – Spiritual, emotional and physical.

This insight got the “Pearl of Great Price” designation because it addresses two issues I am very passionate about these days: intimacy as we find freedom from addiction and growing intimacy with God in all aspects of life. Not surprisingly, the two go hand in hand so it’s (pardon the dad pun) a ‘match made in heaven.’

Dr. Stringer defines perversion: “The word perversion is taken from the Latin word pervertere, meaning to turn around.[1] When we talk about sexual perversion, we are referring to forms of sex and fantasy that have been turned around, spoiled from the original goodness God created.” Case in point, Jay referenced the Jewish tradition of taking the “Vow of ‘Onah” on your wedding day.

A quick and slightly limited background: Torah is defined as the first five books of the Old Testament and is the foundation of the Jewish religion. It is Biblical and has application to us today, as do all things Biblical. As Dr. Tina Sellers states in the blog referenced by Jay, “Some scholars believe that during the development of the Christian Church the desire to establish and differentiate the Christian religion from the Jewish religion meant a loss of roots … and thus generations of wisdom.” The tone of love, respect and sacrifice God expects me to have toward my wife, expressed in the Vow of ‘Onah, speaks to intimacy. I especially appreciate this point of view and found it full of ancient wisdom.

So how exactly does this Vow of ‘Onah apply to us today? What are some of the applicable expectations of this Vow? Allow me to highlight some of the points made by both Drs., Stringer & Sellers [bolded emphasis mine]:

Sex is considered a woman’s right, not a man’s. The husband is given the commandment of ‘Onah which is one of the religious obligations he assumes at marriage. ‘Onah is the commandment to supply all forms of well-being and pleasure to the wife. According to Hebrew scholar Moshe Idel, the term ‘Onah as a religious obligation is not connected to the sexual satisfaction of the husband, but to the special sexual needs of the wife. The husband has a duty to ensure that all forms of sexual touch are pleasurable for her. In the book Jewish Explorations of Sexuality, the author further expounds on the requirements of the husband to ensure that all sexual touch be accompanied by closeness (kiruv) and joy (simchah). This level of attentiveness and intimacy raises love-making to a higher more emotional and spiritual plane.

All forms of sexual enjoyment are recognized from holding hands to sexual intercourse. This vast sexual enjoyment is seen as a vital component of pleasure and an act of immense significance requiring commitment and responsibility to each other.

The purpose in all sexual touch is to reinforce the loving bond and intimacy across the lifespan together. Sexual touch is expected to evolve and change over time as life stages are traversed together. The idea that an elderly couple is not sexually intimate is a foreign concept in the Torah context.

Sexual touch and intercourse were meant to be celebrated in joy and not in sadness, anger, disinterest, when drunk or in self-interest. Sex for selfish personal satisfaction without regard for the partner’s pleasure is wrong and considered evil. A man may never force his wife to have sex or use sex as a weapon against a spouse either by depriving the spouse of sex or by compelling it. It is considered a serious offense to use sex (or lack thereof) to punish or manipulate a spouse.

In Jewish law, sex is not considered shameful, sinful or obscene.

Kosher sexual touch is not limited to behaviors that would lead to procreation. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote, “The duty of a man to engage his wife sexually is not contingent upon whether or not there is the possibility of pregnancy, for it is mandated in the responsibilities of marriage that she should receive pleasure and not suffer, no different than the mandate that she be clothed and sheltered ….”

The written Torah uses the root word Yod-Dalet-Ayin, meaning ‘to know,’ to describe sexual intimacy as a knowing of your spouse in mind, soul and body. This word illustrates all sexuality, the act of knowing another in Yod-Dalet-Ayin, is meant to involve the whole of a person—the heart and mind—not merely the body. The Jewish understanding of sexual knowing and sexual sharing between a husband and wife took the whole person into consideration—heart desires, body desires, thoughts, feelings, etc. The body was not separated from the mind or heart. The focus was a reminder of the importance of the mind and heart’s involvement in the sexual relationship.

Per Unwanted: “The Vow of Onah offers a sexual ethic needed in our day. Think about what happens in our culture and marriages when sex is considered to be a man’s right, when it’s used without ensuring that all forms of sexual touch are pleasurable, or when it is used in anger or self-interest. Used in these ways, sex enters the spectrum of perversion; [by definition] it turns sex away from intimacy in favor of entitlement.”

When we, humans, take what God created to be sweet, intimate and beautiful, an earthly representation of our relationship with Him, and ‘turn it around,’ pervert it, we lose so much. It costs us so, so much. I have experienced, am experiencing, the Gift that is that intimacy because God has been so very good to Lynn and me. It is my heart’s desire to help other men, and thereby their wives & families, find this intimacy. I pray this long-winded blog helps you see a better, grander way.

1. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed. (2018), s.v. “peevish,” accessed March 13, 2018, (“Possibly from Latin perversus, turned the wrong way, perverse, past participle of pervertere, to turn around, corrupt.”)
2. Stringer, Jay. Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing (pp. 114-115). The Navigators. Kindle Edition.
3. Kabbalah and Eros, Moshe Idel. 2005
4. Jewish Explorations of Sexuality, Jonathan Magonet. 1995.
5. Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer, Vol.1, No. 102. By Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
6. Introductions to Judaism: The Source Book, Einstein, Kukoff, p114-122
7. Judaism 101: Kosher Sex

Freedom is a gift from God. It is also His Promise; and He ALWAYS keeps His Promises.

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