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First, sorry to rehash this old canard.

Second, I'm aware this topic has been addressed here: Origin of myth about the hole in the sheet?

However, that addresses R' Yose ben Chalafta's behaviour, and I've since wondered if the 'handbreadth' story of Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos can also be considered to have contributed more to the claims due to the 'handbreadth' terminology, such as Question 11.2.2 here: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/05-Worship/

This seems backed up by Shulem Deen's memoir - https://images.shulcloud.com/13691/uploads/MaritalIntimacyZoomExhibit2-EliezerKaroandGer.pdf

Plus some new accounts specifically about the Ger/Gur community have come to light from Sarah Einfeld (although it mentions that it is 'probably practiced by no more than a small minority'): https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/the-kedushah-crisis https://www.jstor.org/stable/24709805

It also seems more likely than 'gentiles saw tallit katan drying and thought they were sex sheets' (or at least seems like it would have added to it).

Can anyone confirm if the 'handbreadth' recommendation is indeed taken seriously/literally by any Hasidim, despite most authorities promoting nakedness and 'closeness of flesh' for sex? There are some groups I definitely wouldn't put it past, including cultic offshoots like Lev Tahor.

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In general people don't talk about this kind of thing very much. But many years ago I became pretty close with a bona fide Breslov chasid (not the Na Nach kind) and he told me that was basically his practice. He did not say it as if that was a halakhah psukah promulgated by all his rebbeim, but he did make it sound like it was a normal practice. When I asked about the gemara in ketuvot 48a he said that halakhah only applies if the woman is unhappy with that arrangement. He did not describe anything nearly as extreme as what your articles describe and from what I saw he and his wife seemed to have a loving relationship and didn't do any of the stuff described in your links about not talking or walking together etc.

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  • Thankyou. I suppose it might also apply solely to the actual intercourse and not to foreplay, much like the no-light/blanket rule... which might also have contributed. I understand why this kind of thing is not talked about much, of course. I just always found the 'tallit katan mistaken' reasoning unsatisfactory, and combined with the articles above, plus reading Naomi Ragen's work, I found the whole concept a bit too likely to simply brush aside as a myth, as most do - Especially when they only seem to discuss the Ketuvot 48a as a catch-all and not cases like Eliezer ben Horkanos.
    – ANH
    Apr 11, 2023 at 1:17
  • I agree with you that (1) the talit katin theory doesn't seem very convincing and (2) a lot of apologetic coverage of the subject ignores Nedarim 20a and other legitimate ascetic strains in the halakhic tradition. Still, at the end of the day, I think the "hole in the sheet" is probably just a pure fabrication based on the belief that Jews are extreme and modest rather than having any basis in reality--sometimes urban legends are just made up.
    – Avraham
    Apr 24, 2023 at 22:06
  • Oh yes, I'm sure the specific idea of actually having sex through a hole in a sheet is fabrication (good pun there).With so much writing on modest sex (both Talmudic and modern accounts like above), I felt that at some point, some extreme Jews somewhere would go with the ruling of having the most ascetic sex they could, which would ultimately result in something like the handsbreadth practice. It may not be a sheet, but the ultimate effect is still pretty much the same - Sex with minimised uncovering (even without the usual 'do it in the dark or under a blanket' recommendation).
    – ANH
    Apr 25, 2023 at 21:20

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