Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Who, what, sex, flesh, mind and spirit

Autumnal vinryard in the Darom South Negev (Dita Schnizer)

In a sort of real and unconditional opposition to Christianity (I would not deal with Islam which seemingly can be much closer to Judaism but in harsh conflicts with it), Judaism has a natural, evident link, connectedness, and concern with “carnal” matters. The flesh is definitely obvious, a sine qua non. Flesh exists for good and bad, but it is positive. Fr. Georgyi Florovsky – as the Church Fathers – had stated in the 20th century that “a soul has been “lodged, sheltered” in a body. Otherwise it would only be kind of a “ghost”. This is a simple statement for any Jew since the first beginnings of the Written and Oral Laws. It directly defies the Western Christian faithful. They have more issues with the presence of the soul, mind in the body and how both are linked and can dislink.

We must be careful and avoid making spontaneous confusion between “flesh” and “spirit”. This separation is a breach, a split that does show up from time to time in Jewish prudery and perversion. It is strangely intermingling in healthy interpretations, though the Talmud can be very prudish, terribly restricting in terms of physical morals and ethics. But Jews would never drift away to think they are ghosts, vampires, gods and goddesses, angels or spiritual creatures.

On the other hand, Jews may often consider bodies, limbs, carnality, limbs, and members as submitted to bizarre tests of human capacities. It is so frequent for rabbis, politicians, and public personalities to be accused of “normal physical excess” or, on the contrary, to be totally depraved. This basic instinct is rooted in a strong spiritual search and a real in-depth interrogation about life’s true goals and challenges.

Still, Judaism may be fascinated by some sort of “koyshkayt-קוישקייט” (Yiddish cf. Germ. “Keuschheit”), full “taharah/t’hure-s/טהרה.ת”. Just as “ilui/עלוי” are “Wunderkinder” ([child] prodigies) and bring forth full “purity”, Jews will not profoundly mock “virginity”, a word used for women and also prophet Elijah.

I met a famous rabbi, Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat,  who had been invited to explain to Catholic monks the meaning of Eucharist (!) and Easter in connection with the Order of Pesach/Passover. He was terribly surprised and did not know what to say. He had to speak in a “foreign” cultural world to him. He simply started to say that the Jews would take a lamb, and cut the lamb that was to be roasted so that all could share the pieces! The monks were in shock because they could basically relate to Eucharist as sharing “consecrated bread and wine”. We have the same with the “sherayim/שריים”, the often large portion of meat distributed by the tzadik to show some respect or cosideration to the frume gleibike/פרומע גלייביקע at a farbrengen\פארברענגען (meeting and sharing the third Shabbat meal”.

There is more. As I mentioned in many notes, adultery is a typical example of “idolatry”. This runs throughout the Scriptures. “Lo tin’af\לא צנארף = do not commit any adultery” sounds curious in Hebrew. It has been pointed out that it can be understood as “do not give way to your nose = anger”. God is supposed to sneeze or even cry on His heavenly altar (Gittin 110a) when married men and women divorce or deceive each other by committing adultery.

It is so banal that any reason seems to be “normative and a standardized law” to break the nuptial bonds. This is a terrible spiritual disease and discomfort or source of misleading tests that hang on the internet and all networks. It is more cruel than in the pre-monotheist period. There is no way to make “everything possible” just for the sake of life-long suffering or hedonistic societal attitudes. Loving-kindness and pardon do not aim to admit but to explain the realm of the Mitzvot, provided that e.g. Canon Law considers that sins do not exist so far the concerned people are not aware of the related problem. This is a major point at the moment.

The web also proposes open gates to all sorts of “groups, individuals” that advertise all kinds of methods to approach “flesh and soul” in and via physical intercourse. This is also very trendy in many Kabbalistic groups; Rav Shmuley Boteach has been  “en vogue” for his book “Kasher Sutra” which he wrote some years ago. At least, he tries to explain with humor and a lot of spirit what marital and physical relationships mean and plans to cure, care for, and heal in human existence. With regard to Judaism, “flesh” cannot be denied or rejected for the interpretation of the Tradition and the texts. This also concerns Christianity.

Nonetheless, there is a profound misunderstanding of what “soul and flesh, identity and origin” means in the Semitic and Rabbinical traditions. This is why the following article is proposed as a reflection en route to Pesach and Easter and can help or complete the century-long distiance of both way to speak and listen to God.

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Times of war have always been terribly matched with sex and carnal basic appetites. Sex is THE overall matter, the best mirroring concern, and interest of the past 100 years, imaging more mechanics and mental, virtual skills or activities than showing profound loving-kindness. We see all the tortures, raping realities in all conflicts as now in Judaized, Christened and Muslimed region of Ukraine.

This is not true: sex has driven our ancestors, here, from Mamre’s Oaks but earlier everywhere since the creation of human beings. Not only humans but the entire creation – whether animals or vegetation – are involved in some central activity: copulation. And what do you think? It even concerns, burgeons in Eretz Israel, the Holy Land, and – though there is no reason to walk on eggshells about that – it keeps the State and the major State bodies very busy.

To begin with, it sounds unbelievable: top political, Army leaders and executives, Rabbis and Church people – all over the map – are meshed in weird, sharp, rowdy, and easy-going sexual intercourse. And not the kosher sort of normal relationships, but a kind of news-reporting vicious pervert debauchery? Wow!!!

Now, how can a theologian examining Israeli society depict the situation in other words? Does theology cope with “all-over-the-map” sex affairs? Definitely. Indeed! Rabbi Yossi responded to a wealthy and decisive woman landowner, who thought she was able to marry her servants, that only God could do it it. Matching is supposed to be God’s main activity. And it is a very good and sound activity: “Male and female are called to be one body and soul”, says Talmud Menachot 93a.

Thus, “copulation” is a major positive activity, in particular for people with brains. They are supposedly responsible for their acts and feelings. We have had, within the framework of the general development of the State of Israel a certain total of individuals trapped or intercepted as they were chasing, overtaking, and retaining partners, mainly women but not exclusively as shown at the present, whom they would have abused sexually, i.e. without their consent. This affected high-ranking politicians, the government, the military, and ordinary people. Again, rabbis and all levels of all sorts of Church actors are posted as carnal breaking newsreels on a regular basis. This raises legal, ethical, and moral-spiritual issues. Just track back the biographies, it looks like we are in some Noah’s Ark after-flood horny zoo.

Landing or what? Thus, there is nothing new in terms of perversion. No need to accuse or judge anybody. It does not help and it is dull if not ignoble. How can we repair, and make a tiqun/תיקון, a repair, a remedy? Can we really correct a situation and turn back to the good taste and respect of intimacy?

The linguists presuppose that “sex” comes from the Latin “secare”: to cut, separate” – “to belong to a gender, either male or female” and that “sexuality” allows to “match” males and females. “Sexus” appears lately in the West, in the 11th century, i.e. curiously the separation of the Western Latin and the Eastern Churches (The Great Schism in 1054 A.D.), as the rabbis had completed the Talmud tractates in their actual standards.

In Greek “hexis/ἕξις” corresponds to some “lifestyle”. The word extended to all European culture during the 20th century and was used to describe the various ways to be satisfied carnally, mentally, and psychologically. Firstly connected with intercourse in 1929 ( D.H. Lawrence(!) and appeared only recently, just as “genitals” in 1929 – “sex appeal, to sex up” (1942). Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic movements allowed us to get into the realm of what has always been existing though with much ignorance or unawareness of the significance of fleshy relationships. The Austrian logotherapist Viktor Frankl has a more moral and spiritual of the matter though he was definitely “cash” in life realities: “Drang auf Leben – Struggle, pulsion for life can save and give sense to what seems useless, lost, cheap, an oysvorf/אויסווארף.

There is a problem: “sex” does not exist in Hebrew! In Modern Hebrew, there is “MiN\מין” and we all think it is “sex”. No! Well, it is up-to-date. But we know that “min” means “species” and “love making” is not only “species making”? Then, “min” is a very interesting root: “MiN\מין” = “out of” but the question is far more fascinating. In Aramaic and the Old Semitic tongues “MiN” = “who” is to be compared with “MaN\מן” = what”. One vowel difference: our existence is defined as a whole and a permanent question about origins/ identity and substance/materiality. “Man hu? מן הוא” = “What’s that?” is the name of the “manna” in the wilderness. It makes sense to refer to the seder of Pessah: “Ha lachma de’anyaהא לחמא דעניא” = this is the bread of poverty (the matzah) that was, in fact, some kind of tamarisk tree substance (Exodus/Shmot 16:15). But the people had never experienced such a portion of food and they questioned “what is that?” that turned to “manna” in Aramaic and Greek. At present, in American slang “whatchamacallit” basically corresponds to the same questioning about things or sexual desires.

Now, “MiN\מין” is linked to the same root but does not depict a “thing, object”. It defines “persons, identity, individuals” and simultaneously inquires about their “outfit, origin”. In Hebrew “min\מין” (out of) dropped, at times, the final “N”, and “mi/mah – מימה” replaced “min/man – מן-מן”. This double questioning is often neutralized in our speech: “mah hu/hi?מה הוא\היא” = who is he/she?” (as in Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a and Targum Bereshit 24:23) but men and women; living beings cannot be treated as objects! The same neutralization occurs in a daily speech in English (“that” instead of “who”), in Yiddish “vus\וואס” (pronoun) and Afrikaans “wat”. Hebrew is not frankly unisex.

In the course of a discussion about words and spirituality, a young Russian newcomer’s wife laughed when I said that “basar\בשר” = “good news (as in the blessing after meals, Birkat HaMazon\ברכת המזון); “full joy” and not some carnal flesh or a piece a meat sold at the butcher’s. She was right: “basar\בשר” means “meat” in Modern Hebrew, but because flesh and carnality bring joys and pleasure of intimate relationships and continue to be understood as such byt mot speakers.

We still have another problem: marriage is essential “qiddushinקידושין = acts of holiness, sacredness”, moderate, arousing and satisfying, reviving bones and flesh (“basar vedamבשר\ ודם = human being”), showing what real love means in the Jewish tradition. In Hebrew, carnal intercourse cannot be compared with mechanical techniques or systematic loss of control of thirsty quenchless bodies. There is a spiritual link between our desire to enjoy sexual pleasures and our quest about who we are. Then, how come we are alive and can also birth (or not). Intimacy is a positive commandment that substantiates the “oneg shabbat\עונג שבת – honey of the Shabbat” and compel the husband to phsysically satisfiy his wife, which i not a good deed to which the husband should ne concerned.

We have the parental task to explain how genitalia or emotional intimacy is growing throughout a life-long educational experience. It seems that numerous people are indeed irresistibly spell-bound by intimacy turned into a series of sophisticated perversions; as if the humans feel compelled to shift from love and freedom of pleasures to slavery and whip up the nicest life realities whipped with cruelty and slander, pains and tortures. Right, we socialize in crude movie and soap series speeches. We may be drifted by virtual connections, blunt and harsh slang, and sexual crimes. Indeed, we have more and more incestuous, masochistic crimes.

“Maqom\מקום” means “place” but “Holy of Holies”. It is one of God’s Names (El Maqomאל\ מקום); it also relates to the female genitals as to the passing over from dependence to freedom.

Slang has always been colored with all the chromatic flavor of sexual terms. Now, there is a slight final problem: there are no real sexual slang words in traditional Hebrew! Over the years, the youths create expressions. But sexual slang words only come from Aramaic (“nafkaנפקא =prostitute), Yiddish (“shmuk\שמוק”, today in Russian/Ukrainian “shmok/смок” to be compared with “chmok/чмок = kiss) and any other tongue, as if we would prevent from some Evil Eye in these affairs. But we can feel the strong influence of the numerous underworld tribes, the misfits that need raw speech and eccentric manners.

Christianity is seemingly not at ease with sexual intercourse. It depends on time and culture. Easterners are closse to these realities. In the Vatican and Rome, Le Caravage’s paintings are extremely fleshy. The Christians confess the “incarnation” of Jesus in the womb (Maqom – beten/מקום – בטן) of a virgin young woman, Mary. Say: she bore Jesus without having intimacy with Joseph. It is a problem of faith whether to believe or not in this creed and there is no Christian consent, though the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics do acknowledge these miracles. Then, Jesus, during the celebration of the Last Supper which apparently was a Passover seder, took the bread and the cup of wine and said to his disciples “to take and eat; take and drink saying: “This is my body – this is my blood”, i.e. a reference to “basar/בשר” (flesh, body) “vadam” and blood/ודם” = a mortal human being, in order to gather into the “Body = guf/גוף which is accomplished in the image of the “gafen /vineyard]גפן “.

In these very few examples – shortly presented – incarnation and birth, death, and Eucharist (Sacrament) are related to this “Min-Man” questioning and are definitely linked to human gender and sex.

Akavya ben Mahalel said: “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where (me’ayin\מאין) you came, and to where (u-le’an/ולאן) you are going, and before whom (lifnei mi\לפני מי) you are destined to give account to be judged? The answer moves from “tipa srukhah/טיפה סרוחה” (decayed drop of semen) to enter life and grow to meet the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He” (Saying of the Fathers 3:1). It means that “decayed”-considered sources of life do “come up” till God. The kind of repair that makes the Jewish traditions positively sensual. And intimacy is good.

I hope we will be able as a youth-minded, modern society to correct or repair our sex appeals and appease our helluva wild and off-the-wall picnics.

“MiN/MaN – מיןמן” may allow another deep root: “le’He’minלהמין” = to believe”, thus trust in God. This also deals with sex. Faith is linked to faithfulness. Rav Israel Meir Lau said that we should ask ourselves “le’an?\לאן” – where we are going to?”. It seems that this includes knowing who, what, and from where we are on the move. An the Yiddish poet Avrim Sutzkever made it a motto question: “Wuhin/וואוהין?”. His poems are pretty shaped and parallel to the writings of card. Hans Urs von Balthasar – some books are still translated suc has “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Martin Buber” (1958), he never biased realities and facts. Identity of these or those remain a powerfyl mystery.

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.