Shir HaShirim-King Solomon’s Song of Songs-is filled with provocative innuendo. It is a relatively explicit love poem. Our romantic monarch creates a powerful image of his beloved in chapter 4:
A garden locked is my own, my bride, a fountain locked, a sealed-up stream. Your limbs are an orchard of pomegranates, and of luscious fruits.
This word-picture has become the image of Jewish sexuality. The bride is chaste, protected and prepared to produce fruit. The metaphor of RIMONIM representing a new Jewish soul is very famous. It’s based on the dubious botanical assertion that pomegranates have 613 seeds, just as a Jew has 613 mitzvot.
That is Torah Sexuality 101: The bride remains chaste (or locked away) until marriage, and then produces numerous offspring.
Rabbi Moshe Tendler chose that phrase, Pardes Rimonim, for his ‘manual for the Jewish family’ first published in 1970, and is still available in its third edition. Why did Rav Tendler write this guide? Here’s what he wrote in his introduction:
In all societies in all times there were ‘drop-outs’ whose conclusion that society is sick with incurable social and ethical ills convinced them that ambition was senseless, strivings and yearnings were but vain dreams. The gratifications of the moment became the goal. The reach of man became his grasp. Only the conviction that there is a better way of life initiates the discontent preliminary to constructive actions.
Very eloquently said. That’s the Orthodox response to ‘if it feels good, it can’t be wrong’.
We’ve already discussed in these posts how the breaking of social norms in the 60’s made it easier to be different. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was quoted as saying that there couldn’t be a Ba’al Teshuva Movement without the Hippies’ Movement. The conformity of the 50’s was gone.
But 1960 brought a new challenge to Orthodox lifestyle. That year the US Federal Drug Administration approved the use of ‘the pill’ for contraception. The stated impetus for approval was the fear of overpopulation. The results were far reaching. Sex became a ‘no-fault’ indulgence.
I was informed by a considerable number of female contemporaries, from both observant and non-observant homes, that their parents demanded that they go to YU’s Stern College for Women, because these parents were horrified by what was happening on college campuses in the late 60’s.
Prof Jack Wertheimer of Jewish Theological Seminary told me:
In the 60’s the Orthodox were better prepared to declare against or reject the new morals of the time. There were people who became Ba’alei Teshuva because of a more wholesome family ethic.
It’s ironic that people became BT’s for both radical and reactionary reasons.
Rabbi Tendler’s book was my first foray into this world of Family Purity, however there was another major influence on this scene, and his name was Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, who just passed away. He was one of those towering intellects who gave voice to the aspirations of Modern Orthodox Jews in America, first as the founding editor of Tradition Magazine, then as rabbi of the Jewish Center in Manhattan and, after 1975, as President and, later, Chancellor of YU.
He had a profound impact on the discussions about the sexual revolution in America, when he published his seminal treatise on the subject, A Hedge of Roses, in 1966. He also derived his title from Shir HaShirim:
The body is a heap of wheat, hedged by roses (7:4)
I find the title choices fascinating. The biologist (Rav Tendler) emphasized the product of the union, the pomegranate/child; the philosopher (Rav Lamm), the safety found in the tradition, the ‘hedge’ or ‘fence’. The Hebrew word for ‘hedge’ in the verse is SOGAH, which gives us the famous Rabbinic term SIYAG, or fence. That’s the word used by our Sages to describe rabbinic decrees for protecting Torah observance.
Even Rabbi Lamm’s translation of the title verse is ‘protecting us’, in this case, from the Hebrew original. The word he translated as ‘body’ is BETEN, is best translated ‘belly’, but could imply ‘womb’, and probably does in the quoted context.
In his introduction, Rav Lamm makes it very clear why he believes that this book is necessary:
The disruptive forces of our times, the violent changes which have transformed society and wrenched it loose from its secure moorings and made impermanence and uncertainty the distinctive landmarks of our lives, have played havoc with marriage-which ultimately is based upon trust and permanence, upon certainty and continuity. The prospects are dim for the bliss for any young couple-unless there is conscious effort…to seek out ,in advance, whatever insurance they can to strengthen the home they are about to build,…there is nothing that can quite equal the effectiveness of the institution called the Laws of Family Purity in reinforcing the fiber of domestic life.
The Introduction is dated July 28, 1965, and was written in Lake Como, PA. That’s where YU has its summer camp, Camp Morasha. It’s a very romantic setting. Appropriate.
By 1980, this book had gone through five editions and been translated into numerous languages, Rabbi Lamm had a major impact on the conversation about sex, dating, marriage and TAHARAT HAMISHPACHA, Laws of Family Purity, however, Rav Tendler’s book had more material on the Jewish law.
When I was an advisor in YU’s Torah Leadership Seminar (Summer and Winter, 1971), and after that in NCSY, the topic of NEGI’A, affectionate touching of the opposite sex, was always discussed. The teenagers, mostly from public school, wanted to know the sexual boundaries within Jewish Law. This hadn’t been true when I was growing up. Before my bar mitzva (1963), my father OB”M gave me a book on the ‘birds and the bees’, and that was that. The 60’s changed all that forever, and Rabbis Lamm and Tendler were a major influence on that discussion in Jewish circles.
The taboo had become commonplace, and it was these two books which informed the conversation for my generation.
Next: The Dip Which Renews