A number of years ago my seminary had the fortune of hosting Dr. Ruth Wertheimer. There she stood in her four-foot-glory towering over us and our embarrassment in talking about sex. She seemed to have an answer to every question that we asked her, but one. I asked her if she has given any thought to the plight of intermarriage in the Jewish community. Her response was that this was our problem. The rabbis would have to deal with it. Was she right? Assuming it is a problem who should be thinking about the solution? Is it just an issue of public policy to be pondered by rabbis and Jewish educators?
Years later, I still think that there is something that a scholar of sex could have to say about what it takes to help a Jew find another Jew sexy. What do we look for in a mate? A common response is that we are looking for a partner who shares our interests and who we find sexy. I would venture to say that we want them to be the same as us, but that what we find them sexy for the very reason that they are different from us.
While it is not the whole answer, I would offer that we take a look at Chayei Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. There we read how Rebecca and Yitzhak became a couple. While it ends with a very romantic scene of them being in love, the beginning is not exactly a scintillating encounter. Their romance is arranged and contracted before they meet. Avraham demands of his servant,
Swear to me by God, Lord of heaven and earth that you will not take a wife for my son from among the people in whose midst I dwell. Rather go to my land, my birthplace, and take a wife for my son, for Yitzhak.(Genesis 24:2-3)
The language here is striking: Avraham explicitly uses the terms “Artzi” and “Moladati”, “my land” and “my birthplace,” which God used in the very opening line of Avraham’s story in parashat Lech Lecha: “And God said to Avram: ‘Get up and go out of your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house unto the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). It is a revealing remark; though Avraham has made Canaan his new homeland it is not home. Avraham still views the land that he came from as the appropriate place from where a daughter-in-law should come. Yitzhak has lived his entire life in Canaan but he still falls in love with someone from his father’s home town.
Avraham’s plan is to find his son a mate who has some of his son’s qualities, but whom he will find sexy because she has had a different upbringing. While I would not suggest that we ask our parents to set us up with our prospective mates, I would suggest that we all need to investigate our specific Jewish background. Learning about our family’s background will help clarify our values and the ones we want a partner to help share with the next generation. I know that none of our backgrounds are as homogeneous as we think. I am not sure how, but I know that we need to figure out how to bring sexy back. Dr. Ruth admitted that she would have to think about it. I would love your thoughts.