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GENESIS — 1:26 image

GEN48 The defining principles that govern all interpersonal interactions, especially sexual ones, include tzeniu’t (modesty), kedushah (holiness), derekh Eretz (decency), kevod ha-beriyot (dignity), tzelem Elohim (the image of God in which all humans are created), hesed (kindness), and ahavat re’im (neighborly love).  These values are especially important in matters of love and sex.  True love enhances the other’s self-esteem, dignity and feeling of self-worth, and sex is a significant expression of that love.  In fact, these values complete the physical pleasures and satisfaction enjoyed through sexual intimacy, not only elevating them, but making them enduring.  Our rabbis explained that the dignity of kevot ha-beriyot is due to everyone because of the tzelem Elohim (image of God) in which each of us was created [this verse].  By grounding human dignity in Divine dignity, any slight or act of disrespect to a human being becomes an affront to God.  By respecting others, our relationship with them becomes holy. DORSEX 134-5


GENESIS — 2:7 formed

GEN235 The Garden of Eden Story in the Book of Genesis provides us with a working philosophy of sex and love.  [This verse] states, “…the Lord formed [Hebrew, yatzar] man [Hebrew, adam] from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath [nishmat] of life, and man became a living being [nefesh hayah].” The Hebrew roots each have a dual meaning.  Yatzar literally means “create,” but its root has been interpreted in the rabbinic tradition to mean the human desire to create, including sexual desire.  N’shamah means “soul,” but with the addition of one letter, it also means “breath.”  From this, we understand that the combination of desire and soul makes us human.  In the rabbinic tradition, desire is divided into two distinct components: the good or transcendent desire and the bad, or survival- and ego-oriented desire.  Both are required to create the wholeness of desire. With the integrated brain, we have the integration of differentiated states depicted as lower and higher.  If we conceive of the bad and good desire as an image, it perfectly matches the tri-level sexual brain.  Our self-centered desire (consisting of greed, lust, desire for instant gratification, and attraction) represents the reptilian and mammalian parts of our brain, while the transcendent desire, which allows us to connect to others in a deeper way, represents our human brain.  When we add n’shamah (soul) into the equation, we bring the Divine element into our sexual interactions.  DORSEX 129


GENESIS — 4:1 knew

GEN453 In the work that I do, I am often dismayed by the fact that many young people do not believe the religion has important things to say about sexuality.  Frequently, they identify religious doctrine as “sex-negative” – as teaching only that sex is essentially bad unless it occurs, or is redeemed, under very specific circumstances.  Interesting, I find it is often students from a fundamentalist or evangelical tradition who speak most favorably, and certainly most clearly and authoritatively, about the religious guidance they have received about sex.  My Jewish students typically know that sex is considered a mitzvah, but often cannot quite put that together with all of the various sexual prohibitions they know exist in Torah (that is, unless sexuality has been addressed very specifically in their religious education).  Even in secular settings, I like to share my understanding of Jewish teaching about sexuality.  I start with the biblical verb for sex—“to know”—as a means to introduce the idea of sex as a form of human intimacy and to make the point that just as emotional intimacy involves deep knowledge of another person, so does sexual intimacy.  I often simply ask my students what they think the verb “to know” might mean in relation to sex, and it is amazing how quickly they can begin to think about sex in a deeper, more philosophical context.  Indeed, my older students can easily grasp a profound understanding of sex, and other forms of human intimacy, as a means of diminishing the existential aloneness that we all experience as part of human life.  I also like to share how intriguing I find the Creation myth in in the Book of Genesis.  Once Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an immediate consequence is the sudden realization of their own nakedness.  I think of their covering up as an acknowledgment of the boundaries that exist between us and other people in an imperfect world.  In such a world, it becomes safe, as well as a safe haven, to share all of ourselves only within the confines of an intimate, trusting relationship.  DORSEX 56


EXODUS — 16:4 test

EXOD247 … dating isn't marriage. It also isn't something for which there is a set playbook (would that it were so easy!) Instead, it is the chance to be intimately uncertain with another human being. Dating is about uncertainty, about learning to shepherd uncertainty and allowing it either to grow into a commitment or a separation. The question we need to ask, as a result, is how we embrace that uncertainty when we are in relationships, and how we honor it while protecting both people involved. For this reason, I think that the gender and sexuality of the partners does not matter at all. The obligation to protect another human being and treat that person well has no gendered boundaries or boundaries of sexual orientation. The question of how to embrace that uncertainty is a very straightforward one. But the problem with straightforward questions is that the answers are often messy, nowhere more so than in relationships. So to try to answer this question, I want to bring in a metaphor from Torah. One of the pleasant things about our Torah is that it doesn't have much patience for idealized relationships. There isn't a single one in the text that I can think of that isn't fraught with real tensions in a whole lot of problems. As a result, Torah can speak to both difficult relationships and difficulties in relationships with a relevance that is almost surprising. One moment in particular is of use for our purposes, an example of one of the failures in the relationship between God and Israel. During our time in the desert we didn't eat food, per se. We ate manna, which was both quite good and easy to collect. No matter how much time one spent harvesting it, everyone would gather the same amount. The first question to ask, for the purposes of our metaphor, is why manna in the first place? It does not seem, from the biblical sources, that God had any concern about providing regular food. What was the point of the manna? Here's the Torah’s response: “And God said to Moshe, ‘Behold I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day's portion—that I may test them, to see whether they will follow my instructions or not.’ (Exodus 16:4). There were definitely some who were not satisfied with the situation: (Numbers 11:4-6). God was not pleased with this complaint, and eventually fed the people so much meat that they choked on it. What was the problem? Why was the desire for variety such an anathema? I understand manna as the symbol of the early romance between God and the Jewish people. Manna is both real and not real, like early infatuation. The thing about manna was that you didn't have to work for it; it existed in the same amount no matter how much you invested in collecting it, and it was meant to be replaced by the harvest once Israel made it into the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 25). Manna hinted at the promise of a fuller relationship, one that was built on work and a mutual covenant, but one that had not yet been realized. Israelites couldn't figure this out. When the newness and novelty of the manna began to fade, they made a double mistake. First, they idealized their life before the covenant with God, “We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leaks, the onions, and the garlic.” This of course was ridiculous--the life of slavery that they endured had a high price, whether or not their slave masters required them to pay for their food. Second, they weren't able to realize what the manna represented--a honeymoon, as it were--and that the substance for which they were looking required a deeper commitment, not a lesser one. As the mistake was doubled, so was the lesson: In order to protect our partners and ourselves, and in order to allow the possibilities to play out, we have to be able to be patient with the uncertainty of our relationships, be that expressed through boredom, infatuation, or doubt. Both realizing other relationships and expecting more from a relationship we have than that connection is ready to provide are ways of being impatient with what we've got, as the Israelites were impatient with manna. (By Scott Perlo)


EXODUS — 20:13 adultery

EXOD441 Adultery and Other Betrayals. Of course, the prohibition against adultery is one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:13,14; Deuteronomy 5:17,18). Then there are things that technically may not be adultery but are surely a betrayal of the “covenant” of marriage: a woman has phone sex or Internet sex with another man, for example, or a man is physical with another woman but without intercourse. From a strictly legal standpoint, these do not constitute adultery in Jewish law because there was no penetration involved. However, there is a verse of great significance, proclaimed by the last of the Hebrew prophets: “Because the Lord is a witness between you and the wife of your youth with whom you have broken faith, though she is your partner and your covenanted spouse” (Malachi 2:14). Betrayal is about more than what is included in the narrow definition of adultery. When two people enter into a covenant of marriage and pledge themselves to each other, they do not have in mind the narrow definition of adultery (i.e., penetration) as the only thing that will undermine their relationship. They are pledging themselves to a loving relationship that is both physically and emotionally monogamous. A long-term relationship between two unmarried people cannot technically involve adultery, for that legal category applies only to married couples. But such relationships can most definitely involve betrayal: the betrayal of the commitment partners have made to each other through their words and their actions. And such betrayal is roundly condemned by the Jewish tradition. Judaism demands that we make our commitments clear and then honor them. (By Uzi Weingarten)


EXODUS — 21:10 conjugal rights

EXOD536 The Talmud states that any sexual behavior is permitted to a married couple. In Exodus 21:10, we find the concept of onah, according to which a husband is obligated to fulfill his wife's sexual desires. Her sexual rights in the context of marriage are clearly established. (It is interesting to note that the Talmud presumes that a man will assert his sexual rights, but a woman might not). From this point of view, as long as they engage in sex in a private setting and neither is forcing the other to do anything, nothing on either person’s list should be out of bounds. For me personally, there are two notable exceptions: degrading language and engaging in a menage-a-trois. If we accept that each human being is created in the image of God, degrading language is unacceptable under every circumstance, for married or unmarried couples alike. [If the couple is “acting out” degrading language as part of a mutually agreed upon role-play or fantasy, however, that is a different story.) Additionally, if we accept that monogamy and fidelity are the cornerstones of marriage in our broader Torah tradition, then a menage-a-trois falls outside the bounds of monogamy. Consenting adults can do what they want, but this particular behavior is outside the bounds of marriage as it is currently Jewishly understood. If we accept the principles of an integrated brain, together with the values of Torah as guides for our sexual interactions, then our sexual decision-making should reflect them both. We can consider the purpose of sexual interaction before engaging in it, fully experienced it while we engage in it, and savor the experience afterward. This creates a full, complete, and satisfying sexual interaction regardless of the particular behaviors that we choose to engage in. (By Ron Levine)


EXODUS — 23:7 false

EXOD829 “Keep far from a false charge...” (Exodus 23:7). This is understood to be a broad and very stringent prohibition against lying. However, there are a number of specific instances in which the Torah commands lying, including cases in which peace can be preserved or embarrassment can be prevented, (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 65b; Bava Metzi’a 23b; Berakhot 27b). .... There are quite simply, no hard and fast rules. The need to lie, or the demand to tell the truth, is contextual. I believe that the same thing is true for dating: there’s no formula for knowing what is right and what is wrong. This by no means indicates that there isn't such a thing as right or wrong, but that the definitions of fidelity and betrayal, obligation and permission depend on the specific relationship. Here's why: whether people perceive the boundaries of their relationship as being preserved or broken depends on what they think the boundaries of the given relationship are. That thinking comes from a whole bevy of sources: individual psyches, cultural assumptions, family patterns, past experiences, etc. Most people aren't explicitly aware that what they think are assumptions. They are more likely to understand their requirements as just the way relationships are. When you multiply those assumptions by two people, a lot of misunderstanding can result. The same is true for successful marriages, to some degree. However marriage is, in this case, distinguished from dating because, Jewishly speaking, marriage has fixed rules: for example, don't cheat on your spouse. But in dating, partners first need to agree upon or assume exclusivity before infidelity can exist. First dates don't constitute contracts. Moreover, we should know who we are in relationships, to the best of our ability. This isn't the same thing as knowing where we're going, an expectation that can kill a connection before it has come to fruition. Rather, we have to find out what our expectations are of each other, and revisit them quite often as those expectations grow and develop. We have to talk about what we need. Patience and honesty aren't quick remedies to what ails relationships, but they have the advantage of being true and heartfelt virtues. We should have patience for our partners. We should be as honest with them as we're able to be without hurting them. I have faith that where we can accomplish these virtues, and when the connection is ready, love will grow. I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem, By gazelles or by hinds of the field: Do not wake or rouse Love until it please! (Songs 3:5) (by Scott Perlow)


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