Undoing 50 Shades of Shmutz

Shmutz: Defined by the Urban Dictionary as a Yiddish word meaning facial dirt, oil or grease. In 2015, defined as 50 Shades of Grey and anything of the genre.

If you’re asking, I haven’t read it, or watched it, and have no intention of ever doing so. Not a movie that is so raunchy that even one of its actors said he had to take a long shower before coming home to touch his wife and daughter after preparing for certain scenes. It’s that shmutzik. Romantic? Hardly.

But at the very least, let’s use it and the worldwide discussion around it to remind ourselves and our impressionable teenage children and students three points on how Judaism views love and intimacy – with no grey areas.

  • Everyone with the most basic knowledge of Hebrew knows that the word Ahava means love. But the word actually insinuates a deeper meaning: the root of the word is “Hav”, meaning “give”, with the prefix Alef for “I”. That’s what love is all about: “I give” to my lover, not forced subjugation of any type. Love is about giving unconditionally – giving physically, emotionally, financially. Giving time, giving gifts. But most of all, give of yourself. Our Sages tell us that each of us is just a half-shekel – just half of a soul. We need another to complete ourselves. And we do that by giving of ourselves in an unselfish and complete manner, not in an obligatory or certainly manipulative way.
  • The Torah uses the term “Daat” to describe intimacy. And with that word, it alludes to the secret of sexuality. It’s not about enhancing pleasure – it’s about intimate knowledge and connection. When one approaches sexuality to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of their spouse, and through that to have an ever deeper connection, that’s when the satisfaction famously craved is complete, and the pleasure is just an additive. It’s a physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy approach.
  • Finally, Jewish tradition, codified by Maimonides and Rabbi Yosef Caro, among others, clearly states that intimacy with one’s spouse must be done in a state of joy, togetherness and mutuality. One is not allowed to be intimate with one’s spouse when angry, drunk, when one is asleep, or even when thinking of another man or woman.

A relationship in which spouses give each other unconditionally, are ever concerned with their desire to connect and understand each other, and are always looking for a space of togetherness? Now that’s the true definition of romantic.

About the Author
Rabbi Estrin is the director of Chabad at University of Washington and a chaplain (rank of Captain) with the United States Air Force Reserve. He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife and children.