Coming Out of the Toy Closet

jewish sex toys

Written by Adam Arotti. Adam Arotti is an author of Jewish-themed erotica, highlighting the erotic elements in biblical and Talmudic stories, as well as capitalizing on the taboos created by Orthodox Judaism. Fresh, provocative and educational, his anthology of biblical erotica is well under way. He lives on the West Coast with his wife and children. Visit his temporary home at adamarotti.wordpress.com to stay tuned for more excerpts, stories and submissions! For more Jewrotica writing by Adam Arotti, check out The Barren Wife, Through The Window, Under the Bed, and Erotica, I Get – But Jewish Erotica?. “Coming Out of the Toy Closet” was first published on Adam Arotti’s blog on January 19, 2016.

Image Credit : Lily 2™ by Lelo

Rated R

Sex toys have been around for some time, but they seem to be enjoying ever-increasing popularity, and they have become so mainstream that the market for sex toys is finally trickling into the Orthodox Jewish culture. Products such as loveballs have been popular for a while now and don’t show many signs of slowing down, as well as many product lines from sex toy sites such as Babestation.

That is not to say that Orthodox Jews have not been using sex toys until recently. It is just that before, sex toys belonged to the genre of novelty, of sexual daring, of secret-accessories, of a rebellious stick-it-to-the-Rabbis, or the souvenir of a giggly girls-night-out. It is only in recent years, however, that the Orthodox community has dared to come out of the “toy closet” and get publicly behind the use of sex toys, pleasure accessories and intimacy enhancers.

Thus, Rabbi Natan Alexander has created the bold online website, BeBetter2Gether, which markets sex toys – not as masturbatory devices, but rather as marital aids, designed to enhance the sexual pleasure between Orthodox couples.

There is also the marvelous new invention by Maureen Pollack – a mikvah-going Orthodox Jewish mother – called the WaterSlyde, which doubles as a sexual stimulant and a feminine cleanser. (In her interview by kveller.com, Maureen stated a preference for referring to the WaterSlyde as a “pleasure product,” rather than a “sex toy”; so I want to make clear here that WaterSlyde is not a sex toy, and I apologize to her if that distinction is in any way blurred or misconstrued in this post.)

A couple of things that both Maureen and Rabbi Alexander said about their products, however, struck me as intriguing. In an essay titled “Breaking with Tradition,” Rabbi Alexander accepted the premise that the use of sex toys for masturbation was forbidden, instead advocating the “non-traditional” use of sex toys as a marital enhancer, and ending with the quip: “But then again, what’s tradition to religious Jewry anyway?” In her interview with kveller.com, Maureen Pollack described her consultation with her rabbi about marketing the WaterSlyde. He told her “certain sex toys are not sanctioned if they separate a husband and a wife,” but that “something you can use with your husband is absolutely fine.”

But is there a Jewish tradition regarding female masturbation? Or perhaps even sex toys or pleasure products?

Obviously, given the very sensitive and delicate manner with which the rabbis of the Talmud handle sexual topics, and particularly given that females tend to play more of a supporting role in such literature, it is unlikely that such things would have been discussed explicitly, especially to the extent that they do not have any impact on halachah or Torah observance.

Aha! But there is in fact a 2,000-year-old Talmudic discussion involving the halachic significance of sex toys. But first –

Halachah is pretty unambiguous about prohibiting male masturbation and the waste of seed, [1] which hearkens all the way back to Onanism (although, according to many biblical commentators, it was Judah’s firstborn, Er – not Onan – who was the first to be punished for spilling seed). [2]

However, there is no such biblical predicate or prohibition with respect to female self-pleasuring, for what a woman spills is not seed. Now obviously, if it reaches the point that a woman begins to prefer her showerhead to her husband, shalom bayit issues must be addressed; however, there is nothing forbidden about female masturbation.

Now, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Mishnah discussed the differing pre-nuptial financial commitments that a groom would make to his bride in the Ketubah, depending upon whether or not she was a virgin when he married her. A virgin bride would receive a minimum of 200 “zuz” in the event that she was widowed or divorced. A non-virgin bride would receive a minimum 100 zuz.

Well, how about a “Mukat Etz”? The Mishnah records a dispute between Rabbi Meir and the Chachamim (a majority of R’ Meir’s contemporaries). R’ Meir says that a Mukat Etz is considered a virgin, and receives the full 200 zuz. The Chachamim disagree, believing a Mukat Etz to be a non-virgin, who should therefore receive only the 100-zuz minimum.[3]

What is a Mukat Etz? This is a woman who lost her virginity to a piece of wood. There is not a lot of discussion as to how exactly this Mukat Etz accomplished this deflowering. Rashi simply states that “a piece of wood became lodged in her vagina.”[4]

Despite his use of the passive “became lodged,” Rashi does not explain how the wood got there. There is a suggestion in Maimonides that the Mukat Etz may have fallen and been hit by either a piece of wood or the ground in a way that dislodged her hymen.[5] However, it seems unlikely that a Mukat Etz – a term that most commentaries do not even bother to define, yet which is used so prominently in both the Mishnah and the Talmud – would refer only to a freak accident, and not to a more frequent occurrence.[6]

Couldn’t a Mukat Etz involve the voluntary insertion of a (properly sanded!) piece of wood? I cannot help but wonder whether the Mukat Etz reflected a perhaps common (though undoubtedly discouraged) use of wooden dildos for self-pleasure, to the point that the sages of the Talmud were forced to contend with the very real possibility that not every bride without a hymen was necessarily guilty of engaging in premarital sex. She may simply have engaged in the age-old use of sex toys for women. (In fact, hasn’t anybody ever wondered about the origin of the expression “got wood”?)

So perhaps the reintroduction of sex toys into common use is not so much a departure from Jewish tradition, as it is an acknowledgment that they have always been a part of our sex play – although, from a halachic point of view, it is far less complicated when they are used post-virginity – and not at the expense of our intimate relationships.

Enjoy!

Works Cited

[1] See Babylonian Talmud, Nidah 13a, Yevamot 34b; Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Isurei Biah 21:18.

[2] See Genesis, 39:7.

[3] See Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 11a-b.

[4] Id.

[5] See Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Ishut 11:10.

[6] In fact, Maimonides himself does not define a Mukat Etz, and his comments regarding the unusual “falling scenario” are presented within the context of a bride defending her chastity, claiming to have lost her hymen by “falling on a piece of wood.” In this context, and the inherently humiliating circumstances, it does not seem beyond the pale to suggest that the bride might not wish to disclose the real nature of her encounter with the piece of wood.