[Milton-L] PL and the sabbath, etc.

Jeffrey Shoulson jshoulson at miami.edu
Tue Dec 21 10:11:29 EST 2004

On Dec 21, 2004, at 12:47 AM, Dan Knauss wrote:
> I can't remember where I heard this, but supposedly sex on the Sabbath
> was/is encouraged among Jews.

What Dan Knauss is having trouble remembering is slightly more complex 
than this:
In the talmudic discussion of marital obligations in Tractate Ketuboth 
(the tractate that deals with the marriage contract), the rabbis state 
that a husband is required to provide three things to his wife:  
sustenance (she'er), shelter (k'suth--both clothing and a home), and 
sexual satisfaction ('onah).
Not content with this simple formulation, the rabbis then go on to try 
to quantify all three of these items.  In their analysis of sexual 
satisfaction (presumably since the rabbis were all men and didn't 
consult with any women!) they chose to delineate the obligation in 
terms of quantity, rather than quality, reducing the question to how 
many times a husband should have sexual relations with his wife.
Again, not content with a single simple answer, the rabbis concluded 
that this number varied by the husband's profession.  The following are 
some of the minima.  A sailor, who could be expected to be away from 
home for months at a time, was obliged only once every six months.  A 
man of wealth and leisure who didn't work for a living was obligated 
every day (except, of course, when his wife was deemed ritually impure 
because of her menstrual cycle).  Rabbis were obligated to have sex 
with their wives once a week; and since the Sabbath was the day of 
rest, the most appropriate evening in which to fulfill this obligation 
was deemed to be Friday night.
Rabbinic literature and Jewish liturgy often speak of "oneg Shabbat," 
the delight or pleasure of the Sabbath.  A good meal, a good nap, 
and--ahem--a good lay are all elements of this delight.

Thanks, by the way, to Professors Herman and Di Cesare for their very 
important comments about the impossibility of polarizing the biblical 
and the classical in Milton's writings.  This is an aspect of Milton's 
poetry from the very beginning.  The Nativity Ode may insist on a 
silencing of the pagan oracles and a banishing of the pagan gods with 
the birth of Christ, but inevitably they return "in order serviceable," 
there to do the bidding of a poet more than willing to mine Egyptian 

Jeffrey Shoulson

Jeffrey S. Shoulson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of English
Director, Program in Judaic Studies
Fellow, Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies
University of Miami
5202 University Drive
105 Merrick Building, Rm. 109
Coral Gables, FL 33124

o: 305.284.8180
f: 305.284.8190
m: 305.742.6973


“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more 
and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and 
glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's 
desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright 

                                --HL Mencken

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