HMS 5765-22: Judaism and Sex IV: Teaching Sexual Values to the Next Generation

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

February 28, 2005 – Number 5765-22

Judaism and Sex IV: Teaching Sexual Values to the Next Generation

Sex Education is seen on one hand, as an important part of what being a parent is all about, and yet, on the other hand, is seen as one of the most difficult lessons we have to teach our children. Parents have a tendency to leave sex education to the school system, either the public schools or to private schools. There is a flaw in this system that parents just don’t seem to want to confront. Schools can teach the biology of sexual reproduction, but the value system that underlies human sexuality, depends on families to transmit them from one generation to another. Even a Jewish day school, which may share our outlook on most other aspects of life, can not, in the impersonal atmosphere of the classroom, teach sexuality to children. It is a lesson that belongs in the home in the hands of thoughtful parents.
The first step in this, and any other teaching situation, is for the parents to be able to articulate for themselves a sexual ethic. Since parents often had an incomplete or inadequate sexual education themselves, we need to be able to clearly state what we believe to be a proper sexual ethic. It has to also be the ethic that we live by; we can not be hypocritical when we go to teach our children. Society today gives us all kinds of ethics to choose from, and if we don’t articulate what we believe, a generic ethic, one that arises from movies, television and books will step in to fill the breach. Generic values such as these do not guide our children, they often only teach our children to think of sex as a commodity, a reason to buy clothing, cars or perfume and to believe that if they don’t have a certain amount of sexuality, they will be a failure in life. Judaism teaches that there is more to sex than biology and that sexuality is the most personal of values, one that should not be shared in public. This is why guidance from home is so crucial. We need to understand how we feel about intimacy so we can teach our children well.
Conservative Judaism teaches us that sexuality is one value in a society that balances many values. As such, it should fit smoothly in with the other values we teach. First of all, that a discussion on sexuality is indeed a religious discussion. Often we think that religion has little to say on sexuality, that religion frowns upon all aspects of sex, seeing this aspect of our lives as “dirty, animalistic, and profane” In Judaism this is far from the truth. Our sexuality, just like every other part of our life, is a gift from G-d. Therefore it can be a way of bringing spirituality into our lives. Sex, in Judaism is very much a religious discussion. We also consider humanity as an integrated whole. That food (and the laws of Kashrut) the quest for power (and the laws of Shabbat) go together with sexuality (and the laws of family purity). Sex is one way we express the idea that we are created in the image of G-d, with the G-d given gift of procreation. And yet, it is not a gift that we flaunt in public. Modesty is also a value that shapes our sexual life. People may speak to strangers on national television about their sexual life, but Judaism says that it is a part of our life that we only discuss with our sexual partners. There are also issues relating to respect for each other, honesty, health and safety as well as holiness.
Judaism feels that such values can be best expressed in the context of marriage. That promiscuity and culture that it engenders is an anathema to Jewish society. Adultery, in Judaism is a capital offense, against humanity and against G-d. Sex in the context of marriage is best for meaningful companionship and for providing a stable home for children. When a marriage does not provide this kind of companionship and sexual support, than divorce must end that relationship before a new relationship can begin. Conservative Judaism admits that non-marital sex is a part of society, but it continues to assert that sex within the context of marriage is the ideal. However, it is not a “zero sum game” that if a person, for a particular reason, engages in non-marital sex, the other values still hold, especially that of honesty, health and safety and fidelity. It is a most adult activity and not appropriate for teenagers and the immature.
We must also teach the difference between “social intimacy” and sexuality. Conservative Judaism does not frown upon holding hands, hugs and social kissing. These are a natural way for people to convey a host of feelings and to provide comfort and support for others. Other activities, that indicate a more personal relationship, rightfully belong in private.
Finally, there are also religious aspects to relationships as well. Conservative Judaism feels very strongly about dating and marrying only Jews. This is important not just for the continuity of our faith, but for the strength and longevity of the marriage. Sex and religion are bound to each other and, when they are in concert, they can make a strong healthy bond that will last a lifetime. Judaism depends upon such strong relationships, for only these families, built upon a meaningful and healthy sexual ethic, will enable our faith to speak to the next generation.
As a resource, The Rabbinical Assembly publishes a booklet, “This is My Beloved, This is My Friend, A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations” available from The United Synagogue Book Service at www. USCJ,org Click on the links to the Book Service and it can be found in the Rabbinical Assembly section.

Next week: Judaism and Conversion

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