Kedushah (holiness) developed as a pietistic ideal for the virtuous few, encouraging married men to limit to the minimum the frequency and modes of sexual intercourse with their wives. Today, the hasidic groups of Gur, Slonim, and Toledot Aharon (Toldes Aaron) radicalize this ideal by imposing it on the community as a whole. Gur’s version is the most restrictive and the only one formalized as a set of ordinances (takunes), while Toldes Aaron’s version is the most lenient.
The radical kedushah norms have given rise to controversy and dissent. Prominent rabbis have argued that they were at odds with the halakhah, offensive to women, and harmful to men, while marriage guides within the Gur community have debated their rigidity and universal applicability. The hasidic Rebbes themselves are reticent about the topic, addressing it only in unpublished homilies and personal letters, from which excerpts appear in print for the first time in the present paper.
The rise of these kedushah norms in modern Hasidism should be attributed to (a) the inherent hasidic quest for spiritual renewal, which has generated a range of “mysticism substitutes”; (b) resistance to modern “promiscuity”; (c) the historical legacies of these particular hasidic groups, which they strove to revive after the Holocaust by generating new spiritual energies that would attract “virtuous” young men to their ranks. One of the ways to achieve this was to renew the old battle against the traditional enemy—the sexual drive.