Keeping the Light by Rabba Claudia Marbach

December 12, 2018

Hanukkah has come and gone but the darkest days of winter are still ahead. Although one cannot schedule miracles, I sometimes wish that Hanukkah would fall in late January. I need an infusion of light, hope and miracles when winter has dragged on and the white snow has turned grey. How do we hold on to the light for the rest of winter? How do we contain within us the closeness to God symbolized by those little, yet miraculous, lights?

One way is to cultivate the light within. Mishlei 20:27 tells us

נֵר ה’ נִשְׁמַת אָדָם חֹפֵשׂ כָּל־חַדְרֵי־בָטֶן׃  

The candle of God is the soul of a person, revealing all his inmost parts.

The Sefat Emet uses this pasuk to connect the lights of Hanukkah to the candle used to search for chametz before Pesach. (I know that it’s a bit early to think about Pesach, but bear with me!)

Before Pesach we use a candle to search for hidden chametz. The Sefat Emet likens chametz to sins – things we want to expunge. So too, he suggests, we should use the candles on Hanukkah to look for what is hidden and not wanted. He says that when it is dark we need the light even more than usual. While we think of Hanukkah as a  time when we spread the light from inside to outside. By connecting those lights to the search for chametz, the Sefat Emet, urges us to use the lights to inspect the internal, and to illuminate any darkness that we may find there. What should that inspection look like? The Sefat Emet notes that Ner (candle) can be read as an acronym for nefesh + ruach (spirit + soul). We should examine our nefesh and ruach. Three months on, let us reexamine our Rosh Hashanah resolutions and rededicate ourselves to those resolutions. Let us look to the health of our nefesh + ruach. We can use the candles to look internally and carry the light of the Hanukkah candles through the winter.  

After Hanukkah we quickly transition to the fast of Asarah b’Tevet. How strange that we celebrate the dedication of the Temple and only a week later we be thrust into mourning for that same Temple. But those two truths are fundamental to us as Rabbinic Jews. We mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Yet that destruction was the direct precursor to the rabbinic revolution that made Judaism what it is today—and has us celebrate Hanukkah as a rededication holiday and not a military victory. With the loss of the Beit HaMikdash and subsequent exile, we came to reinterpret the pasuk

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם׃ (Exodus 25:8)

 And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

The substitution of the Mikdash became the synagogue. Rav Chaim of Volozhin, in Nefesh haChaim 1:4, said further that God hinted that  

שממנו תראו וכן תעשו אתם את עצמיכם שתהיו אתם במעשיכם הרצויים כתבנית המשכן וכליו. כולם קדושים ראוים ומוכנים להשרות שכינתי בתוככם ממש

That you should know that the purpose of my desire in building the Mishkan … that you should see and then you should create for yourselves with the blueprint of the Mishkan. That you are all holy and can facilitate My truly ‘living within you’.

Rav Chaim says that we carry that Mishkan with us. Another way to keep the lights of Hanukkah burning is to take the memory of the Ner Tamid that shone in the Temple and relight it within us. What does it mean to make a Mikdash inside of ourselves? Surely to make our lives more holy, to dedicate ourselves to our relationship with God — keeping our  inner Mishkan well lit.

Placing the Hanukkah lights to face outward is an essential part of the mitzvah. How do we light up the outside world?  Yeshayahu 58:10 gives us direction on how to spread the light beyond ourselves:

תָפֵק לָרָעֵב נַפְשֶׁךָ וְנֶפֶשׁ נַעֲנָה תַּשְׂבִּיעַ וְזָרַח בַּחֹשֶׁךְ אוֹרֶךָ וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם

And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday…

Yeshayahu says that our lights will shine brighter when we help others who are hungry or afflicted. Like the pirsuma d’nissa of Hanukkah, acts of chesed are a way of spreading the light. The light of one flame is not diminished when it is used to light another. With all the suffering in the world it seems incumbent upon us to share our light.

During the long months of winter to come, we can continue to think about how we all can keep the Hanukkah  lights shining. Let’s keep alive the lights of introspection, holiness and mitzvot and good deeds, within ourselves, our communities and the world around us.

 

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Giving a Voice to the Silenced: #MeToo One Year Later; By – Rabba Claudia Marbach

October 29, 2018

The MeToo movement is a year old, but the abuse of women is much older. Bereshit provides numerous examples of women in uncomfortable sexual situations. As usual, the Torah does not reveal  the interior experience of its characters, so the midrash comes to fill that gap.

When Sarai is taken into the palace of Pharaoh, the Torah tells us only וַתֻּקַּ֥ח הָאִשָּׁ֖ה בֵּ֥ית פַּרְעֹֽה׃the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s palace (Gen. 12:15). The midrash, in contrast, acknowledges her anguish and her sense of abandonment and violation:

אף היא אמרה רבונו של עולם אברהם בא עמך בהבטחה, מפני שאמרת לו ואברכה מברכיך (בראשית יב ג), ולא הייתי יודעת כלום, אלא כיון שאמר לי שאמרת לו לך לך, האמנתי לדבריך, ועכשיו נשארתי יחידה מאבי ומאמי ומבעלי, יבא רשע זה ויתעולל בי, עשה למען שמך הגדול, ולמען בטחוננו בדבריך!

Sarai, cried out, saying: “Master of the Universe! when I heard from Abraham that You had told him, ‘Go forth,’ I believed in what You said. Now I remain alone, apart from my father, my mother, and my husband. Will this wicked one come and abuse me? Act for Your great name, and for my trust in Your words. (Tanhuma, Lekh Lekha 8).

In the midst of Sarai’s MeToo experience, she calls out to God with righteous indignation. The events that had led her to this moment were not of her own making; God had made a pact with Avraham to which she was at best a passive participant. Now, she demands, it is God’s job to make things right. The outcome is reported in the Torah:

וַיְנַגַּ֨ע ה’ אֶת־פַּרְעֹ֛ה נְגָעִ֥ים גְּדֹלִ֖ים וְאֶת־בֵּית֑וֹ עַל־דְּבַ֥ר שָׂרַ֖י אֵ֥שֶׁת אַבְרָֽם׃

But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his household with mighty plagues on account (of the words) of Sarai, the wife of Abram. (Gen. 12:17)

The midrash thus reads Pharoah’s affliction by God as the direct result of Sarai’s demands. The midrashist continues:

אמר לה הקב”ה, חייך אין דבר רע נוגע ביך, שנאמר לא יאונה לצדיק כל און ורשעים מלאו רע (משלי י:כא), ופרעה וביתו אעשה בהן דוגמא

And God said to her, “By your life nothing bad will touch you, as it says ‘No harm befalls the righteous, But the wicked have their fill of misfortune.’(Proverbs 10:21) I will make an example of Pharaoh and his household.

How contemporary it seems that the midrash not only seeks to punish Pharaoh but to publicize his misdeeds. Yet while Sarai was being threatened within the palace, a place with many people, no one answered  her cries — or perhaps they chose to ignore them, out of fear or indifference.

Then, as now, one of the hardest questions was to determine whether consent had been given. If in the field, the Torah tells us (Deut. 22:23-26), consent is presumed not to have been given because if a woman called out she would not have been heard. The clear implication is that a woman who does not cry out must have consented.

Commenting on this pasuk, the Chizkuni (13th century France) doubts this implication, and recognizes a different possibility:

אילו צעקה לא היה אדם מושיעה והיתה יראה פן יהרגנה. אם כן ספק הוא לן אם נתרצית אם לאו ומספק אין להרגה דספק נפשות להקל.

If she had cried out no one would save her and she would fear for her life. Therefore, whenever there exists doubt about the victim of a rape having consented tacitly, no court will punish her.  

Sounding very modern, the Chizkuni recognizes, psychologically, that silence does not constitute consent. But he does not extend his reasoning to the case of the city. The  presumption of the Torah is that when one cries out in a city one will be heard and saved. Today, though, city life seems more isolated and private than the cheek-by-jowl existence of ancient times. Our city spaces can be inaccessible,more like the field of old, and in them, voices are not necessarily heard.

The MeToo movement is giving volume to silenced voices. The Torah instructs us to listen to those with no voice — the stranger, the widow and the orphan — and to address injustice. Just as God listened to Sarai, we should strive to listen carefully not only to what is said, but also to what is unsaid and unable to be said.

 


Religious Materialism continued…by Elana Stein Hain

October 8, 2018

In my first post,(here) I asserted the religious value of an upscale Jewish lifestyle.* But this approach raises significant challenges. I would like to outline some challenges here by focusing on questions rather than on answers.

While we often encourage engagement in Jewish life for ulterior motives because it may lead to genuine commitment (mi-tokh she-lo lishmah ba lishmah) in this context we must be wary of the reverse: that what begins as genuine commitment may become vacuous.  What I mean is that the very construction of our Jewish lives may become more about the medium than the message: beautiful shuls, high end schools, fine kosher restaurants.  And being seen in our beautiful shuls, high end schools and fine kosher restaurants.

How can we prevent this from happening, and where this is already happening, how can we change course? I would ask us to consider two sets of questions.

For the first, let’s reach back to Yom Kippur. The Gemara in Yoma 35b relays an incident involving a kohen gadol’s expensive Yom Kippur garb:

אמרו עליו על ר’ אלעזר בן חרסום שעשתה לו אמו כתונת משתי ריבוא ולא הניחוהו אחיו הכהנים ללובשה מפני שנראה כערום

They said of R. Eleazar ben arsom that his mother made him a tunic worth 20,000 minas. But his fellow priests would not let him wear it because [it was so transparent that] he looked naked.

His clothing was immodest, literally and metaphorically.

When does our use of wealth in Jewish life become immodest, more about exposing what we have than about fulfilling religious duty? Avoiding this pitfall means asking honest questions about spending: How much is too much? When does abundance become its own religion, with hiddur mitzvah (beautification of commandments) giving way to naked indulgence? Moreover, if a kosher version seems to always be available, what happens when there is not kosher version, and one must choose between halakhah and material gain or comfort, as in the case of business ethics, for example?

Vigilance about this also means introspection about our religious focus: How often do we discuss spirituality or what and why we believe, with our children and amongst ourselves? Do we do this enough in our homes, or do we leave such conversations too often to outside providers in shul or in school?

For the second set of questions, we return to R. Elazar ben Ḥarsom, who the rabbis depict quite differently outside of the Mikdash:

אמרו עליו על רבי אלעזר בן חרסום שהניח לו אביו אלף עיירות ביבשה וכנגדן אלף ספינות בים ובכל יום ויום נוטל נאד של קמח על כתיפו ומהלך מעיר לעיר וממדינה למדינה ללמוד תורה פעם אחת מצאוהו עבדיו ועשו בו אנגריא אמר להן בבקשה מכם הניחוני ואלך ללמוד תורה אמרו לו חיי רבי אלעזר בן חרסום שאין מניחין אותך

They said of R. Eleazar ben arsom that his father left him an inheritance of 1,000 villages on land and, correspondingly, 1,000 ships at sea. And every day he takes a leather jug of flour on his shoulder and walks from city to city and from state to state to study Torah [from the Torah scholars in each of those places]. Once, his servants found him, did not recognize him, and pressed him into service for the master of the estate. He said to them: I beseech you; let me be and I will go study Torah. They said: We swear by the life of R. Eleazar ben arsom that we will not let you be.

Here, R. Eleazar ben Harsom represents a different extreme. He leaves his wealth to others for the sake of study Torah. In the process, he gets a taste from his own servants of what his life would be like if he was actually underprivileged: pressed into service to ensure someone else’s wealth. Ultimately, he is immune to such problems because of who he really is.

This element of the portrayal raises questions for us that are typical of any upper middle class community: Given the available communal resources, how might we (continue to) relate to the problems of those less financially fortunate and the vulnerable? To be sure, we aim to provide for those in need in our communities in both America and Israel through tzedakah, charity. Moreover, in context of the religious spending mentioned above, many provide housing and invitations for guests to partake along with them.

But how might we also work towards systemic change to make Jewish life more affordable and/or to reduce obstacles to self-sufficiency?** Moreover, how might we consider the urgency of these issues with respect to people outside of the Jewish community, given our need to prioritize our own? And in this polarized political moment, can we consider this deeply religious question in a non-partisan way?

These questions are not meant to be quickly asked and answered, raised and resolved. We must continually resurface them for reflection and discussion.

*I also asserted the religious value of a more tempered Jewish lifestyle. I will return to that topic in a future post.
**See Dyonna Ginsburg, “Re-Anchoring Universalism to Particularism: The Potential Contribution of Orthodoxy to the Pursuit of Tikkun Olam,” Ed. Shmuel Hain, The Next Generation of Modern Orthodoxy (2012) who differentiates between tzedakah as technical charity and tzedek as systemic change.

Centering – By: Rabba Claudia Marbach

September 17, 2018

As the holiday season comes around again, I have been thinking about centering.

As a part-time potter, I spent this past summer with my hands covered with beautiful white porcelain clay. It is smooth, pure and notoriously finicky. Any wheel-thrown object begins with the challenge of centering the clay on the wheel. This may sound and look simple, but it is not. If the wheel is going too fast, the clay will fly off the wheel. If the wheel is too slow, the clay can torque and kink and no amount of pressure will get it centered again.

The muscle memory of where my hands should be and how much pressure to apply is critical. But even more important is my mental state. If I am anxious or distracted or angry, the clay will refuse to be centered. As one potter said: “Try to bully the clay with strength, not stillness, and it turns into a guided missile rather than a bowl.” Sometimes there are days when I am so distracted or stressed that I have to step away from the clay altogether. Other days I close my eyes and just feel the clay into center.

So in order to center I have to bring myself into center. In this moment in history, centering is a very hard project. The phone pings, emails come in, ads for this and that. Too much to do, too much to read, too much to care about, too much to be angry about, too much distraction. All the “too much” makes it hard to find the center. If I can’t find the center then it is too hard to do the creative work of making the bowl – or too hard pray in any meaningful way – not to mention creating a thoughtful, intentional life. I can just go round and round and then spin out of control.

But when I do get the clay to center, I take a breath and decide upon a form. A moment of choice.  Rabbi Abraham Twerski said that teshuva is about learning to take a breath before acting. In that moment of breath we choose our next act. A bowl, pitcher or plate? Be kinder? Listen before reacting? Forgive? As Mary Oliver asked in her poem The Summer Day: “What will you do with this one wild and precious life?”

Once centered we can begin to be creative, in imitation of  God. We can really be alive. As MC Richards says in her book Centering, “”The centering experience is an experience in the soul, whether we get it primarily through hands or eyes or imagination, and this is its compelling strategy. When we are on center, we experience reality in depth rather than in partition.”(p. 53)

My favorite metaphor of the Yamim Noraim, you won’t be surprised to hear, reads:

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר  

בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר

כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ חֶסֶד נוֹצֵר

לַבְּרִית הַבֵּטוְאַל תֵּפֶן  לַיֵּצֶר

Like clay in the potter’s hands

expanded or contracted at will

So are we in Your hand, Creator of kindness.

Look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser/evil inclination.

The paytan asserts that God has the power to form and shape us and our future. God is the Yotzer or Creator, fashioning us from clay.  Just as we attempt to center ourselves and ignore our own inner critical voices we ask God to do the same in judging us.  We hope that God filters out the noise, listening and looking at us truly. As God says in Bamidbar 14:20:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה’ סָלַ֖חְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶֽךָ׃ And the LORD said, “I pardon, as you have asked.”

The Yamim Noraim are a time to look for the center. Amidst the noise in our lives, we are asked to put everything aside and look inward and take stock of ourselves. What have we done with our one wild and precious life? How can we make it right? How, like God, can we do that with chessed – loving -kindness – both towards ourselves and other? May you be blessed with finding your center year, more often than not. G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

 


On Religious Materialism…Part I By Dr. Elana Stein Hain

September 12, 2018

It is no secret that Modern Orthodoxy has a money problem. Beyond Shabbos table anecdotes, the September 2017, Nishma survey listed the cost of Jewish schooling (1), the cost of maintaining an Orthodox home (4), people being dishonest in business (5), and the adequacy of funds to meet community needs (10) among the “top ten issues that are perceived as problems facing the modern Orthodox community.” As we begin another year of paying for school, shul, meals, festive clothing, ritual objects, etc., etc., I want to share a few thoughts about religious materialism, that is, the way we spend money on religion. Consider it a more expansive version of hiddur mitzvah (beautification of mitzvot). It is not only about the cost of a shofar or a sukkah, but the costs of this religious lifestyle overall. This post will be part 1 in a series.

Usually the question posed is: How can we make Orthodox life less expensive? But I think this misses the fact that for many, having a beautiful shul (which costs money) and an impressive school (which costs money) is not a deterrent from the Orthodox life, but makes it more compelling. Who wants their child’s Orthodox day school experience to be inferior to what they could get elsewhere? Who wants their car to be nicer than their shul?

This is exactly the point that Etan Diamond makes about why Orthodox Judaism thrived in the suburbs in the mid-20th century. In his book “And I Will Dwell in Their Midst: Orthodox Jews in Suburbia,” he asserts that religious materialism played an important role (alongside the day school movement, in fact). As Orthodox Jews became more upwardly mobile, their Jewish lives had to keep up with the rest of their standards of living to be compelling. Consequently, shuls changed from the shteibel model to a more upscale, suburban look and feel: the types of place someone in the upper middle class would want to be. Likewise, kosher food and establishments began to compete with non-kosher luxury experiences to be “subtly attractive to the modern world.”

Given this possibility, I think the question should change: How can we keep Orthodoxy attractive to the whole community, given that for some it needs to be less expensive to be attractive (=possible) and for some it needs to be more expensive to be attractive (=compelling), whether people admit so or not)?  To be sure, there is what to talk about in terms of the dangers of excessive materialism generally, and we’ll get to that in another post. But right now, let’s recognize descriptively that different lifestyles are simply a fact in our communities.

To set the groundwork for addressing this issue, I turn to the Gemara in Menaḥot 89a, where Chazal recognize both spending and saving as Torah values:

שלשה ומחצה למנורה חצי לוג לכל נר:  מנא הני מילי דתנו רבנן (שמות כז) מערב עד בקר תן לה מדתה שתהא דולקת והולכת מערב עד בקר…ושיערו חכמים חצי לוג מאורתא ועד צפרא איכא דאמרי מלמעלה למטה שיערו ואיכא דאמרי ממטה למעלה שיערו מאן דאמר ממטה למעלה שיערו התורה חסה על ממונן של ישראל ומאן דאמר ממעלה למטה שיערו אין עניות במקום עשירות

I’m paraphrasing to clarity: The menorah in the Beit HaMikdash needed 3.5 log of oil, half a log in each of its seven cups. This was the amount needed for it to burn overnight. Per rabbinic understanding of Shemot (Exodus) 27:21, the menorah should have enough oil to burn from evening until morning. The sugya continues with a debate over how people calculated the quantity of oil needed to burn overnight. Did they start with more oil than needed, and decrease as they experimented and saw that less was needed? Did they start with only a little and increase as they saw that more was needed? Each side of the debate has its own logic. Those who assert that they started with less and increased the oil relies on the principle that “the Torah protects the money (=possessions) of Israel.” Those who assert the opposite rely on a principle which is evoked in the rabbinic literature only in context of the Mikdash: “There should be no indication of poverty in a place of wealth.” In other words, the Mikdash is a place meant to evoke abundance, largesse. Trying to save money in its functioning seems cheap.

Both spending and saving are valued here as religious principles. On the one hand, religious life should express abundance, a willingness to use our resources in service of God. On the other hand, the Torah itself expresses concern for protecting the hard-earned money of the worshippers. It is not that those who have less to spend should be viewed as cheap or somehow missing the mark. Their decisions reflect a different religious value. How should we mediate between these two approaches? This will be of Part II, my next blog post on religious materialism. In the meantime, כתיבה וחתימה טובה!

 


Book Review: “Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed”

March 14, 2016

(The following guest review article does not constitute an approbation of the book by the editors of Morethodoxy.)

A Book Review by Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Rafi Ostroff

“Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed” An Outline, Analysis and Candid Discussion By Yaakov Shapiro

A collaborative review by:

Talli Rosenbaum,  Individual and couples therapist and certified sex therapist Academic advisor – The Yahel Center http://tallirosenbaum.com/

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, Founder of the Yahel Center www.facebook.com/JewishIntimacy

“Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion in the Marital Bed” is the cleverly chosen title of a new book recently self-published by Yaakov Shapiro. It is the first volume in a promised series of more books by Shapiro about sexuality and Jewish law, which are the result of the author’s self-described search for a “balanced approach in Torah.” The author’s website which includes videos of his shiurim can be found at sexualityandjewishlaw.com.

Shapiro’s biography describes him as having experienced the pluralistic gamut of Judaism, as he was born into a Conservative family that returned to Jewish observance in his youth. He was subsequently schooled, and at various times identified, as modern Orthodox, Lithuanian-Charedi and Chasidic Chabad. He earned rabbinic ordination through the Chabad system.  Regardless of his social identity within the various streams of Jewish life today, Shapiro is clearly a Torah scholar.

The author appears to have set several goals in writing this book. In comprehensively examining nearly every Jewish textual source referring to marital sex, Shapiro sets out to challenge the accepted consensus of what is halachically sanctioned in the bedroom between married couples. Moreover, he sets out, and succeeds in offering a historical perspective as to how rabbinic attitudes about sex have changed over the generations. Finally, the author admits as well to a personal objective.

Like many young Orthodox men, Shapiro reports receiving sexually restrictive premarital education as a groom and fundamental sex-positive rabbinic opinions were ignored, dismissed or distorted. He subsequently researched extensive modern-day Orthodox “family purity” and marital intimacy literature. These he found to overwhelmingly emphasize that when it comes to sex, only one path is that of the righteous and anything “out of the norm” is regarded as spiritually or physically deviant. Furthermore, he suggests that many, if not most, of these sources maintain thatcouples should be guided not by sexual passion, but rather by holy aspirations and the will to do the “right” thing in the eyes of God.

Shapiro recounts hearing stories of marital disharmony in his Chasidic community that possibly resulted from such messages.This led to a ten-year investigation culminating in a lengthy halachic discourse, meant to providecouples with what he believes to be a halachically sound “tikun.”

Shapiro examines every source relevant to the marital sexual halachic discussion, and adds a new perspective to the halachically-sanctioned sexual conducts that are believed by many to deviate from the norms of Halacha. Quoting Maimonides, the Tosefot, the Rema  and dozens of other sources, Shapiro challenges what is classically thought to be the mainstream approach of Judaism to marital sex.

Specifically, Shapiro challenges the fairly universally accepted idea that within marital sex, male ejaculation must occur only through the act of penile-vaginal intercourse. Furthermore, he tracks historically how rabbinic attitudes regarding extra-vaginal ejaculation were influenced by Kabbalistic sources.

The need for a balanced approach to extra-vaginal ejaculation restrictions has been addressed by both authors of this review.[1]. We appreciate that couples may need or want varied expressions of sexual pleasure, due to any number of reasons having to do with physical and emotional needs or desires. Therefore, the permission of varied sexual acts, as desired by both partners, may be a great source of relief and provide anxiety reduction for couples, concerned about doing the right thing. Shapiro, somewhat apologetically and with sensitivity to the female partner’s sensitivities, also emphasizes that while the language of the Talmud does not specifically address consent, (“the same way that a man may eat meat in whichever manner he pleases – whether it be salted, roasted, cooked or seared – so too may a man do with his wife whatever he pleases,”[2]), consent is always implied.

The author, relying on a combination of textual sources and logical reasoning, concludes that various sexual actsare permitted.However, one of the most pervasive topics of his discussion,mirroring a pervasiveness found in the classical rabbinic sources themselves, is the subject of  “biahshelokedarka” which the author asserts refers specifically to anal sex. While the author proves that anal sex, even to the point of ejaculation, is permitted by a majority of medieval halachic writersand by numerous key post-medieval opinions, hemight have acknowledged that the general Jewish perspective on anal sex is a negative one, even if it is permitted.[3}The author does acknowledge the potential discomfort to the woman, but he relegates such discussion mainly to the endnotes. He does note (p.16), however, that his purpose is not to encourage anal sex, per se, but toclarify the grounds of this heter[4]in order to enable the discussion on the legitimacy of ejaculation between limbs, “derech evarim,” which provides for varied and possibly more comfortable and acceptable “adventurous” sexual acts such as oral and manual stimulation to point of ejaculation.

The Talmud, while unabashedly addressing sexuality and sexual conduct of men and women, often uses “lashon sagi nahor”, as the virtue of modesty of speech is inherent in our Jewish value system. While the author acknowledges this model, he clarifies from the onset (p.16) that he purposely writes in a clear and straightforward manner, both when relating to the halachic sources and when writing about sexual conduct and behavior. He defends this approach by explaining that in matters of practical Jewish law one must speak clearly and unambiguously,and suggests thatcenturies of halachic argument over the accurate meaning of certain Talmudic sexual euphemism potentially contributed to painful marital discord. This assertion, as well as his graphic language, may not sit well with some readers.

Shapiro brings a straightforward and much needed discussion of sexuality to the orthodox Jewish world. He is a proficient ‘swimmer’, both in the ‘sea’ of the Talmud, as well as in the the thousands of additional sources that he researched for this study. For readers who appreciate halachic discourse and “seek the truth”, this book delivers what it promises; a rational and balanced approach to sexuality that will provide evidence based “permission” for couples to express their sexuality with one another, as they feel fit. For others for whom “Daat Torah” has the ultimate say, Shapiro, unfortunately, lacks the broad-shouldered credentials and the required rabbinic approbations.

As a Rav and couples/sex therapist dedicated to helping couples create and achieve passion and intimacy within a Jewish framework, we are hopeful that through this book and the discussion it facilitates, couples will claim and reclaim meaningful sexuality in their married life.

[1] See BavliEiruvin 100b, Ran Nedarim 20b BneiEima, BneiAnusa

[2] The term “shelo kedarka” translates as “not the normal way.” It is associated with the rape of Dinah (Rashi‘scommentary to the word tortureBereishit 34, 2) and compared to animal sexuality (Bechorot8a) (RO).

[3] See “I am his vessel”: Influence of male ejaculatory restrictions on women’s sexual autonomy in Orthodox Jewish marriages.http://tallirosenbaum.com/en/node/201

andהוצאת זרע לבטלה בהקשר הזוגי)  (http://www.zoogy.org/#!הוצאת-זרע-לבטלה-בהקשר-הזוגי/c16wr/5523bbc30cf21e26badc5363)

[4] One point on which I disagree with the author is in regard to his analysis and conclusion about the viewpoint of Rabbi Yosef Karoin relation to intra-anal ejaculation, (pp.135-151). From my readings of the texts, I believe it is clear that he opposes such sexual conduct even according to baseline Jewish law. (RO)

 

A Note from the Author, Yaakov Shapiro:

I want to sincerely thank Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Rafi Ostroff for their excellent book review.

Please note one correction: My website does not currently feature any video lectures, but one can find a link there to look inside the content of the book.

I would also like to respectfully point out in regard to footnote 2 of the review: a) The way I understand Rashi’s commentary on the verse in Genesis 34:2, “biah shelo cedarcah” and “biah cedarcah” are equally associated with the rape of Dinah. Indeed, the simple context of rape in Biblical and rabbinic literature is associated with “biah cedarcah;” b) I believe the translation of the Hebrew term “inoi” as “torture” in this context is perhaps extreme (see also, in this regard, end note 269 in the book); c) The way I understand the passage on Bechorot 8a, it is not speaking about “biah cedarcah” vs. “biah shelo cedarcah,” but to the nature of most animals to breed “face-to-back,” whereas humans and some animals breed “face-to-face.” All that being said, it is acknowledged in the book that “biah shelo cedarcah” is generally considered to be less than ideal even by the sources that permit it, and the distinction between baseline law versus sanctification is stressed throughout (though see page 68 and endnote 271 in regard to the express opinion of Tosfos Yeshanim, Nedarim 20b).

In regard to footnote 4 in the review, see the discussion in the book referenced there, where the analysis and conclusion are developed based on comments of well-known halachic authorities.

Finally, the review focuses on marital activities that may perhaps be associated more with interests of a husband. It should be noted that the book addresses numerous activities that would be associated with a wife’s interests as well.

 

 


The Missing Question: How Do We Experience Authority? – By Rabbi Josh Feigelson

January 16, 2015

This past fall, the Orthodox/halakhic community experienced the most honest public conversation about itself that I think I’ve ever seen. The arrest and investigation of Rabbi Barry Freundel opened up a series of powerful conversations. Husbands and wives talked about gender roles in Jewish law; friends talked about their feelings about rabbis and Jewish law at kiddush, at Shabbos meals, and walking to and from shul; and, most remarkably, the Jewish press, from the blogosphere to Facebook to the Times of Israel to the New York Times, openly and publicly discussed these questions. In my lifetime, I can’t remember anything like it.

While I welcome all of this discussion, I think that much of it has missed a central, big question, which has to do with a couple of central words, namely 1) authority, and 2) authenticity. To put the issue in the form of a question, I would raise it this way: 1) In what, or in whom, do we place authority? 2) When do we feel authentic? And 3) What do the two have to do with one another?

In some ways, the second question really comes Read the rest of this entry »