For many women the wedding constitutes a reference point. For religiously observant women in general, and national-religious women in particular, this reference point is most significant, because it’s constitutes a critical stage in the passage from being single to marriage that encompasses corporeal and sexual requirements that they were previously unfamiliar with. This work is concerned with listening to the experience of the women and analyzing how they cope with their sexuality and body during this timeframe, given the education on which they grew up.
General research on the subject of sexuality and the body has received impetus in recent years. However in national-religious society the subject is still considered taboo and best “kept under wraps”. Very few studies on this topic exist and these include studies on education for conjugal life, literature on sexual counseling and studies dealing with diverse aspects of the family purity laws and their impact on women. A study dealing with diverse struggles arising as a result of the sharp transition from life as a single to life as a couple in this society has yet to be written, and this work is intended to fill the vacuum.
The theoretical background:
The theoretical survey of this work lays the foundations for a study on sexuality and the body in Jewish religiously observant society. The first chapter deals with the development of research on sexuality and the body and the way it was impacted by feminist research. The subsequent chapter deals
with the Jewish outlook on sexuality and the body. Later on the survey deals with the extant sources of knowledge on sexuality and the body available to women in general and religiously observant women in particular in the contemporary era. One can point to three major foci of knowledge that prepare the religiously observant woman for her wedding day: The first, educational lessons on family life that are offered in the 12th grade. In general, these lessons primarily provide background on the religious laws of family purity and via them they transmit religious society’s position on the woman’s status in marriage.
The second is religious counseling literature and sexual counseling written for religiously observant couples. These are books that were written by rabbinical authorities that view marital relations as an integral part of the couple’s sanctified life. The third, counseling for brides is provided to the young brides prior to their wedding with a view to preparing them for observing the laws of family purity on the one hand and the sexual experience on the other hand. The chapter summing up the theoretical background surveys how religiously observant women cope with their body and sexuality in the currently available research
The research design:
The research is qualitative research based on the semi structured interview. Ten religiously observant women who were educated in the state-religious educational stream and who have been married between a year and a half to 6 years, were interviewed. The interviews were conducted at their home, after all details of the research were explained to them.
From an analysis of the interviews three major topics emerge that I divided into three sections. The first section deals with the bride’s coping around the time of the wedding — before it, on the wedding night and afterwards. The second section deals with the experiences of the body, sexuality, the conduct of sexual intercourse and sexual satisfaction. The third section deals with how women cope with the various laws of family purity. From the analysis a picture of the cognitive dissonance engendered by the sharp transition from life as a single, emphasizing chastity and concealment to a life where the body and sexuality occupy an important role, emerges.
This work innovates by discussing the “work in progress on identity” that the bride must perform. It would appear that the crisis following marriage is an identity crisis that is created due to the conflict between an identity acquired by the women during adolescence that corresponds to the dictates of national-religious society on modesty and sexuality and the identity that compels a married woman to be familiar with her body and sexuality and know how to use them.
After the marriage she is required to reformulate the familiar components of her identity with the new components into a single coherent identity. Hitherto, the research has engaged in raising various difficulties inherent in coping with a sharp transition. This work argues that we are dealing with an identity crisis that requires tools and knowledge that are not always provided a woman in anticipation of her marriage an
This thesis was written under the supervision of Prof. Tova Cohen and Dr. Ronit Irshai, the interdisciplinary program for high degrees in gender studies, Bar Ilan University.