I don’t have much to say about this unusual article regarding a recent forum held by certain leaders of the modern Ortho community in Israel. I do suggest you read it and the comments that follow. People can be fairly cruel.

For example, I find it shocking and sad that 30% of Orthodox women over 30 remain unmarried, when I presume that not only as a personal matter but also as one of faith, they would very much like to be married. Many of the comment writers, and presumably most Haredi rabbis, would rather these women (and the single men who haven’t found a partner) refrain from enjoying any form of sexual activity until marriage. Maybe it’s me, but sexuality does seem to be a natural and instinctive part of who we are as human beings. Suppressing it seems quite unnatural. Perhaps those who advocate the strictest interpretations of sexual engagement between people should take the natural next step, found some monasteries and call these unmarried individuals nuns?

Is something broken in the system here?

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themiddle

751 Comments

  • The problem is that the Halacha has not been amended to catch up with recent social trends of the last 20 or 30 years. 100 years ago in the Middle East, and I guess in Eastern Europe, guys used to get married at 20 years old and younger, and women as young as 14. So at that point “saving yourself for your true love” wasn’t that hard. Even 35 years ago or so, even in North America, men marrying at 25 and women at 20 was quite normal. Again, not that difficult to control one’s natural urges for and in the hope of future wedded bliss. Now we’re at the stage where many men may not marry until 35 and women until 30, since they can’t usually provide for themselves or a family until then. And the pill has decoupled sex from pregnancy, and the society has become very tolerant of pre-marital sex, so that’s why everyone has a problem, even the Orthodox.
    I propose a radical solution- when it looks like a guy and a girl are behaving like they are contemplating having sex (it’s not that hard to tell, if their friends and family are observant), even if they’re 16 or so, encourage them to get make a formal public commitment to each other, with the clear understanding, explicitly stated that they shall use birth control and protection. Even have a formal service in the synagogue, but this would clearly be understood is not expected to be a lifelong commitment, but the guy and girl would be required to be faithful to each other, for the mutually agreed duration. This would teach a habit of loyalty. If at some point the partners decided to make a marriage commitment, then that would be fine too. One could consider this as a pre-marriage or quasi-marriage or betrothal. I know this is not an ideal solution, but what we have right now in most societies is total anarchy as far as relationships are concerned.

  • Whoa, that’s actually a really good idea. If you had made me get up in front of a synagogue with my girlfriend when I was 16 and made me make a formal public commitment in front of my friends, family and everybody else, I would have been so embarrassed I probably wouldn’t have looked at, much less touch, a girl for the next five years.

  • Look, for most non-Haredi Jews careers/status is the #1 rasion d’etre of why to wake up in the AM (I think this is very troubling, but c’est la vie). Add to this the high percentage of divorces, the stress of dual income families and children, blah, blah…and is it any wonder that Modern Ortho Jews aren’t getting married at 21?

    However, the rabbis are telling stinky lies. And they know it. It’s not that YU undergrads are playing with each other’s genitals between class, it’s that NCSY teens are doing this. So unless Modern Ortho Judaism finds a way to marry off their teens at 14, this problem/dilemma is here to stay (and the Haredim know this, and that’s why they lump Modern Ortho Judaism into the “Liberal Jewsh Stew”.)

  • The rabbis are lying, the problem isn’t YU grads playing with each other’s genitals, it’s NCSY participants doing this. You can’t ask a 24 year old to keep it in his pants, when it’s been out since 15.

  • I hope you’re joking Michael.

    But I do think that every girl should have the choice to go to the mikvah or not. I mean, really!

  • Dave…you’re cute. But I’m assuming you haven’t worked with teens. The only way…THE ONLY WAY…to ensure celibacy/non-sexual contact is to do the Hassidic shuffle i.e. at 12 you seperate ’em. Anything else will result in late night rendez-vous in the back of a 7-11.

    Just to set the record straight, I truly enjoyed my teen years (even with the ocassional beating from a Chomedy Greek). But if you’re on e of those (read: Orthodox rabbi) who’s concerned about this issue, turn to the experts, and by that I mean, Belz, Satmar, Munkatch, Skver, etc.

  • “Whoa, that’s actually a really good idea.”

    For Christians maybe, not for us. We’re talking the laws of Onan here people…spilling seed. And for a 15 year old, this can occur via a slight breeze. So turn to Belz, Satmar, Skver, and Munkatch for the only tried and tested method for keeping teens out of each other’s pants (at least with the opposite sex…DOH).

  • yea, the article was pretty interesting and i agree it is an issue that should be discussed. In response to Jewlicious’ post i would say several things.
    Sexuality is definately natural and can be beautiful but i think that the standard religious response would be something like this (and of couse im not by any mean an authority) . . . that like mnay things that are natural or instinctive sex needs to be controlled in such a way that it is not just a response and is different from just anything any animal would do. One way we do this is by treating it as one of the holiest things that we can do with another person. So, to allow premarital sex would be to make it significantly more accesible. Its known that the things that we do often are trivialized and so the way we prevent this is by regulating it in a sort of way.
    As for why not going to the “next step” and call these people nuns we should think, “b/c we dont want them to not have sex or to not be able to partake in such a holy act but rather we want them to partake in it in a way that will ultimately be worth the wait and/or sanctify it.” Something like that.

    As for Dave’s idea, i hardly think that it would ever work out. I mean come on, do you actually think that anyone would be willing to do that let alone that halakhic authority would ok it.

    But yo, definately an interesting topic. what do other think?

  • They used to have an informal version of what I was suggesting, in the days of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. It was called concubinage, which admittedly is a very politically incorrect term.

  • “As for Dave’s idea, i hardly think that it would ever work out. ”

    Oh it would…it would. It would serve as an aphrodiasaic to encourage teens to get all deviant and shit. Ever tell a typical 15 year old not to do something (with no really, REALLY good reason)? It’s like dangling a bag of crack vials in front of an addict and saying: “Please don’t”.

  • Wait, how are we like animals again? If somebody wants to have some form of sex (I’m not even sure it’s intercourse we’re talking about here) and doesn’t wait until they’re 32 years old with no strong prospects of marriage, they’re like animals?

    edit: Shtreimel, apologies about the delayed posts but this topic contains a lot of the words in the spam filter. Try not to say lesbian or pregnant sex too many times. 😆

  • “nd doesn’t wait until they’re 32 years old with no strong prospects of marriage, they’re like animals?”

    No, but they’re breaking the laws of Onan (punishable by death I believe). And this is what concerns the rabbis. Remember, for Modern Orthodox Jews to remain Orthodox, they must take this seriously. Hell, it’s those bloody NCSY conventions that contribute to much of this “speed spillin'”

  • Heh heh, what I meant to type was “seed” not “speed”. But when you’re a teenage boy, speed does tend to be a problem. Ok, enough…enough.

  • Brilliant TM, brilliant.

    Funny, because every grade 8 Bialik/Hertz kid can’t wait for the garde 9 Israel trip. Especially if they had older siblings who went on that trip. They’ve heard the rumors.

  • That is a radical solution, and I think it shows really creative, innovative thinking. But I’ve got mixed feelings on it.

    I think that Judaism does need to acknowledge that things now are not the same as what was. That’s (in a different way) what I understood the takkanah of Rabbenu Gershom was about, saying yes, there was polygamy in the past, but it’s not right for us today. I think that kind of thinking is lacking in general in Orthodox circles, even modern ones. (Don’t even get me started on tefilah.)

    Ultimately, while sex between consulting adults (not 16-year-olds in frum communities) is between two people (and one could argue, Omniscient Voyeur Guy), to create some sort of “Jew It Before You Do It” ritual to publicly commemorate or sanctify this kind of a personal, private act seems very untznius (immodest) to me. Why not just invite the shul to the deflowering? Sponsor a kiddush? Buy a plaque to commemorate the event?

    That said, I’m not against ceremonies and sanctifications that involve halakhah, mikvah, even tefilah. But I think that any such event should be between the two parties doing the, um, partying. If I wanted my community in my bedroom, I’d live in the synagogue social hall. (Although, I do wonder what the rent’s like there.)

    And I’m with Dina on the mikvah thing. That a single woman who’s sexually active should be receiving a “God Forbid” when she asks to visit the mikvah is appalling. And perhaps, if mikvah had been more of a part of Jewish education (say, as part of bat mitzvah preparations), it might be viewed with less contempt now by women who find it impossible to accept an impurity that restricts us from receiving any comforting touch from the significant others we have waited so long to find.

  • Esther,

    You’d love the Conservative Movement. They believe very much in this:
    “I think that Judaism does need to acknowledge that things now are not the same as what was.”
    As David Schnarch (wonderful, incredible marital/family therapist) states about marital affairs:
    “It may be normal, but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy”

  • Perhaps somebody needs to sponsor mikvahs that are open to unmarried women?

    By the way, the idea of this special ceremony at 16 is a great way to cost Jewish parents even more money to raise their children and would be a great boon to caterers, florists, cheesy bands, jewellers and bakers (“we make the best “Age of Consent” cakes in town! Show your beloved how much you love her…before you love her!”)

  • TM,

    What great t-shirts these would be, here’s yours:
    “Show your beloved how much you love her…before you love her!”

    Mine:
    “The really, REALLY Sweet 16”

  • Y’know, the mikvah thing’s so annoying! I don’t have a single friend who is or was always shomer/shomeret (and I’m Orthodox) and even if you’re not actually having sex–any form of anything needs a woman to have gone to the mikvah.

  • As a point of fact, I love all Jews and love Judaism. But I do not, in general, love movements. I’ve worked at the flagship institutions of two out of three major movements, and nothing seems to fit. I flirt with the term Conservadox, but that’s not really it either.

    And I acknowledge that many of the sexual choices that people make today aren’t necessarily emotionally or physically healthy ones. I’m not saying we necessarily need embrace all that has changed about society, just that we understand when people make other choices.

  • Even though you all think my proposal if a joke, what do you have to propose, ha ha?! Having been celibate (for religious reasons) for extended periods of my adult life, I know what I am talking about.

  • Dave, I actually think your idea has some merit. It’s just that it would become the post bar mitzvah bar mitzvah celebration (“Hey, did Josh hook up with Lara, nudge nudge wink wink”). I think 16 is too young, but realistic.

  • “just that we understand when people make other choices.”

    WE need to understand why WE are making these choices. Why, for example, are so many Vancouver Jews (over the age of 35) still single? Is it because they’re happier that way (doubt it. whenever a shrink comes to the JCC to discuss intimacy, marriage, etc., the room is packed, packed, packed)? Confused? Not sure what they want? Regardless, I believe we should work on ourselves before we ask our tradition to bend towards our vices and desires.

  • “Note to self: Visit Vancouver.”

    Seriously, I’m not sure the reason that men and women in their thirties and forties are single is because they’d rather be companionless. Sure, some of them are a little loosey goosey about commitment, or giving up their Warren Beatty bachelor lives for one woman. But others haven’t found the right person.

    And an interesting note. Dina and I are the only two women who’ve weighed in on this thread thus far. And in the JPost article, of the ten talkback comments, only one is a woman, and her name doesn’t sound all that Jewish to me. Where are the women?

  • This woman is disturbed enough by the lack of sex ed in school (and the lack of sex ed received myself) that I really can’t think about this without being really angry.
    I won’t teach my kids that. I will teach my kids personal responsibility about sex and that involves secular sex ed and Jewish Ortho sex ed. To be 80’s cliche “knowledge is power.”

    The gossipy aspect of Mikvahs has always distrubed me. I’d love to see it ended.

  • “But others haven’t found the right person.”

    If you take all the single people, and all the divorced people, how many people do we have left that have “found the right person”. Very, very few. In other words, or in the words of Schnarch: “Nobody is ready for marriage, marriage makes you ready for marriage”.

    A very Jewish concept, no? BTW, if I sound like I’m preaching it’s because I too worry about the very things that I’m critical of.

    BTW Esther, read some of your site, you’re a talented writer.