Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Debasing the Meaning of the Act

There's a great line in Steven Martin move, "L.A. Story" that's appropriate for this piece from The Jerusalem Post. In it, Martin's character is about to take a far younger female paramour, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, away for the weekend. However, he has realized that he's truly in love with a different woman, one far closed to his age and intellectual interests than the blonde airhead he's standing with. So, in what he hopes will be a compromise, he suggest that they not "make love" while at the resort. "That's okay," says Parker, "we'll just have sex!"

There is a world of difference between the two terms, of course. The former implies a loving, intimate relationship between the two partners. Making love implies a complete physical and mental sharing, an act in which the pleasuring of the other person is the priority of each participant until both are consumed with the desire to make the other one happy.

Having sex is two people each looking for their own personal satisfaction. It's all about them and their needs, not their partner's. It's something any animal out there does with equal efficacy (and far less casual foreplay at the bar beforehand).

Making love is love, while having sex is lust. I've written about this before and the interested reader is referred there for more details.

In truth, I was wondering when Ashkenazic Cheif Rabbi Yona Metzger was going to get into the news. Recently all the interesting statements have come from his Sephardi counterpart, Rav Shlomo Amar. I'm glad to see that Rav Metzger also wants to attract some of the spotlight.

However, in this case, I can't critizice what he's said:

In an attempt to stem a trend of quasi-condoned premarital sex among young modern Orthodox men and women, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has issued a prohibition against allowing single women to use mikvaot (ritual baths).
In a letter dated January 24 and addressed to the rabbis of the Land of Israel, Metzger warns of a trend in which young modern Orthodox men and women use mikvaot to circumvent one of the severest prohibitions connected with sexual intercourse.
"It is absolutely prohibited to allow a single woman to immerse herself in a mikve," wrote Metzger. "And it is an obligation to prevent her from doing so."

In recent years, there has been a trend amongst the left-leaning side of the Modern Orthodox world to look for ways to circumvent that most inconvenience of Jewish traditions, the prohibitions against casual sex. Hence the odd belief stated in this article:

There is no Biblical prohibition against a male and a female having sexual intercourse once the obstacle of nidda has been removed.
There is, however, a less stringent rabbinic injunction against premarital sex.

This is bizarre. A less stringent rabbinic injunction? Is there really such a thing? The purpose of rabbinic injunctions is to prevent the violation of Torah prohibitions. If it's there, it's to prevent something far worse from happening.

But even the first premise is faulty. Even a superficial read of the Torah will quickly show that casual sex carried with it great responsbilities, up to and including having to marry the woman in certain cases. Nowhere does the Torah imply that if the woman goes to the mikveh than a night of doing the horizontal mamba is perfectly okay and ethically fine.

The root of this problem can be traced to certain poskim throughout the ages who had no difficulty with this arrangement as long as certain conditions were understood:

Zohar's article, printed in Akdamot, an academic journal on Jewish thought published by Beit Morasha, analyzed the opinions of leading halachic authorities from the Middle Ages, such as Nachmanides, and those of the modern era, such as Rabbi Ya'acov Emden, and showed that many permitted sexual relations without marriage.
In an arrangement sanctioned by Jewish law, according to these opinions, the woman becomes a pilegesh, or concubine. Neither the man nor the woman has any obligations or rights, but both must adhere to family purity laws in accordance with Halacha.

Imagine telling a young woman entering the dating scene that, for a night, she can become a concubine. She can enter into a relationship with a man which he has the right to unilaterally end and without having to provide her with any compensation. Is a night o' nookie worth such a humiliating stipulation?

What's more, this is an egregious example of "picking and choosing" that it such a common criticism of the non-observant Jewish movements like Conservatism. Perhaps Rav YTaakov Emden, tz"l, found a way to approve of concubines. Did he actually believe that young men and women should use his responsa to engage in casual sexual relationships? Are the people who rely on his opinion also prepared to live according to all his strict rulings as well?

In a comment on evolution in the famous Hertz Chumash, Rav Hertz notes that it is not man's descent from apes, but rather his ascent that the Torah tries to impress on us. Animals have sex. Human beings are expected to be above this, to act with the Godly dignity our creater imbued us with and form stable, long-term relationships that allow partners to make love, something truly holy and special. Abandoning this height for a lifestyle that might be more convenient but it lowers the participants to a level God has sought to raise us up from. Is 1 few hours of pleasure worth that?