of Yesterday, the Freedoms of Today
The Strictures of Yesterday, the Freedoms of Today
As we read the Torah portion of yesterday with its innumerable sexual restrictions, laws, and commandments, I wondered what these must have meant to rational and religious Jews who were strict adherents to these regulations. Did it spoil the spontaneity and beauty of “true” love and intimacy? Did it repress the ardent and tender feelings that are such an essential part of the relationship between a man and a woman? Did the many rituals of cleansing, waiting and compulsions spoil the healing act of love, and become repression of our humanity? Did the dictates create revulsion, rejection, emptiness in the human soul? Were women considered repulsive because they menstruate or men because they eject semen? The sexual act was only to be performed for the procreation of children in order to continue from generation to generation: “Dor va dor”!
Let us look at today’s mores and our actions. Unless we are orthodox and follow those traditions described in the Torah, we have many freedoms. Birth control prevents unwanted children; enjoyment is expected. Women are independent and are able to sustain themselves and have the sanction of being more assertive. Children are planned and for the most part don’t just happen. Feelings of elation during the sex act can be shared freely between men and women and the compulsive cleansing and waiting are no longer in vogue.
Why did these changes occur, and are there consequences of this metamorphosis?
The strict laws of yesterday prevented unwanted, unloved and abused children. They taught self control (just as our kosher laws do). They taught patience. They placed marriage on a higher plane, since sex between single people was considered a serious “nevere” – a sin – and a “charpene busche” (embarrassment). The mammary glands were to be used for feeding infants; breasts were not to be displayed in public to tempt men.
Women and men were better defined and had more specific roles and responsibilities.
There was more sexual rather than “political” correctness. The enormous divorce rate did not exist and men and women had a bit more security in their marriages. Children did not have to choose which parent they would favor or with which they were coerced to live. Television and computers were not a part of life, and teachings and learnings came from family and teachers. More time was spent with humans rather than with machines.
Because we have so many choices, we do not need to follow either the old or the new mores and prohibitions. We can follow them all or none. We can take the best from each of the beliefs and fashion what we practice according to our own thoughts, wishes and philosophies, knowing that there are strengths, weaknesses and possible reverberations in whichever way we travel. We must of course be our own person in which path we choose. Ultimately we are a mixture, a conglomeration, of those who came before us. Ordinarily our parents, our ancestors, our siblings, and our culture play a large role in who we are. We may follow the example of our parents or we may consciously or deliberately practice a way of life that will be diametrically be the opposite of what their example presented to us. One of the tenets of social work is not to be judgmental; thus we must always be aware to not judge someone else’s beliefs or outlook.
When everything is considered we can readily understand why the ten commandments were made, why the life of yesterday with its sexual mores and prohibitions were made. What we do know is that there is a reason for the whys and wherefores of sexuality and for life itself. As an old Jewish proverb tells us: “In unserem Talmud kann man vieles lesen und alles ist schon einmal da gewesen”. “In our Talmud we read that all that we believe which is unique now, has already occurred in the long ago”.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).