Love, the Jewish Way: On Relationships & Sexuality in Modern Times

    With the recent passing of Tu B’av I was inspired to write about the important role Judaism holds in relationships, not only on holidays but every day. Many people today question the certainty of their feelings and their ability to truly trust in others. Is it worth the risks of heartache and potential rejection? We struggle to understand the importance God has placed on intimate connections. Many men and women today are conflicted with feelings of solitude and the fear of “settling down,” and losing ones independence, on the other. 

     A number of years back there was a NY Times article which discussed the current dating scene for the many 20’s and 30’s of New York City. The article discussed how on one hand many people in this age group are looking for real relationships, not just a one night stand, but on the other hand still value their independence and not having to commit to one person on a permanent basis.
I was having this conversation with a colleague, Rabbi Ari Berman, who said that to defeat the sense of existential loneliness we naturally posses, we must be with someone who both understands and accepts us for who we are. However being in a relationship with someone who really “gets you” can only happen if you’re willing to open yourself up so the other can understand you and more importantly, accept you for who you really are. The only way for that to happen is to expose and reveal oneself so that the other person can truly know you.

    We find this very idea symbolized in the Torah in Genesis where Adam and Eve find themselves naked in the Garden of Eden; the idea that they had totally exposed themselves to one another, making themselves vulnerable and open to one another. This is why a relationship can ultimately only take place within the context of a committed relationship. For who is willing to reveal one’s most intimate secrets to someone who may disclose them to another person the next week? Who is going to confide in another and expose themselves unless they feel secure with that person? And so truly opening oneself up to another can only realistically take place within the context of a committed relationship. That’s one of the reasons why Judaism promotes marriage so much because marriage sets up a very high level of commitment within which people can feel comfortable sharing and revealing their true selves so ultimately they can feel understood and accepted. 

    And herein lies the spiritual connection to sexuality. The Torah says: “and Adam knew Chava his wife and she conceived”. Sex is just another way of knowing another, of revealing ones true self to the other but once again, only after a safe and committed environment has been established. Judaism considers that “environment” marriage. Marriage allows for the ultimate revelation since it sets up a kind of safe house, within which the couple can feel comfortable exposing their true selves and in doing so connect on the deepest level. In our society sex is often viewed as a gauge, one of the many determining factors of a choice of mate. The Torah on the other hand sees sex as a powerful and holy instrument, not to determine if the other is “the right one”, but to bond man and womanafter they have made a commitment to one another. This view of marriage helps ensure that sex is not merely a physical act but a holy one which elevates a relationship in a way almost nothing else can.

    We return to our original question: Can we have a real and meaningful relationships without making a commitment and losing some of our independence? Probably not, but like anything else valuable in life, it’s worth the sacrifice.
Rabbi Mark officiating at MJE Couple Jen and Gaby Minsky’s Wedding

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