Posts Tagged 'Endogomy'

Bringing Sexy Back

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.


Thinking Out of Wyoming

How do we define space? Often is is easiest to go and pull out a map. Pictures just work in ways that words do not. See below at this map of the wonderful state of Wyoming.

But how might you define this space without a picture? Well, it is square landmass in the center of the United States of America. That is pretty accurate, but how would do you this for another state (and do not pick Colorado)? It is very hard to define these spaces with just words.

But, alas this is the project in Masai, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 ‘Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land of Canaan, this shall be the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof. 3 Thus your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin close by the side of Edom, and your south border shall begin at the end of the Salt Sea eastward; 4 and your border shall turn about southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass along to Zin; and the goings out thereof shall be southward of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall go forth to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon; 5 and the border shall turn about from Azmon unto the Brook of Egypt, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Sea. 6 And for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea for a border; this shall be your west border. 7 And this shall be your north border: from the Great Sea you shall mark out your line unto mount Hor; 8 from mount Hor you shall mark out a line unto the entrance to Hamath; and the goings out of the border shall be at Zedad; 9 and the border shall go forth to Ziphron, and the goings out thereof shall be at Hazar-enan; this shall be your north border. 10 And you shall mark out your line for the east border from Hazar-enan to Shepham; 11 and the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain; and the border shall go down, and shall strike upon the slope of the sea of Chinnereth eastward; 12 and the border shall go down to the Jordan, and the goings out thereof shall be at the Salt Sea; this shall be your land according to the borders thereof round about.’ (Numbers 34:1-12)

There are no straight lines. Without saying anything about the current geo-political issues in Israel, I can say that the Torah here is being simple without being simplistic. The biblical land of Israel is not Wyoming.This posses an interesting model as to how we define things that are complex which we might not have seen.

Recently, the great state of New York joined the elite club of states that lifted the ban on same sex marriage. Even if this is not sanctioned by Halacha, to me this represents a clear human rights victory. It saddens me to see religious groups either going on the attack or recusing themselves from the discussion. Same sex marriage is a great opportunity for the religious establishment to redefine the nature of marriage.

Why do they need to redefine marriage you ask? Well, simply put marriage is not working. If current trends continue 40% or possibly even 50% of marriages will end in divorce. That is a staggering rate. Instead of defining it by exluding people, we need to enjoin people into a conversation of joining together for a the creation of a household build on common values. The institution of marriage is far too complex to make believe that it can be mapped out as easily as the straight borders of Wyoming.  Traditional forms of religion can live in their self imposed exile or join in and offer their wisdom.

I am confident that as the LGBT community joins the rest of us in the institution of marriage they will teach a lot about the contours of creating successful life long relationships. Maybe they can give us clear picture of what a positive marriage should be about. If nothing else same sex marriage might help us move beyond the infantile belief that life long partnership is about just creating babies. For a long time I have found it interesting that there is no little conversation about endogomy ( in-marriage ) in the LGBT and Jewish communities. If same sex couples can tell us the importance of finding a life partners that share our social/cultural/religious commitments, we might be able to move on to defining the importance of endogomy for the rest of the Jewish people. You would think that the traditional elements of our community would want to support this. Can you picture that?

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