Under the Bed

under the bed

Image Credit: Francesco Hayez, “L’odalisca” (1867)

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 and Through The Window.

Rated R

Abba stood back and surveyed his handiwork. Yes, this would do quite nicely. The bed was tall; tall enough that even a man of his height would make use of the steps leading to the sturdy wide platform topped with a plush mattress filled with goose feathers and a deep red quilt. The back and sides of the platform were bounded by short walls, each decorated with carvings of flowers, circles and loops. The bed itself was supported by stout wooden pillars, and rich hangings of crimson and silver fell from the lip of the platform to the ground, masking the space underneath. Matching cushions rested along the upper walls of the bed. It looked inviting.

He stepped forward and ran his fingers over the rich, polished wood. Encountering a slight protrusion that marred the smooth planes, he scratched away at it with his fingernail. It proved to be merely dirt, and came off easily. After carefully brushing off the besmirched fingernail on his robe, he reached to adjust the cushions for the fourth time. He wanted tonight to be perfect.

Beds – and particularly a bed such as Abba had acquired – were a luxury that most in Abba’s community could ill afford. They were more common among the western Roman communities, but were still fairly rare in impoverished Babylonia. However, Abba had recently been blessed with several successful business transactions, and he was determined that his new wife would immediately enjoy the comforts that those successes enabled. Thus, when a similar bed had caught Abba’s eye at the marketplace, he inquired after the name of the craftsman, and immediately commissioned the construction of a similar bed. Fortunately, despite the multitude of delays, the bed was ready in time for the wedding.


Ayesha approached her upcoming wedding to Abba with excitement and anticipation, yet with a certain measure of anxiety. She had heard the stories of Abba’s late wife, Esther, and she could not help but wonder whether such a woman could ever be replaced. Esther had been the love of Abba’s life, the mother of his three sons and three daughters, and his tireless supporter as he achieved fame as a brilliant scholar, teacher and leader amongst his people. Hers had been the love that was inextricably woven throughout the tapestry of Abba’s metamorphosis from Abba Aricha, the young man, to “Rav,” the spiritual and intellectual giant among men, as he took his place among those few whose indelible mark on Judaism would never fade.

Tragically, his beloved Esther had perished in a sudden plague that ravaged many of the population centers of Judea.

Her death had changed Abba. Something inside of him died with her; and whether because he found himself faced with the constant reminder of her absence, or because her passing had caused a fundamental reordering of his life priorities, he no longer found himself content to achieve greater and greater distinction within the Holy Land’s vibrant Jewish community. Instead, Abba packed his things and returned to his native land of Babylonia. There, he knew, the spirituality of the Jewish community was suffering. Babylonia had long ceased to be the center of Torah learning that it had once been, back in the golden days of Daniel and Ezra. The Jewish communities there now were but a shadow of their former selves, their lives barely resembling those of their Judean compatriots. While, thankfully, the loose Roman control of Babylonia did not result in the same kind of persecution that Jews frequently suffered in the Holy Land, neither did it create an environment that inspired Jewish observance. Abba was determined to change that.

His children did not accompany him; they were each doing well in their various pursuits in the Holy Land, now with families of their own, and were old enough that they did not require the supervision or guidance of their widowed father. So he went alone.


Ayesha was introduced to Abba several years after his return to Babylonia, and relocation to the stagnant Jewish community of Sura. Ayesha, too, was a widow, whose merchant husband had been lost at sea. Like many in the Babylonian community, and especially women, Ayesha was not particularly educated. However, she had a deep and abiding love for the Torah, and tremendous admiration and devotion to those who dedicated their lives to its teachings and preservation.

When Abba was first suggested to her as a potential mate, she was initially terrified. In moments of self-honesty, she was still terrified. To become the bride of such a man! Abba was a tall, handsome man with a devastating mind, and an unparalleled Torah scholar. How could she possibly be a match for him? Could she be the woman, the mistress, of his home; a home which would undoubtedly be a way-station for Jewry’s leadership? Could she be an adequate mate for a giant like Abba?

Yet, she knew that her son, Kahana, would undoubtedly encourage the match.

Kahana was a budding scholar in his own right, having nearly surpassed the knowledge of his teachers when Abba arrived in Babylonia. When news of the great man’s arrival reached Kahana, he immediately set out to introduce himself, and to beg Abba to accept him as a student. Ever since, Kahana was scarcely home; he spent nearly all of his time at Abba’s house, studying under him. observing him, learning from him. Kahana was not alone in this; many men, young and old, found themselves thirsting for knowledge of the Torah, knowledge of their tradition, and found in Abba a limitless stream of the life-giving waters.

Fortunately for the eager students, Abba’s skills proved to be as sharp in commerce as they were in Torah study, and within a few short years of his arrival, Abba was already an individual of some affluence. Thus, his students’ physical needs were also provided for; they ate in his home, and when the evening hour grew late, they often slept in his home. So Ayesha only saw Kahana a few times throughout the week, when he would come home to wash his clothing, or to check on his mother, and to invariably pester her to go out to find a husband. She knew that he would be beside himself by the possibility that his mother might become the bride of the esteemed Rav.


Abba was not seeking to replace Esther – she was irreplaceable. Still, he understood the truth of the eternal words, “It is not good that man be alone,” [1] and knew that he should marry. So when Ayesha was suggested for him, he had only three questions: Is she kind? Is she G-d-fearing? Does she love the Torah? As all three questions were answered resoundingly in the affirmative, Abba agreed to meet with Ayesha.

He approached his first meeting with Ayesha expecting little more than a pleasant introduction, and making each other’s acquaintance. While Abba was not an arrogant man, he harbored no insecurities about either his appearance or his mind, and did not anticipate that, at this stage in his life, he would be particularly picky about hers. Thus, Abba thought that, barring unforeseen complications, they would pass quickly through the courtship stage, marry, and move on with life. He was not certainly expecting the affect that Ayesha would have on him when they first met, and every time that they came together since.

Abba called upon Ayesha at her home; Kahana was present so that there would be no possible appearance or suggestion of impropriety. When he arrived, Ayesha was seated demurely on a simple wooden chair, wearing an equally simple soft, white kaftan. She stood when he entered the room, and Abba was immediately taken by the loveliness of her features. But it was so much more than her physical features; there was glow to her face, an aura of vitality about her, that instantly captivated his attention. In her wide-open brown eyes he saw an expression of guileless innocence; yet he could also see unfathomable depths of wisdom and experience there. She was no simpleton, this woman.

Abba could also not help but notice her other features as well, and, conscious of Kahana’s eyes watching his every move and expression, he allowed his eyes to swiftly rove over her appreciatively. The cloth belt that gathered her kaftan to her waist revealed more of her figure than Abba thought she may have intended. The fabric of the kaftan clung to Ayesha’s bosom, vaguely revealing the shape of her plentiful breasts. Below her slender waist, the robe draped a pair of wide feminine hips that flared outwards invitingly.

If he had thought that he was being subtle, the frank look of sexual interest in Ayesha’s eyes when they once again met his told him that Ayesha had missed nothing. She had seen his wandering eyes, and she had noted the glimmer of male approval within them. As though his surreptitious glances had triggered an increase in the vitality he had noticed earlier, Ayesha now radiated feminine vibrancy. The brief conversation that followed might have been considered dull by any other standards, but was electrified by the palpable sexual chemistry that ran between them.

Abba initially felt a vague sense of personal discomfort for allowing Ayesha’s intoxicating femininity to so overwhelm his senses. There was an element of guilt, as though his easy corruption was a betrayal of Esther’s memory. Yet he also felt ashamed that a man of his spiritual stature could still be so vulnerable to pleasures of the flesh. He reasoned that his strong reaction to Ayesha was surely because he had too long been alone, without female companionship, and the very reason that G-d had determined Man needed a female mate. But then Abba also recalled a story that had recently occurred in the Holy Land, in the wake of a family tragedy, which provided further comfort.

Abba’s master and teacher, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, or – as Abba affectionately and respectfully referred to him – Rebbi, had betrothed his son to Abba’s first cousin. However, as they were about to wed, and indeed, as they were writing the Ketubah, the bride suddenly collapsed, and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. After a period of mourning, Rebbi again tried to find a new match for his son, and found one in the daughter of Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra.

Consistent with tradition, all parties agreed that the groom would spend twelve years studying Torah before they married. However, when the bride was introduced to the groom, and he set eyes upon her for the first time, she was so beautiful that he immediately exclaimed, “let it be only six years studying Torah before we marry.” However, when he saw her for the second time, he could not contain himself and exclaimed “I cannot wait any longer. I shall marry her first, and then I’ll resume my Torah studies.”

Despite his earlier boyish enthusiasm, the young man was now ashamed to face his illustrious father. What would Rebbi think of his son’s weakness, and how easily he succumbed to his bride’s physical beauty? However, Rebbi noticed his discomfiture, and reassured him that his reaction had been nothing to be ashamed of. “After all,” Rebbi said, “you are of the same mind as your Creator! For after G-d split the Red Sea for the Israelites and drowned the Egyptians, he first said: ‘You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O Lord;’ and only then will we share ‘the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands founded.’ [2] But what happened next? Weeks later, G-d said ‘They shall make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst’ [3] – right away! Do you see, my son? G-d, too, couldn’t wait, once he caught a glimpse of his bride,” Rebbi concluded, smiling at his son kindly.

Such a permissive attitude towards lust from a man who was renown for his austerity was intriguing to some, astonishing to others, and the story spread quickly. Abba himself was even less ascetic than his teacher. Whereas Rebbi was famous for his rejection of world pleasures, Abba’s own philosophy, which he often shared with his students, was that at the end of his life man will be called to account for having deprived himself of the good things which the world offered.

Reminding himself of this story reassured Abba that his stature was in no way diminished by his appreciation for the beauty of the woman before him – particularly as he evaluated her for the purpose of marriage. At the same time, he also realized that the sexual magnetism that Ayesha exuded could not be explained by mere sexual frustration on his part; there was something about her, something in her eyes, in her soul, in the way she moved, that bespoke a free sensual spirit, and the promise of innocent, yet delicious, abandon.

Abba and Ayesha were married two months later. Given Abba’s stature, means, and the fact that this not the first marriage for either of them, they were able to greatly reduce the traditionally lengthy betrothal period. Their wedding was attending by dignitaries from far and wide; emissaries from the Holy Land, Jewish leaders of the diaspora, including the Exilarch himself, and even a representative of the royal court of Ardeshir, king of Parthia, all came to pay their respects to Abba and Ayesha on their day of joy. His children were unable to make the journey from the Holy Land; however, they each sent beautiful letters of congratulations and well-wishes, and it was clear that they took great joy in the end of their father’s loneliness. Abba’s new step-son, Kahana, was, of course, in attendance as well, beaming at both his mother’s joy and his own good fortune.


Their first night together was explosive. There was, of course, the initial awkwardness, when Abba and Ayesha found themselves alone for the first time since the wedding. She stood there, before him, small and vulnerable. Her simple wedding gown, devoid of the elaborate lace trappings that festooned the gowns of first-time brides, clung to her body, hugging its curves. Abba held out his hands, and Ayesha shyly placed her small hands in his, looking into his eyes. Abba gazed back into hers, entranced by the complexity and depth of what he saw there. Love. Infatuation. Submission. Innocence. Wisdom. Deference. Arousal. Definitely arousal.

He pulled her close to him, enveloping her in his arms. She was not a short woman, yet her head scarcely reached the top of his chest. He bent his head and pressed his mouth against her fine, dark brown hair, her uncovered hair that only now, as her husband, he was privileged to see. She shuddered at the intimate touch, and Abba marveled at her clear and unabashed sexual tension, as though every part of her was singularly focused on their forthcoming mating. He lifted his hands to her head, and began removing the pins that held her hair, freeing her tresses from their confines to cascade over her shoulders. With each stroke of her hair, each curl undone, each ringlet freed, she let out a soft feminine moan, as her own arms encircled his torso, and she pressed her cheek to his heart.

For a while they stood like that, breathing deeply. Then Ayesha gently extricated herself from Abba’s embrace, and demurely excused herself to prepare for bed. Even the way she said “bed” sent an erotic thrill through Abba, as she managed to infuse that single word will all of the promise that the evening yet held. Their fingertips lingered in each other’s for a brief moment, and then she pulled away to make her preparations.

Abba had not yet decided whether he wanted to watch Ayesha ascend the steps to the new bed, or whether he would carry her in his arms and place her in the bed himself. However, when he entered the bedchamber, he found that Ayesha was already in bed, covered with the quilt. The chamber was softly lit by the candles in the wall sconces, as well as by the additional four candles on each of the elevated bed posts. Thus it was that a soft glow fell upon Ayesha’s lovely features as Abba neared the bed.

Her dark eyes were upon him, unflinching as they followed his slow, deliberate approach. When he reached the steps to the bed, Abba paused to remove his robe. He felt her eyes on him as he loosened the sash and pulled the robe over his head. Naked, he carefully folded the robe, and placed it on the floor next to the bed. He climbed the steps slowly, his eyes on Ayesha’s, watching her watching him, as his body gradually came into her view atop the steps. He saw her eyes widen slightly when she took in her first glimpse of his manhood, fully erect and swaying heavily as he moved.

Suddenly, he found he could wait no longer. He grabbed the quilt and flung it from Ayesha, nearly extinguishing the candles with the motion. Ayesha was gloriously naked, and Abba could not resist a sharp intake of breath. Ayesha looked up at him, a look of apprehension flickering on her lovely face. She suddenly felt very exposed, her body bared before his eyes, wondering for the first time whether perhaps she had erred in not wearing her nightgown to bed. Her doubt lasted but a moment, as the hungry look in his eyes, and coarse sound of his voice as he murmured “My Ayesha” possessively, told her that Abba approved her choice of nightwear.

It was as though he sought to devour her with his gaze. His eyes first lit upon her face, her exquisite features flushed with arousal, glowing in the candlelight, her slight perspiration casting a sheen on her forehead and cheeks. Her full lips were parted, glistening where her tongue had touched them moments before, and he could see the tip of her tongue hovering just between her teeth. She had an adorable cleft just below her bottom lip, which trembled as his glance touched it.

Lower, his eyes took in her delicate chin, and then her slender neck, noting how it pulsated each time she swallowed, as she willed her body to stillness, submitting to his inspection. His gaze took in the curvature of her shoulders, and the gentle protrusion of her shoulder blades; then, forcing himself not to hurry, he followed the soft sloping of the clear skin of her chest until his eyes settled upon the most beautiful breasts that he ever had occasion to see. Full, creamy mounds of soft flesh, rippling and undulating with her every ragged breath, and each crowned with a prominent dark rose that strained upwards, as though begging for his oral attentions.

Abba could not restrain himself, and whispering hoarsely, he intoned the words of King Solomon’s timeless poem: “How fair and how pleasant you are, a love with delights! Indeed, your breasts are like clusters of dates!” [4]

Ayesha moaned lightly at Abba’s words and his reverential tone, and her thighs twitched involuntarily. The slight movement caught Abba’s attention, and he tore his eyes from her nipples to travel further down her body. He drank in the soft curves of her stomach, her tapered waist, and the wide, childbearing hips that had so intruded on his thoughts since their first encounter. And then, there, at the apex of her ample thighs, peeking out from beneath a thatch of well-tended silken curls, were her lower lips, the essence of her femininity, and the entrance to as-yet-untold treasures. They sparkled in the candlelight with the moisture of her arousal, and Abba knew that his new demure wife was also a seething and tempestuous cauldron of sexual hunger; it would be cruel to deny her any longer.

Returning to her eyes, he completed his ascent onto the bed, and moved on top of her.

“Let me climb up the palm tree, let me seize its boughs, and let your breasts be now like clusters of the vine, and the fragrance of your countenance like that of apples,” [5] he intoned once again, his voice quavering with desire as he lowered his mouth to hers.

The first contact of his lips against hers, soft and pliable, was electric. He pressed against her, his tongue darting between their lips, seeking entry into her mouth, only to find that her tongue had a similar goal of its own. They kissed desperately, their first time as though it were their last time, their passion punctuated by her soft sounds of pleasure and his masculine groans as he ravished her. Her back arched and she cried audibly into his mouth when his fingers found her sex, slick with the fluids that it could not seem to contain.

“Your palate is like the best wine, that glides down smoothly to my beloved, making the lips of the sleeping speak,” [6] he growled breathlessly, as his fingers plied her. She forced her own hands between them and clutched at his chest, scraping her fingernails against his hair. Her thighs opened and closed involuntarily as her hips bucked, desperately seeking relief.

“Oh, Abba,” she moaned, throwing her arms around his neck. “How I need you!” She pulled him to her, burying her face in his neck, inhaling his musky scent as she tried unsuccessfully to calm her body. She clenched her legs together as his hand withdrew from inside her; she suddenly sensed her own aroma, and from the light sucking sounds in her ear she knew that he was tasting her essence. She shivered at the erotic significance.

“Your taste, Ayesha,” Abba breathed. “It is intoxicating, and sweeter than any wine. Would that I could keep my glass filled with your nectar!” [7]

Then she felt him lift himself and move above her, and she knew that her own thirst was about to be slaked. She threw her thighs open wide, and reached between them to find Abba’s rigid member. Holding it tenderly in her hands, she marveled at its girth, at its smooth texture, its hard smoothness interrupted by veins pulsing with the blood of his need for her. With her palm, she cupped the large circumcised head, gently squeezing it. Then, able to contain herself no longer, she gripped the base of his erection and guided its head to her ready and waiting entrance. As he grazed her moist lips, he groaned loudly, his hardness throbbing violently in her hand.

“Oh, Ayesha…I want you.”

“Then take me, my husband,” she breathed, as she parted herself. “Fill me with you.”

At her words, Abba pressed down, grunting as much from the pleasure of penetrating her as from his exertion in holding himself back as her body adjusted to accommodate him. At one point she winced from the pain of it, and her eyes grew watery. He froze, studying her face for a sign of regret, for an indication that she wished him to stop; but she smiled up at him through her tears, and wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him into her. Her eyes widened as he sank deeper and deeper inside of her, moaning with each thrust. She set her teeth on his shoulder.

And then he was fully inside her, touching her very core. Never had she felt so full. So much of him was now her that she could not in that moment distinguish where he ended and she began. She looked up at his face, and saw that he was looking down at her, with such a burning hunger in his eyes that, had he been any man other than Abba, she might have been frightened. But he was Abba, and he was her husband, and while the rest of the world might claim him as their leader and teacher tomorrow, he was hers tonight.

It was as if he could hear her thoughts.

“Now you are mine, Ayesha,” he affirmed, breathlessly, as he pressed his groin against hers. Reflexively, she responded in kind, lifting her hips to meet his, as she moved her thighs to caress his sides. A note of wonder crept into his voice.

“Every part of you, Ayesha, is so…alive… How are you this alive, my dove?”

You give me life, my love. With you, I feel reborn.” she whispered, stroking his arms.

His hand moved to her breast, rolling her ripe nipple between his thumb and index finger. And at that moment the dam burst, and the walls that had been holding back the boiling lava bubbling inside of her came tumbling down. She threw her head back, her body trembling, her muscles clenching, and a loud, uninterrupted moan escaped her lips. Abba scarcely had a moment to witness Ayesha’s surrender to ecstasy when he reached his own climax. He reached beneath her and grabbed her buttocks; then, with a mighty groan, he shuddered, emptying himself inside of her until he was spent. Drained of all energy, they collapsed into each other.


Their post-coital bliss was interrupted by Kahana’s muffled voice.

“One would think that Father’s mouth had never swallowed food before!” he exclaimed.

Abba started, and Ayesha’s eyes flew open.

“Kahana? Where are you? Are you in here?” Extricating herself from Abba, she sat up, pulling the quilt to her to cover her breasts, and looked wildly about the room.

“I am here, mother. I sit beneath the bed.”

Ayesha’s face surged with heat, as the blood rushed to her head. Abba stroked Ayesha’s cheek soothingly, even as he shook his head lightly. Kahana must have stolen into the room before the newlywed couple, and secreted himself under the bed, behind the hangings. He sighed.

“Kahana, you must leave the room. Your presence here is not appropriate,” he chided him gently, but sternly.

“But Father, is not how a man conducts himself intimately with his wife a matter of Torah?” Kahana protested. “And is it not therefore something that I must study?”

“But I am your mother, Kahana!” Ayesha exclaimed.

“And who better should I learn such a delicate thing from than my loving mother, and my father, master and teacher?” Kahana responded softly. “Did not Rabbi Akiva himself once follow Rabbi Yehoshua into latrine to observe how one conducts himself in regards to his waste? Should marital intimacy, which is so much more vital and central to Jewish life, be neglected?”

Silence followed his words. Then Abba spoke:

“While your underlying logic is true, my son, Torah study is not accomplished by hiding beneath beds, spying upon unsuspecting actors in their intimacy.”

“And yet had you been aware of my presence, would you have permitted me to remain?” Kahana countered.

“Your point is well taken,” Abba conceded. “No, I would not have. And I forbid you from such actions in the future. You must be satisfied that you have learned all that you need to know.”

Kahana took a deep breath.

“I have learned, Father, that one should not resist the pleasures of marital intimacy, and that one should come to the bedroom hungry. However, I have also learned that the pleasure should not be a selfish one, it should be a true joining of man and wife in which both emerge satisfied. I have learned that one should not be so righteous as to be unaware of his spouse’s charms, nor should one be so scrupulous of speech as to fail to tell her of them. I have learned that one may fully invest oneself in the act of marital intimacy, and that one need not feel any shame in surrendering to it. That is what I have learned.”

“Then you have learned well, my son,” Abba confirmed. “Now go.”

There was a slight rustling of the hangings below the bed, and Kahana emerged from underneath. He stood, and without glancing behind him, he exited the room.




This story is based upon the well-known Talmudic anecdote in which Rav Kahana hides under Rav’s bed while Rav is engaged in marital relations. [8]

Who was Rav?

Rav’s real name was Abba Aricha, a great Talmudic sage, who straddled the lien of demarcation between the Tannaic Era and the Amoraic Era. According to some traditions, he was called “Aricha,” meaning “long” in Aramic, due to his unusual height. At some point in his life, Rav returned to the county of his birth, in Babylonia. According to the Talmud, upon his return, Rav found Babylonia to be a “a valley untended.” [9] Although some suggest that Rav’s departure from the Holy Land may have had to do with the fact that two generations of the Nasi and Av Beit Din – Rebbi and his son Rabbi Gamliel – both refused to confer s’micha upon Rav, it cannot be coincidental that Rav decided to return to his homeland at precisely the time that it was most in need of spiritual rejuvenation.

Rav’s Wives

Many of the details in this story depend upon a Wikipedia entry for Rav Kahana, which states that, “according to the Geonim tradition, Rav Kahana was the stepson of Abba Arika from his second wife.” I have not independently found the source for this. Assuming the truth of this statement, however, this means several things.

First, it obviously means that Rav had a first wife, whom he must either have divorced or who died. Based upon the Talmudic accounts and Rav’s own statements regarding his approach to marriage, it seems unlikely that he would have divorced her. I have taken some creative license with the details and location of her passing.

Second, it means that Rav remarried. Again, based upon the Talmudic accounts, it seems likely that his remarriage occurred later in his life, and probably in Babylonia.

Third, Rav Kahana being Rav’s stepson means that he was spying upon his step-father’s sexual play with his own mother. While it is possible that there was more than one “Rav Kahana” at the time, and conceivable that both lived in Sura, Babylonia, and that it was the other one that hid beneath the bed, such a coincidence seems highly unlikely. On the other hand, this settles many of the more logistic questions, such as how Rav Kahana was so easily able to slip into Rav’s room, and under his bed. It would also explain why the Talmud states that Rav Kahana called Rav by his first name “Abba.” Several of the commentaries are troubled by this, as surely Kahana, Rav’s student, would not be so disrespectful as to call Rav by his first name. However, if Kahana was truly Rav’s step-son, then “Abba” – which literally means “father” – may have been Kahana simply referring to Rav as his father.

In describing Rav’s wife, I attempted to accommodate both how she would likely have been popularly remembered at the time, with the Talmudic account regarding her apparently hostile attitude towards her husband. [10] That account also helps flesh out some for the chronological and substantive details of the story. For example, while it is possible that Rav Kahana would have spied on Rav with his first wife, what kind of marital intimacy did they at that point share? Would Rav’s level of sexual hunger have been as evident with a woman who was generally hostile to him? It is clear that it was his first wife who was hostile towards him, as his son, Chiya, grows up observing it, until he is old enough to do something about it. Nevertheless, I took some creative license to – at least initially – enhance Rav’s wife’s legacy.

As an aside, it appears that Rav had some coaching from his uncle Rabbi Chiya in how a husband should view even a difficult wife. Rabbi Chiya’s wife, too, aggravated him. So much so that he blessed Rav that the Merciful One should spare him “from a fate worse than death.” Nevertheless, whenever Rabbi Chiya would find something in the marketplace that his wife might like, he would wrap it up and bring it home for her. When (a much younger) Rav asked him why he would reward her when she mistreated him so, Rabbi Chiya’s response was: “It should suffice for us that they raise our children and save us from sin.” [11]

Finally, whether based upon personal experience or otherwise, it was Rav who ruled that “one should never betroth himself to a woman without having seen her; for one might subsequently discover in her a blemish because of which one might loathe her and thus transgress the commandment: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’.” [12] Rav was thus a proponent of an in-person viewing of a potential spouse, thereby ensuring that there was physical attraction.

Physical Pleasure

The discussion regarding Rav and Rebbi’s comparative approach to appreciation for physical pleasures is derived from several Talmudic passages.

The story of Rebbi’s betrothal of his son is taken directly from the Talmud itself, with little embellishment on my part. [13] Rebbi’s son was initially betrothed to the daughter of Rabbi Chiya, the brother of Aivo, Rav’s father – Rav’s first cousin. It was her tragic passing that resulted in the second betrothal. It would seem that Rebbi’s son had had good cause to be concerned that his father might have disapproved of his weakness for physical beauty. At the time of his passing, Rebbi famously “raised his ten fingers towards heaven and said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed and known to you that I have labored in the study of the Torah with my ten fingers and that I did not enjoy any worldly benefits even with my little finger.’” [14]

Conversely, Rav’s statement, recorded in the Jerusalem Talmud, was that “man will be called to account for all that his eyes saw that he did not eat.” [15] He also once instructed R’ Hamnuna, that, considering the transitory nature of human life, one should not reject the good things of this world. [16]

The Bed

It seems likely that beds as we know them were not yet in popular use in those days – particularly not beds that one could hide under. However, beds such as the one described in the story did come into use by the Romans towards the end of the Republic, and the particular style of it – the high platform reached by steps – jives well with the Talmudic account.

The Under-the-Bed Dialogue

Finally, we get to the meat of the Talmudic story itself. The Talmud relates that Kahana heard Rav speaking intimately with his wife. What kind of pillow-talk would someone such as Rav use? To me, the obvious answer was quotes from the Song of Songs, the very first erotic poem!

The level of detail in the Talmud’s account is exceedingly sparse, and it is almost certainly the case that the details of the story were deliberately omitted by the authors, who reduced it to its essential points. Thus, I have taken literary license to flesh out some of the details of the story as I imagine they may have occurred.

In the story, Kahana apparently cannot restrain himself and comments on Rav’s sexual enthusiasm. After this shocking interruption of marital intimacy, the Talmud’s account of the story is that it is Rav who asks, “Are you here?” Rav’s wife’s reaction is not recorded. Rav tells Kahana that his presence is inappropriate, and orders him to leave. Kahana retorts, “it is Torah, and I need to learn.” The Talmud accepts this statement and ends the story on this note. The context of the Talmudic discussion surrounding this story suggests that the Talmud approves sometimes unorthodox methods of learning important Torah lessons. Rabbi Akiva did indeed himself once follow Rabbi Yehoshua into latrine to observe how one conducts himself in regards to his waste; and when he was challenged, he offered the same explanation as Rav Kahana – “it is Torah, and I need to learn.” The point of the story having been made, the Talmud moves on.

From a literary point of view, however, the ending is frustratingly premature, leaving a host of real-life questions. Did Rav accept Kahana’s rejoinder? Did he ultimately agree that Kahana’s purpose was legitimate? Did Kahana ignore Rav’s order to leave? Did Rav ever respond to Kahana’s observation regarding his sexual enthusiasm? Did Ayesha speak at all?

I have attempted to address some of these questions by providing a fuller dialogue between the characters that I believe strikes an appropriate balance between Kahana’s inappropriate voyeurism, and his legitimate need to learn.

The Point

As I suggest in the story, however, the clear purpose and significance of this story cannot be understated. Sexuality is a key component of who we are, how we develop, and the relationships that we form with others. Is there any question that the Torah, which has so much to say on every other aspect of life, has sexual instruction as well? How is it that this basic and fundamental force is so frequently neglected from our education? Manners, etiquette, math, writing, a trade – these are all things that we will spend years studying and accumulating knowledge. Sex? Eh, you’ll figure it out. The Talmud challenges this attitude, recognizing that sexuality is not something that we can afford to leave to chance. And it does so in a highly provocative way – with a voyeur under the bed, with a saintly Jewish leader, and with a Jewish leader who unabashedly indulges his sexual hunger for his wife. [17]


[1] B’reishit, 2:18.

[2] Shemot, 15:17.

[3] Shemot, 25:8.

[4] Shir HaShirim, 7:7-8.

[5] Shir HaShirim, 7:9.

[6] Shir HaShirim, 7:10.

[7] This, um, is my own.

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 62a and Chagiga 5b.

[9] Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 6a.

[10] Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 63a

[11] Id.

[12] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 41a.

[13] Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 62b.

[14] Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 104a.

[15] Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 48b.

[16] Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 54a.

[17] I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that several commentaries – uncomfortable with the idea that such a great rabbi would even have sexual hunger, much less indulge it – explain that Rav was only doing and saying those things to relax his wife and to make her happy. However, both the context of Rav’s other statements, and (I admit) my own biases, make it extremely difficult to accept both: the perceived inconsistency between righteousness and robust sexuality; and the fact that a husband and wife would be on such different levels, and have such a lack of honesty and candor between them, that the husband – even one as holy as Rav – would pretend, and put on a charade, in order to satisfy his wife’s “baser needs.”