1/05/2005

jewish sexual education

I've often asked myself why it is that keeping Shabbat and Kashrut, which require a tremendous amount of restraint and entail tremendous lifestyle commitments are observed by the committed as second nature, whereas the Halakhot governing sexual propriety remain a lifelong struggle.
I don't think it's merely a question of the force of temptation; everybody has their 'red-lines' when it comes to sexuality as well. For example, one who would routinely succumb to the temptation of Internet pornography (sorry, not providing any links) would not violate Shabbat in order to do so. Smokers as well seem to find a reserve of strength that carry them through havdalah, though I suspect that the temptations of nicotine are, for the addict, comparable to the temptations of sex.
Furthermore, even those who 'can't control' themselves have sexual taboos, be they related to gender, species, race, size, or religion.
I suspect that, to take the example of Shabbat nd Kashrut, and the other taboos in a more subtle sense, the attitudes and values that shape our later decisions are formed at a very young age. The rhythms and routines of Shabbat and Kashrut are absorbed into the psyche of the young child in a very deep and intuitive way. Long before the child is sophisticated enough to comprehend Halakha, the notions of "Treyf" and "Muktzeh" (classic overjustification, by the way, for all you Ericsonians), have become an integral part of the child's worldview.
But how many of us palpably sense the sanctity of our own bodies to the same degree that we sense the specialness of Shabbat?
How many of us are so secure in our commitments that we can stare down an opportunity for sin as though it were a cheeseburger, whistling 'Efshi ve-efshi' as we walk right on past McDonalds?
It goes without saying that topics of sexuality, including pornography, masturbation, affectionate contact, and homosexuality need to be broached as soon as the students are being tempted, if not sooner. Our prudish educators stand opposed to R' Kahana (of Babylonia, not Brooklyn) who proclaimed (in a very awkward moment - ayen sham) "It is Torah, and therefore I must learn it!". This is a double statement: yes we must learn it and teach it. And it is, in fact, Torah. Perhaps that knowledge will fortify us enough to face a classroom full of smirking teenagers and utter words that make us blush. Practice in the mirror if you need to. Torah hi, ve-lilmod anu tzrichim.
I'll go even further and suggest that for the desired attitudes to truly take root, we must be communicating them to our children and students much, much earlier. I'm not advocating teaching the facts of life to 4-year-olds. Rather, the values themselves that undergird our entire attitude toward sexuality: tzniut, chessed, kedushat ha-guf, kedushat am yisrael, taharat ha-mishpacha, and shalom bayit, to name a few, can and should be communicated to our very young children without any reference to sexuality qua sexuality. Of course children learn mimetically for the most part, which implies that we need to become (*gulp*) role models.
Given the centrality that sex has assumed in contemporary modes of self-identification and self-fulfillment, it becomes all the more important to foster a healthy and holy attitude toward sex, or at least lay the groundwork for it, before those attitudes are formed by our oversexed culture.

SHR

If you recognize this from elsewhere, it's not plagiarism. Ve-hamaskil yidom.
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