Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


The Seduction of Abstinence

Regular readers of VT may have noticed my absence from the blog the past couple of weeks – but it has been for the most wonderful of reasons: my wife and I have been extremely busy as we have welcomed our new son, Adir Hanan, into the world. He is a complete miracle and has been warmly embraced into our family by his loving older brother and sister.

Now this may sound like a strange lead-in to the subject we’re taking up this week–the Orthodox Union’s brand new website pushing an abstinence-only approach for Jewish teens. The site is filled with the same dubious health claims that the Christian abstinence movement has been making to support its agenda, with a sprinkling of Jewish perspective. Taken together, this makes for a rather unappealing (and possibly irresponsible) mix that is unlikely to convince anyone to abstain. Why irresponsible? Because many abstinence-only programs and curricula provide misleading information, don’t lead to lower rates of abstinence in participants, and can increase pregnancy and the spread of disease by discouraging use of contraceptives. In hopping on the increasingly-discredited abstinence bandwagon, it’s unclear if the Orthodox Union is actually trying to help teens or if it just wants a stake a claim in cyberspace to the moral high ground.

Now what does all of this have to do with our new son? In Jewish thought sex is generally regarded as a natural and loving act that is not disparaged as it is in some systems of belief. The Song of Songs–at root a celebration of physical love–is a part of our canon, and Rashi claims that the first sexual act (Gen. 4:1) took place while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden, denying any association between sex and the Christian concept of original sin. The Talmud (B. Yoma 13a) states that the High Priest was required to be married, which is in direct contradistinction to religious traditions that associate sanctity with chastity. Sex is, after all, a necessary ingredient for building a family and the family unit has always been the fundamental building block of Jewish life.

There is no question that sex can also be destructive and that teens are often not emotionally equipped to make healthy choices. But the way to encourage better choices isn’t to present distorted information. Instead, it is to articulate a coherent vision of loving relationships that will encourage young people to respect one another in all aspects of life, and not to single out sex in an effort to turn it into something disgraceful or to make sexual urges and desires something to be ashamed of. This is hard work and is much more complex than a website can handle. Let’s hope we can find a way to affirm healthy choices and responsible relationships without demonizing our very human, and necessary, sexuality.

Read the Full Debate: Should We Teach Abstinence to Teens?



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Tzvi

posted May 29, 2007 at 8:02 pm


Rabbi, That is sooo true about abstinince as sex ed. It doesn’t work. Traditional jewish views on sex were that if 2 unmarried people had sex, as long as they were not prohibitted from having sex, then it was not as big an issue. Its been shown that the only way to lower sexual irresponsibility is through better and comprehensive sex ed.



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Tzvi

posted May 29, 2007 at 8:17 pm


I forgot to say Congratulations on thr birth of your son. May he be a light to the rest of us.



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senlin

posted May 30, 2007 at 4:57 am


I agree, but it seems like many in the Orthodox community are following an arch-conservative, narrow-minded, American evangelical strain of thought (not that all American evangelicals are pro-abstinence; I know I’m simplifying!). It’s sad that NCSY seems to be jumping on a pretty ignorant bandwagon, especially when Jewish tradition *has* historically been more sex-affirmative than its neighbors.



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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:33 am


Say hello to Westernized influence, Senlin! It is everywhere! And well… fundamentalism is fundamentalism no matter what you want to call it. Rabbi Waxman, mazel tov!!! May G-d bless your son with the blessings of Ephraim and Menasseh.



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nevemiriam

posted May 30, 2007 at 9:14 am


mazal tov on your new baby. re: sex. Is it not so that by virtue of having sex, the two people are considered “married”? Well, everything else I agree with: distorted info will only lead to mistrust of the “authorities”.



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Caitlain

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:23 pm


Thank you for taking the responsible road regarding sex education, and realizing that A/O sex education is irresponsible and unhealthy. And congratulations on the birth of your child. :-)



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evan

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:14 pm


this is a classic example of non-orthodox rabbis simply having no clue about the realities of the religious jewish community. non-orthodox jews live in a thoroughly americanized world in which pre-marital sex is the norm. gone are the days when people remained virgins until their wedding. but in the religious community that is far from the case. sure there is some sexual behavior that goes underreported, but for the most part people are abstinent. they get married at relatively early ages and live sexually filfulling lives thereafter. the real issue is negiah. halachah forbids touching, but that is often too restricitve for people. the rabbis are reluctant to issue leniencies because going against the law for convenience sake is theologically problematic. there is no such thing as teaching abstinence, it is an oxymoron. abstinence means being passive and that requires no instructional manual. what the OU is doing is explaining the positive social ramifications of abstinence. but all that is marginal at best. what matters is jewish law which forbids non-marital sex.



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Al Eastman

posted May 30, 2007 at 8:39 pm


Have I somehow been transported to some other world? Or, is it that I am completely out of touch with the precepts of Rabbi Waxman’s brand of our faith? I took the time to read the site and frankly, fail to see anything negative on it. Granted, the citations of Talmud, Mishna and Torah may not be relevent to the non-orthodox. That being said, the message is worthwile and, more to the point, one that parents should have already taught their sons and daughters. I frankly do not want my 11, 12 and 15 year old grandaughters shtupping like minks. Nor do I want my 9 year old grandson to turn into the kind of young man who carves notches on his shmeckle to signify his “conquests” when he is older. It seems to me that the unacceptable (to some responders) lifestyle of our Orthodox bretheren has caused them to trivialize their message. That, to me, is too bad. I suggest they have their teens and pre-teens read the messages on the site. Then, when the youngsters have fininished, ask them what they learned from it, WITHOUT interjecting any disdain for orthodoxy. Think y’all can do that? Maybe you might follow up with your childrens’ reactions on this site.



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Scott R.

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:05 pm


No one is saying that they don’t think abstinience is a good thing for their children – it’s a very good thing. What is at issue is that, if the child chooses not to be abstinent, they should know enough that the can protect themselves against AIDS and not possibly DIE. I would rather my son not be abstinent and know what a condom is that not be abstinent and NOT know what a condom is.



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Tzvi

posted May 30, 2007 at 10:14 pm


Evan, you wrote: >non-orthodox jews live in a >thoroughly americanized world in >which pre-marital sex is the norm. >gone are the days when people >remained virgins until their >wedding. … they get married at >relatively early ages and live >sexually filfulling lives thereafter. I am no stranger to living, but I grew up with a mother who was ahead of her time. She knew that if my sister and I asked questions we deserved thorough age approriate answers. She also had displayed on her bookshelves copies of “The Joy of Sex” as well as the ORIGINAL version(from 1976) of “Everything you ever wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask”, as well as both books by Nancy Friday. her rationale was NOt to turn us into sexual monsters, but to educate us that sex was natural, but that it must be done with respect, that we would not grow up wrong, and would respect ourselves and our partners, and be less likely to get pregnant(or in my case less likely to get someone pregnant) As for Al, its a known fact that the better quality sex ed that children get, the more likely they will delay their first sexual experiences, and less likely to have said first experiences result in unwanted pregnancy…



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David

posted June 1, 2007 at 1:19 am


1/ Congratulations on your new baby. I hope the baby AND the mother are well (note the sexists here who haven’t mentioned that). I certainly hope this isn’t the sadly usual case of one designer baby at age 40+ (I bring this up because there is no mention of a brother or sister) 2/ Rabbi Waxman shouldn’t worry about the abstinence taught Orthodox who will save it for a long and fecund marriage. He should concern himself with the sex educated secularist who at age 45+ is constantly logging onto JDate, desperate not to die with too many cats.



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Scott R.

posted June 1, 2007 at 2:29 am


Point one is a pat on the back with a slap across the face. David, bubalah, didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you didn’t have something good to say, you shouldn’t say it at all?



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Scott R.

posted June 1, 2007 at 2:33 am


Also, if you had done a little research before you launched into your invective, you would have found that the rabbi is just barely 30, and the couple has two other children.



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DeLora

posted June 1, 2007 at 5:14 am


I have finished reading 3 different blogs on Beliefnet and I find the 3 different blogs disturbing. It seems in I am missing the points of the blogs because all I can obtain from the blogs is bashing of the OU and Christians. Not appropriate, educational, ethical, nor inspiring. What has happened? Sincerely, DeLora D.



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Tzvi

posted June 1, 2007 at 2:11 pm


DeLora, what the Rabbis are trying to say, basically is discussing the concept of sex ed, based on the website that the OU put up pushing abstinence and using really out there facts that are either untrue, or just plain dangerous.



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DeLora

posted June 2, 2007 at 2:27 am


Thank you for clarifying. I appreciate it and I will read the blogs again and see if I can obtain a better understanding.



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lauramushkat

posted June 2, 2007 at 3:34 pm


Teens is a good word here. I have never in all my nearly 65 years heard of a Jewish teen pregnancy that required a quick marriage-never knew any married Jewish teen who was Reform, Conservative or Orthodox from the area-or a suddent trip to relatives. The “problem” was taken care of by abortion, with or without the families knowing about it. The reality seems to be older people. Of the cases where adoptions were from biological Jewish mothers-the mothers were in their 20s and 30s. I live in the Capitol area of NYS. If you want to adopt a Jewish baby you need to go to agencies in NYC. Most local adoptions are where the mother’s religon is unknown and the baby is taken to a mikvah. So if people do not see Jewish teens pregnant they think there is no hanky panky-how wrong they are! Laura



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Ramona

posted June 2, 2007 at 8:49 pm


I was drawn to this blog by the mention of Christianity. I’m not going to be deceptive. I am a Christian and was highly disturbed by all the Christian bashing. Not because it was Christian bashing but because there was a lot of poor comparison there. The mention of things like original sin and priests not being married. Those are Catholic conventions. All Catholics are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholic. When you disparage something as being “Christian”, make sure it really is Christian and not just Catholic. A lot of Christians explore and teach sexuality in a healthy way, even if Evangelicals or Catholics for the most part do not. Many Christian denominations hold the Old Testament of the Bible to be valid. My denomination in particular adheres to the Sabbath commandment as well as the dietary aws outlined in Leviticus 11. Not all Christians believe sex is dirty. God himself invented sex. Why then would it be dirty? Views that distort God’s word are not of God. Plain and simple. There are Christians out there that follow God’s word as He outlined it, and not how some earthly ruler like Constantine or Justinian outlined it to their own liking. ERGO… Please do not brand everyone in a group by using extreme subdivisions of that group. Because very often, you will find that those extreme subdivisions cancel each other out. To lump all Christians and their practices/beliefs into one category would be as ignorant as my saying that all Jewish people wear some kind of navy blue uniform and they only talk to people who also wear that uniform. See how ignorant that sounded? Exactly. Don’t perpetuate that kind of ignorance. If you are going to criticize, disparage or denigrate someone or their beliefs, then the least you can do is have your facts straight. ALL of your facts, not just the convenient ones.



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Tzvi

posted June 3, 2007 at 1:19 am


Ramona, I cannot speak for others here, but as a jew, who lives among non-jews and who tries to make his way in this world, you have to understand. for us we generall do look upon sex as natural. We, as jews Take strongly the first positive commandment in Torah(be fruitful and multiply). If you read the Chritian texts, it was PAUL who wrote the things about sex that most christians follow, like about not having it, and celabacy and all. That said, we look at those writings of Paul that say that sex is sinful and dirty as “christian” or “foreign” to us. Like I’ve said some of my closest friends are Christian.



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Scott R.

posted June 3, 2007 at 5:48 am


Most of the criticisms of Xtianity here are of the protestant variety. Let’s put it this way: if you’re a conservative Xtians, you won’t allow us in your heaven, but you’ll probably support Israel. If you’re a liberal Xtian, you’ll probably allow us in your heaven but you want to see Israel given to the Palestinians. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for us. There is very little in Xtian history that would give us cause to trust most of it. Some nice gestures in the past 40 years is nice, but a lot more time is necessary for trust to be built.



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David

posted June 3, 2007 at 6:29 pm


1/ No problem vis-a-vis conservative Christians since Jews don’t believe (or aren’t supposed to believe) in a Christian heaven anyways. 2/ Buddhists have a ‘problem’ with sex as much as Catholics do (they have abstinent monks, too). Interesting that there is no criticism of Buddhists here.



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Rick Abrams

posted June 3, 2007 at 8:06 pm


Hooray for total halacha abstinence! When you’re a Gay Teen in the world of homophobia, it’s a great relief to pretend that you’re religious. I discovered, however, that this was a short term strategy. After a while one does have to face the issue of sexual orientation, and eventually I discovered enough about myself to say, “I’m not religious; I like BOYZ!!! So many men; so little time.” Other than providing an excuse for Gay Teens to stay away from girls, I cannot think of much benefit to the Orthodox abstinence approach. Life is complex and people with simplistic “answers” are really part of the problem.



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Scott R.

posted June 4, 2007 at 12:26 am


No problem vis-a-vis conservative Christians since Jews don’t believe (or aren’t supposed to believe) in a Christian heaven anyways.



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Rick Abrams

posted June 4, 2007 at 7:53 pm


Dear Christians Who Read Jewish Websites: We Jews, for the most part, have fundamentally different approaches to the world than Christians. Traditionally, we have held that the strict rules and standards which we set for Jews and the rules to which non-Jews should be held are different. For non-Jews we have some basic tenets, such as not stealing or murdering. (see Code of Noah) We leave it to the non-Jewish communities to regulate their conduct according to their own conventions. When a certain sect within the Jewish Community adopts Christian beliefs or worse yet adopts basic Christian modes of thought (i.e. that they possess the one Truth to the exclusion of everyone else), we criticize those beliefs. Since you are not Jewish, you may not understand why many Jews find a right wing Jewish sect taking on Christian beliefs and thought patterns to be a problem. Before Christian readers can understand the problem, they would need to understand the different perspectives that Jews have on the world. This is not a matter which can be elucidated while standing on one foot.



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Anonymous

posted June 7, 2007 at 2:18 am


How many times yet will we have to deal with these OVERMORAL ??? I am talking about those, who make the thunder-like noise, when boy accidentally touches the girl’s elbow with his elbow. If Orthodox Union started to promote abstinence in a Christian (or what rather seems to be Christian) way – let me ask you one question: When Miriam got pregnant with Jeshua (Jesus), she was barely 15.y.o., possibly even less. Should we charge God with child molestation??? Think about it.



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Murrayfan

posted September 2, 2007 at 3:49 pm


I completely agree with this article. Sexuality is a healthy part of life.



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