The Torah is not prudish. Nevertheless, the biblical stories in which sexual relations play a central role (e.g., Lot and his daughters – Genesis 19:30-38, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife – Genesis 39, etc) are all narrated with the utmost discretion. Subtle as they may be, the euphemisms in the Torah provide valuable lessons.

“And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she became pregnant…” (Genesis 4:1). The biblical term used for conjugal relations between husband and wife is the same as the word for knowledge. This is more than a modest way of referring to a private act. It is, in fact, a lesson about the full relationship that should exist between husband and wife. Marital relations are meant to be about more than procreation or physical pleasure, they should be an expression of the complete relationship between husband and wife. The use of the verb “to know” emphasizes the Divine description of marriage in Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (2:24).

Another prominent biblical euphemism is to be found in the expression “uncover the nakedness,” which is found over 30 times in Leviticus 18 and 20. The first statement is a general overview of the law: “None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness” (Leviticus 18:6). Almost every other use of the phrase specifies the term “near of kin” and records the Torah’s prohibition of incest. The phrase “uncover the nakedness” reveals a deeper concept: the importance of respecting the impact of the natural physical attractions between men and women, which Jewish life channels through its positive focus on modesty.

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