Dear Rabbi. A prominent Orthodox Jewish day school in Sydney has recently announced that it will teach ‘consent education’ even for primary-school students. Is this appropriate? And does consent education square with Jewish ideals altogether? Yours, Marianne
Firstly, for those who are not ‘in the know’ regarding current trends in gender politics, we had better explain ‘consent education’, More accurately, it should be termed ‘sexual consent instruction’. It is aimed at inculcating students with the concept that explicit agreement must be expressed to sexual activity, normatively by a female to a male. (The idea that males can also be taken advantage of by females does not seem yet to have become sufficiently acknowledged.) In practice, consent education has itself been prone to abuse such as a recent case in which a school in Warrnabool forced boys en masse to stand up in an assembly and apologise to their female classmates for abuses on behalf of their male gender, thus conveying the idea that all males are perforce natural sexual predators.
While my reservations regarding the advisability of such programs within the school setting may have already become obvious to you, I wish to address your specific question: Does such a program belong in a Jewish school? Permit me to answer your question in the most Jewish way possible – by means of a mashal (parable).
Joshie was coming close to his Bar Mitsva day. He was keen to practise from the Torah and didn’t want to wait till his dress rehearsal in shule the following week. Imagine his mother’s surprise when Joshie came home one evening clutching a Sefer Torah in his arms.
“Joshie!” his mother exclaimed “how did you get hold of that Sefer Torah?” “Simple!” he replied. “I knocked on the shul caretaker’s door and asked him if I could borrow a Torah for a week. He said ‘sure’, opened the ark just like that and gave it to me!”
“How could he!” his mother burst out. “That was very wrong of him!. It is not his place to authorise the loaning of a Sefer Torah. He’s only a custodian! It’s an abuse of trust. We have nowhere respectful to house such a holy object. You should have asked the rabbi and he would have explained that to you!”
“The soul is Yours and the body is Yours” declares the faithful Jew in the selichot (penitential) services of Yom Kippur. Our bodies, no less than our souls, are bestowed to us by the benevolent G-D and we are merely the custodians or caretakers of our bodies. We have no mandate to misuse or abuse our bodies. What that misuse or abuse constitutes is spelt out in the Torah. Our body and soul is like a Sefer Torah – holiest of the holy, to be kept within sacred parameters. We are not to allow anyone to sexually meddle with our bodies except within the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. When a Torah-observant bride and groom come together on their wedding night, there is no past history on either side. There are no comparisons. Therein lies true kedusha, true sacredness.
Consent education is an utterly secular and un-Jewish concept. It states that the sole criterion for licensing a sexual liaison is mutual consent. And if a person is the owner rather than the custodian of his or her body, as secular morality believes – hence the legalisation of abortion and euthanasia on demand in many western societies – and not answerable to a higher being, then it follows that as long as there is no imbalance of power in a relationship and both partners are respectful of each other’s right to withdraw consent at any time then everything is hunky-dory!
It is, to my mind, utterly unthinkable that an Orthodox Jewish school should be endorsing such a program of humanist indoctrination. Our regimen of sexual protection goes back 3,333 years to Sinai. Jewish sexual relationships are of course about profound mutual respect – but as partners committed in a sacred covenantal bond. We should be proud of this and hold it up as a banner and as an ideal to be followed. Raging hormones in adolescence are acknowledged but the ideal must never be compromised. It alone ensures, in the long run, emotional and sexual wellbeing, happiness and contentment vastly superior to that attained by mere ‘consent education’.
As for sexualising the innocent minds of primary. pre-adolescent school students by introducing such an intrusive and age-inappropriate program, words utterly fail me. Our society claims to be child-protective more than any previous generation. Well, to use a colloquial expression, it can pull the other leg! I pray that this school will revert to a Torah-based approach to teaching sexual restraint.