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The lonely path to trust

A call to Jewish clergy to address the matters of intimacy that can make or break a Jewish home

Perhaps the most powerful statement I heard during studying for my Smicha (rabbinical ordination) were the words of my teacher HaRav Shuki Reich,”להיות רב,זה להיות איש בודד To be a rabbi is to be a lonely man.”

I am sure that many of my colleagues including myself when hearing these words thought twice before continuing the program. He continued to ‘inspire’ us by saying that if one is not ready to be that lonely man, the person to stand up and do what others are not ready to do, to say what others are not willing to say, then there are many other positions in the community, but don’t be a rabbi.

A point of introduction — My name is Natan Alexander and I’ve been in education and community leadership for the past fifteen years. Approximately a year ago, I created a website Better2gether that is dedicated to helping religious and conservative couples improve their emotional and physical relationships in a discreet way. Since its inception, I have been on quite a lonely journey, so when I see articles like the one Adam Kirsh wrote in Tablet Magazine, discussing the halachic (Jewish legal) basis for the company, it inspires me to continue doing what I am doing.

It is true that I am not the only rabbi dealing with issues related to sexuality and religion. There are rabbis who are as vocal as I am on this issue and other wonderful rabbis who are helping couples on a more quiet individual level. But what I am sure of is that there are not enough of us doing either of these things. This is evident due to the countless emails I receive daily from people expressing discomfort in discussing these issues with their local rabbis.

Sexuality is not as easy to discuss as the Eruv (the border made around a community so the inhabitants can carry on Shabbat) or which hechsher of Kashrut (kosher certification) we trust. But if we as rabbis discuss issues of sexuality more openly, then the members of our communities would have an address of someone they can trust to address the issues they are suffering from, such as: the rampant viewing of pornography; couples in our communities coming close to divorce — or even worse committing adultery — due to their sexual frustrations; and abuse that is taking place between couples brought on by sexual frustration.

There are thousands of people offering advice on these issues. Many of them are unqualified and do not take people’s physical and spiritual well-being into consideration. We rabbis who do so need to stand up and speak about, educate, discuss and tackle these issues.

So why I am addressing only the rabbis? It is clear to me from my conversations with Yoatzot Halacha (female advisors on Jewish Law) and sex therapists that they are moving forward with a clear understanding of the realities that couples are dealing with, while many rabbis are lagging behind.

When one is attempting to create change, the reaction to this change can be broken into three different groups: those that strongly disagree with what you are doing and are not willing to be a part of it, those who are on your side and wish to be a part of the wave, and those that sit on the fence and for whatever reason are not sure which way to go.

This last group are the people with whom one has the greatest ability to effect change. I feel that the rabbis are seeing a change, an openness and a need of our communities to partake in open conversations about sexuality, but are unsure where it will go and more importantly what role they have to play. It is for this reason that I am calling on them to engage in speaking about these issues, make this topic one that is not scary but holy, important but not to be obsessed about and intimate and not for the world to see.

Rabbis, I implore you, if you are suitably trained to offer advice on issues of sexuality, then do so. If the issue is beyond your means, then point your community in the correct direction to trained professionals that understand the unique needs of the religious community. But, most importantly, create discussion and show your community that you are willing to talk about these issues.

There is no better time than now to show our communities that there are rabbis that are trustworthy. Now is the time for us not to be anashim bodedim, lone Individuals, but to be a community of leaders dealing with all issues with approachability, honesty and care for those that trust us.

About the Author
Natan Alexander has been in education and community leadership for 15 years. He received Smicha (Rabbinical Ordination) from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is the founder and CEO of Better2gether, a website that helps religious and conservative couples improve their physical and emotional relationship in a modest way.
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