Abby Weisz

I would hope, that when presented with a title including the words ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Sex’, we would read of the dramatic steps mainstream Orthodoxy has taken and continues to take toward perfecting our message on healthy sexuality. I would hope this platform would be used as a way to bring attention to the need for renewed sex-ed within the Jewish community, as well as globally (http://time.com/23054/camille-paglia-put-the-sex-back-in-sex-ed/) Personally, the words ‘sex’ and ‘Orthodoxy’ describe so many ideas both ideal and at times scary. But, as an educator and therapist, I have found that the words ‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘Sex’ speak to a spousal relationship centered around mutual giving, both emotionally and physically.
Judaism, is and has always been, throughout it’s long history, a treasure trove of beautiful and holy traditions and rituals surrounding the spousal relationship and intimacy. If we go back to the beginning of the beginning of time, when G-d is creating the world, we meet Man and his counterpart, his ‘ezer kinegdo’, partner, Woman. Very soon after Man and Woman are each formed into their own beings, they receive their first directive ‘And one shall leave their mother and father and cling to their spouse’. (Jodi Wachspress) This directive is bolts of thunder and lightning for me in my work. It acknowledges that the most important relationship one can develop in their lifetime is the spousal relationship, partners, husband and wife. I have found in my work with couples and families, that this marital bond is extremely worth striving for, and can create the basis for a happy marriage. This is when each spouse is focused on the other, above other familial and other relationships in their lives. The bond developed by the husband and wife can flow naturally down toward their children. They also form a bond that can reach friends, siblings, and parents.
Furthermore, I will briefly quote one of my favorite Talmudic passages (Berachot Samech Bet) where a student listens in on his Rabbis intimate relations with his wife, declaring ‘this is Torah and therefore I must learn it!’ In his eavesdropping he hears ‘laughter and playful banter’. These intimate signs of healthy intimacy, roughly translated today as foreplay, but intimating a level of lightness and enjoyment between husband and wife in the intimacy of their bedroom.
‘ Orthodox and Sex’- The above sources must guide us in our intimate lives. These are the traditions we must pass down to our children, these are the mores we must re- learn ourselves in order to affect change in our own marriages, and families. Because, where else is change more effective than within the home, within the family unit. I love to say, as a practitioner in this field ‘Shalom Bayit begins in the bedroom’. Shalom Bayit, literally translated as ‘peace in the home’ but encompassing much more than that in reality, is such a basic tennet to our faith, and a basic tennet to our lives, the foundation upon which it’s all built. This bedrock of a family begins with open, honest and a mutually giving relationship in the privacy of the bedroom. I would argue that what is going on in the bedroom is reflective of what is going on in the marriage and equally so, vice versa. The bedroom is where it all plays out.

I can not speak for the horrifying tales Dr. Marcus shred regarding women sewing skirts to their legs or boiling their babies. I, for one, was raised in a completely Orthodox framework, and have been working in the Orthodox community for fifteen years now and have never heard such tales. It is scary to see, how certain fringe elements of a loving and lovely culture can wreak havoc in their own. Orthodox Judaism will never be defined by it’s ultra, or extreme sects. We are a very broad, fluid and growth oriented culture.
{ I believe it to be when the suffragist movement began, followed by the sexual revolution that we lost – don’t think I want to go here. But what I want to say is that today with all of the ‘openness’ in the secular world and media, we are forced to find new ground/footing. With all of the ‘twerking’, body baring, open hook ups, and plain old sex on the big screen, young people today are forced to take int that information and somehow filter it through their own personal religious lens. Orthodox Jews are compelled to intertwine current messages about sex and intimacy, into the teachings of their families and schools of youth. This is not always an easy task. But, it seems, this is not a challenge unique to the Orthodox world, as I see in my work, it is a global issue, affecting all types of relationships everywhere. This article, Searching for Sex, Stephen Davidowitz, was recently published in the NYTimes as well and speaks to the ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/opinion/sunday/seth-stephens-davidowitz-searching-for-sex.html?_r=0) very deeply concerning inability for most people to discuss their sex lives, leaving the most googled marriage term to be searched to be ‘sexless marriage’. The fact that we , the Orthodox community is putting intimacy and sexuality front and center nowadays speaks largely to our ability to respond to current needs of the population]

Regarding the ideas of family Purity Laws as mentioned in the article…Although it may be simple to bash a seemingly ancient and outdated system, the rituals have lasted all these centuries because they work. They create beauty and type of order to an otherwise non sequential (right word?) time, menstruation and post menstruation. As Dr. Marcus states, When speaking of ritual observance in regards to the observance of family purity laws, Dr. Marcus was brought to tears. She is not sure why, but continues to share that one’s rituals make themBut it is not always easy for her to reconcile her criticism of Orthodox codes with her own strict faith. After one of her seminars, I asked about her own adherence to the menstrual laws, and about why, even now, she doesn’t speak out against them, though she told me they can be profoundly harmful to women’s appreciation of their bodies and to their sexuality. She went silent. She sighed. Suddenly her eyes were more than welling up. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said.

Later, she emphasized how vital her religious observance is to her. “I’m part of a system that I hold dear, that I love,” she said. At their best, she went on, the rules governing sexuality can make sex feel godly. For her, the regulations related to menstruation had done this. In a practical way, she recalled, the imposed separation helped to restore her erotic drive despite the chaos of young children in the house, and in an ineffable way, the monthly purification in the waters of the mikvah had “made the coming together again feel beautiful, holy — that’s what ritual does.”
These messages of healthy sexuality are so important, and are being spread rapidly. The Orthodox community in Israel is most definitely paving the way for healthy discourse and learning surrounding intimacy and Sexuality. Where Marcus finds it challenging to gather a crowd for sexuality training course, we are seeing the opposite effect here in Israel. There are several organizations that offer training to a variety of professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, physical therapists, etc.), as well as kallah and chatan teachers in the arena of sexuality. Organizations like The Eden Center, Merkaz Yahel, The Weitzman Institute, Nishmat Yoatzot who are all doing pioneering work in expanding the healthy discussion surrounding intimacy and sexuality within the global Orthodox community. Topics in these courses include: male orgasm, female orgasm, challenges in intimacy, pornography and the media, sex abuse, etc. Since Judaism has a history of promulgating a healthy sexual message, it is not difficult to recreate those ideas and messages in modern times. The main challenge towards cementing the new healthy approach is social media with their focus on outward appearances and body image, and often times modern feminism who think men and women are the same in every way, when simple biology speaks otherwise.
The Orthodox community is expanding the conversation and offering families a framework with which to build their homes. There are books, such as Dr. Yocheved Debow’s ‘ Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality’ which give Orthodox parents a voice and a language to raise the topic of intimacy and sexuality within their own family. There have been other speakers and books cropping up addressing this and related topics.
The community is so committed to healthy sexuality that there are private distributors of sex toys who will, privately and properly, come to a couple’s home to explain how one item might work best for the couple. There is a website based out of Lakewood, New Jersey, koshersextoys.com, which makes it possible for couples to find what they may need to enhance pleasure in their physical relationships, without seeing images of naked bodies and differing sexual positions that don’t add to the intimacy of a marriage. In fact, so many of the cultural mores that seem restrictive in nature, are in place to maintain a level of closeness and intimacy between spouse and partner. One may be able to fathom how in today’s day and age with internet on our handhelds, such mores may be helpful. That, couples with a healthy and happening sex life.
I believe we, as a community, are finally returning to our age old traditions surrounding intimacy, and are not allowing the media and pop culture define how we create and maintain our intimate relationships. What I see more than anything else in my private work is the young Orthodox couple who are trying to navigate those first few years of marriage, intimacy, child bearing and all that comes with those life changes with the ideals of peace in the home and mutual giving as their basis.
End- so when you next see the words Orthodox and Sex, in an article title or otherwise, I hope your mind can flash to ideals of mutual physical and emotional pleasure and giving. Then we will know we are really taking strides forward in the discussion of Orthodoxy and Sex.