Friday, September 30, 2005

Sex and Ego

My brother invited me to an evening at Yakar to celebrate the publication of a volume of studies by students at the Siach Yeshiva in Efrat. The book, titled Va'yikra et Shemam Adam (and He called them Adam), focuses on sexuality and relationships, as they relate to halacha and Jewish spirituality in contemporary religious society. The book was reviewed, favourably, in Ha'aretz last week.

The table of contents follows (the English was done by my brother, I would have changed a few things):
Introductory essay - Rabbi Yair Dreifus
First Section - Pru U'rvu
Zohar Maor - Pru U'rvu: Between Naturalness and The Image of G-d
Rabbi Harel Gordin - Usage of Contraceptive Methods

Second Section - Modesty, Holiness and Liveliness
Neil Manusi - The Mystery of Diminishing, the Diminishing of Mystery
Rabbi Yair Dreifus - The Covenant and the Yetzer
Avishar Har-Shefi - Intention in Sexual Relations
Rabbi Shagar - Mitzvat Onah

Third Section - Relationships in the Religious Community - Between Holiness and Modernity
Rabbi Itay Mor-Yoseph - About the Religious-Zionist Coupleship Culture: Rationality, Holiness and Romance
Itamar Brener - The Marriage Guidance Literature
Dov Simchon - Coupleship Metaphors: Torah, Poetry and Life

The first speaker at this evening was Rav Shagar himself. He started by speaking about the Lurianic description of the creation of man, with male and female conjoined back-to-back. In that position, when they are dependent on each other but not facing each other as equals, there is no room for love.

Mostly, though, he spoke about fear and its place on Rosh Hashanah. Natural disasters seem to have filled us with a fear of God, but why is that something to ask for (in the prayer Uvechen Ten Pahdecha, And so please instill Your fear in all Your creatures). His answer was that this fear is an awareness of our lack of freedom in the face of God and in the flow of destiny. The judgement of the Jewish new year is actually being conducted by each person on his own, because only you can decide that you are guilty. I think it tied in to relationships, but I didn't follow the whole thing.

Another issue that surfaced a few times was the Hitnatkut (it amazes me how many people reach this blog through that search term) and its significance. He described how his son, who was in Kfar Darom trying to block the evacuation, was speaking on his cellphone when a policeman came over and told him "You're under arrest". How, the moment those words were pronounced, his son realized he had lost his freedom, his rights, even his right to speak on the phone. So it is on Rosh Hashanah - we stand before God and realize we have no freedom. And that is why people are afraid of relationships - because they reduce their freedom. But really, it is about facing one's destiny. Which is a frightening experience, but a great one, one that leads to self-awareness.

After Rav Shagar's speech there was an interlude, during which some guys played guitars. Then a panel was convened. The first speaker was Rav Yair Dreyfus, who co-heads the yeshiva. He spoke about Rambam's description of complete repentance. A man slept with a woman "in sin", and later finds himself in the same situation, with the same feelings and the same physical ability, but this time he holds himself back. The question is (I suspect there is a long path that led to this interpretation, but Rav Dreyfus spoke for only a few minutes) what sin it is that the man transgressed. The answer, said Rav Dreyfus, is hubris. Masculine pride. Only when the man gets over himself and becomes receptive to the woman beside him, to her feelings and needs, is he serving God properly.

The next speaker was Rav Elyashiv Knohl. Until recently he was the rabbi of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, and he still teaches at Yeshivat Hakibbutz Hadati in Ein Zurim. He recently published the second edition of his book on marriage. See here and here (a short description in English), and a review by Aviad Stollman here. He has also drawn up a prenuptial agreement that is making inroads in Religious Zionist circles in Israel. He spoke about the happiness that comes from giving to the other. How that can be seen now in the faces of former residents of Atzmona now reestablishing themselves in Yated, a moshav in the deep south (near Shivta!), and also in couples who focus on what they can give to each other instead of what they can receive.

Yardena Cope-Yossef spoke as the token feminist. She seems quite happy with the book, and apparently took part in the group discussions that preceded the writing of the articles.

Dr Tuvya Peri spoke last. He is a psychologist who teaches at Herzog College. He pointed out that contemporary psychology identifies sexuality less as a basic driving force, and more as an aspect of the human need for relationships with other humans. Therefore, he doesn't think that the tension which the book endeavours to bridge, between sexuality and spirituality, is necessarily so central. He also feels that books being written by rabbis about relationships put too much emphasis on instructions and don't leave room for just having fun.

[A short discussion of Homo Ludens and Jewish culture can be found in Roni Weinstein's very good book Marriage Rituals Italian Style, which I am now reading piecemeal, pp. 313-314]

Then they finished, just in time for Selichot. The crowd was overwhelmingly young, and mostly Siach students, past and present. An interesting group to observe. The only older people I recognized were Yinon Achiman (former mayor of Efrat) and Kalman Neuman, and the non-Siach graduates included my former chavruta.

From there we moved on to the Daila, to say goodbye to Dan, and then my brother met some of his friends from his One Family group at Tmol Shilshom.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Lia said...

How much hope is there for young Orthodox people to cultivate healthy ways of thinking about and experiencing romantic sexual relationships, when the only authority figures they recognize are rabbis, and rabbis are only men, and when women who speak in public are definitionally "token feminists," and when they consequently hear pretty much only the perspectives of male, heterosexual, authority-laden, married people? Dr Peri sounds nice, but I didn't really understand the description of what he had to say.

4:26 PM  

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