Sunday, July 29, 2007

Abstinence, for one reason or the other

"There are times that require "a binding of Yitzchak." There are times when we must suffer and live in an impossible situation. The Talmud tells us that every day a heavenly voice praises bachelors who live in a city and do not sin. There are difficult and impossible situations in which the one who stands up to them is greatly rewarded by heaven for each and every day that he passes the test even under great hardship.

However, these are the exceptions which prove the rule. They show that we observe the good and pleasant Torah because of our obligation to the Creator and not because it suits us. The path of the Torah is "a pleasant way, and all of its routes are peaceful" [Mishlei 3:17], but we are committed to observe it because of Divine commands. "

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute ( "

From an Orthodox Union "Shabbat Shalom" article, "The Symbol on the Grave," by Rabbi Amicahi Gordin, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High.

I've had the post below saved as a draft for several weeks, and was wondering when, or whether, I should publish it. I guess Tu B'Av is as good, or bad, a time as ever.

There has been some discussion in the Jewish blogosphere in recent months on the subject of sexual abstinence, prompted mostly by the Orthodox Union’s new push to get teens to abide by it. This issue has given me pause, lately.

Miriam Shaviv has a few words to say about shmirat n’giah, the religious rule barring any (non-medical) physical contact between men and women unless they are either married to one another or related to one another by blood.

Nice Jewish Girl has even more to say.

But there’s another population to be considered. What about persons with same-sex attraction?

It’s tougher, in some ways, to be gay than straight, when it comes to sexual abstinence, from the point of view of halachah/Jewish religious law. It’s bad enough to find oneself 35 years old and never kissed. But what if you knew, from the time you were a teenager, that you would never be kissed?

In the final analysis, though, the results are the same. According to Jewish law, a person who never marries is never permitted to have sex. Period.

It’s probable that I’ve been thinking about this recently because of both my age and my good fortune. As a 58-year-old who’s now been married for 30 years, I simply can’t fathom how anyone can cope, either physically or emotionally, with being a virgin at 58. It's tough enough to face the knowledge that, somewhere down the line (may it be many years from now), I'll be joining the ranks of the widowed. But to go an entire lifetime without ever once having had sex, and being almost literally untouched by human hands? I, personally, would find the deprivation unbearable.

What, exactly, is one supposed to do when halachah is just plain outright cruel and inhumane? Why should one person suffer a lifetime of physical and emotional deprivation--starvation of a different kind--because of bad luck, and another suffer the same fate because HaShem made him or her according to His will?

August 2, 2007 update: Thus far, all of the comments to this post seem to have ended up here.


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