Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

A touchy Halachic topic

I won’t underestimate the courage and the intelligence of a Rebbetzin who suggests looking at an Injunction about touching between spouses maybe differently because intimate relationships have changed. That Rebbetzin Malka Piotrkowski just did. And she deserves every praise in the book.

However, I think that she is right and she is wrong. And I will tell you why.

Introduction

The Halachah, Jewish Law, is that husband and wife cannot touch (not even between their pinkies) in the second half of the menstrual cycle, during and after childbirth, and during sitting in mourning, and the amount of details of this Injunction is staggering. Ashkenazic couples don’t even sleep in the same bed; Mizrachic couples do (without touching).

Now, the Rebbetzin suggests that the relationship between husband and wife is different than it used to be. Nowadays, people clearly distinguish between sexual and platonic emotional touch. The latter should be always allowed. She politely mentions that she doesn’t propose changing Jewish Law. She only implies that there might be a reason to do so.

Men

As I sometimes argue, Jewish Law seems mainly given to men because men are the main source of trouble in the world–regrettably. That is still as true today as it was thousands of years ago. The life of most women can also improve by adhering to the Law but she should have a whole lot fewer obligations to adhere to–as the Halachah, Jewish Law, actually teaches.

Men too can identify emotional, non-sexual touch. I remember the men’s support group in my rebel days. One evening, the last of us eight admitted that he once wanted to put an arm around another man but didn’t do so for fear that it would be taken sexually. So, all of us, as different as we were, gay, straight, bi, we knew this kind of physicality that was unrelated to sex, and still, we were afraid that another man would not know that.

I think there is a real reason to fear physical closeness to be read wrongly by most men most of the time. Men are much more isolated than women, in general. We know that isolation breeds sexual fascination. For that reason, the main therapy for sex addiction is: build platonic friendships. Also, testosterone heightens libido. Ask trans-men. Also, at first, AIDS spread so fast among men having sex with men for a reason.

So, although men also are familiar with platonic touch, that’s not in the head of most men when they are touched. The girl says “I love you,” the guy thinks “Finally, some sex.” If he’s polite, he won’t say so. Many teenage girls find that hard to believe; many teenage boys not.

So, yes, touch can often be an ‘innocent’ and great gesture of support. But not for most men, most of the time. And Jewish Law legislates for most people, not for the exception that confirms the rule. If one is an exception, one goes to one’s rabbi and asks if there is an individual leeway.

Ach, it’s only for 20 to 30 years. After that, is menopause and can husband and wife always touch. I found comfort in, that most couples dislike the laws of family purity. I felt more connected to other guys suffering the same ‘fate.’ And in the separation days, one must rely on talking and not touch. That is something men often neglect in normal times. In the separation days, romantic talk is not allowed. But caring, loving speech is.

Queer

I know a rabbi whose wife dislikes going to the ritual bath–what is done to end the separation period. It makes her feel that she’s not OK and needs to be rectified. So, what did they decide? On the day she goes, he also goes.

There’s new proof of a deep deep value of the Jewish family purity laws, as they’re often euphemistically called. Listen to this. Women are known to be usually more sensitive than men. Less known are the scientific findings that generally, gays have more empathy than straights. (Just imagine then, how wonderful lesbians are!) So, by and large, queers+ are better at relationships than the normals. And in queer Jewish circles there is great interest to keep the family laws. They recognize their value and holiness.

This, while Modern-Orthodox Jews try to keep sex workable and enjoyable in straight couples, totally ignoring the gift of two weeks a month off!

Rules of thumb: Human sex is a way to connect deeply. One can only do that when emotionally close, good friends. One can only become good friends by listening and talking to each other. Un-intimate sex is not sex but only masturbation, self-serving sex. Sexual violence is only violence.

***

So, I feel the Rebbetzin’s pain, who feels the pain of so many. But I think she should ask a number of men if they’d think they can touch platonically.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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