Sex and the Single BT – A Personal View

In the last few weeks I have had conversations, both in person and online, with non-Orthodox friends trying to understand what sexual life is like for a single ba’al teshuva. Some knew the sexual restrictions of Orthodoxy; for those who did not, I explained them. What got to me was the idea, expressed by every one of them, that rules were fine, up to a point. But the idea that anyone would remain celibate for a significant length of time while trying to get married simply shocks them. And they are correct – it is shocking and totally different than today’s societal norms. But that was not always the case.

Society has become more liberal sexually in part because we have better medicine than we did 75 years ago. First came penicillin to treat various communicable diseases, then many reliable forms of contraception, and a slew of other medicines like antibiotics. Abortion is also readily available. These medical and scientific advances allow men and women (for the most part) to safely act on their sexuality, something women 75 years ago certainly could only dream of.

Society has also changed because the transmission of information has become much easier, and anyone can sit in the privacy of their own home and get extremely detailed sexual advice, information and, of course, porn. This is reflected in the current acceptance of porn and may best be understood by what an Orthodox rabbi who deals with teenagers on the edge told me recently. "When you hear sexual activity is down among these kids, don’t believe it", he said. "They’re being asked the wrong questions. Are the having intercourse? Not as much as they were a few years ago. What are they doing? Lots of anal sex, sex toys and oral sex." [This is a paraphrase. The actual quote is too detailed and too long to post.] And these behaviors carry over into "regular" society. [I’m not writing to condemn this, just to note current reality.]

Religion has little hold over people’s lives today. This also dramatically impacts sexuality, because most of the basis  for restricting one’s sexuality  is religious in nature. The fewer people bound by any type of monotheistic religious law, the fewer automatically bound to restrict sexuality.

Of course, the reasons for today’s liberal sexuality are more complex and detailed than I have the space to mention or the background to deal with. But the point is, what is sexually normal today was decidedly abnormal not so long ago. I think if not for AIDS and some remaining puritanism, casual sex would be much more casual and frequent, and other forms of sexuality once frowned on would be even more popular than they are now.

I’m not at all sure today’s sexuality is a bad thing. Despite what can appear to be strong conservative arguments for restraint, there are equally valid opposing arguments, and only time will tell who is correct.

All this cuts to the heart of my friends’ arguments. As one put it, "Why didn’t you just hook up with someone? Okay, so not every day, but once or twice a month?"  In today’s world, hooking up (i.e., casual sex) is very normal – so normal that many people don’t remember how lucky (or cursed, depending on your worldview) we are. For some BTs, hooking up, especially with other BTs, is an option. We all know it goes on. But, like the kids described above by my rabbi correspondent, penetration may be dispensed with and other avenues of satisfaction highlighted in its place.

Still, I know dozens of BTs who did not take this route. What they did instead is suffer, because they believed their commitment to halakha and to God demanded that. This often led to other problems (at least from the perspective of Orthodoxy), from nocturnal emmissions to, as halakha puts it, "willful spilling of seed." And, in case you missed it, there is a strong strain of thought in Orthodoxy that equates that with murder – a prettty tough Catch-22 to be in. You’re born with a sex drive that you cannot use without "destroying" your soul. (This is exactly the dilemma gays face, with one major difference. – we can get married and have a "kosher" outlet. Gays only can do that if they are able to direct their desires in that way, something that rarely is possible.)

There was a time when Judaism recognized concubinage and other relationships that circumvented these problems. Rabbis removed these from Jewish life. The reasons why are beyond the scope of this post. But in modern times, their removal has certainly damaged many lives and caused much defection from Judaism.

So what about me?

For the most part, I suffered then and have continued to do so now, even as the Orthodoxy I adopted has become less and less relevant to my life. Why? Largely because I still strongly equate sex with commitment.

The idea of "hooking up," while it appeals to me, is still so foreign that I just don’t find myself thinking about it when moments of opportunity arise (although I certainly do think about this at other times). My first reaction is always, "Would I ever marry this girl?" rather than, "Let’s take a walk – I live around the corner."

I’m sure this will change over time, and there are many objective reasons why this will be good. Still, I prefer a stable, long-term relationship over multiple casual encounters. (But not because haredism says so. Haredism’s version of a stable, long-term relationship often lacks romance and passion. It can be more of a business arrangement – with some interesting perks – rather than love.)

I prefer a stable relationship because I find it more meaningful and more romantic than hooking up. It is an ideal I strive for. As strange as this may seem, in this world suffused with erotica, for me romance still wins out, at this point almost, if not every, time.

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42 Comments

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42 responses to “Sex and the Single BT – A Personal View

  1. “There was a time when Judaism recognized concubinage and other relationships that circumvented these problems. Rabbis removed these from Jewish life. The reasons why are beyond the scope of this post. But in modern times, their removal has certainly damaged many lives and caused much defection from Judaism.” – Shmarya

    I agree with you on most of the points in this post, but the above quote raises concern in my mind that maybe you think concubinage was a good thing that should not have been removed from Judaism by the Rabbis.

    I can tell you that as a 20th/21st century woman, concubinage would SUCK. Why should I provide the sexual (and some household) services of a wife without getting the security of marriage to ONE man that I am NOT sharing with someone else? (and most women, including Treifalicious, do NOT know how to share when it comes to lovers – I understand that Rabbi Gershon had something to say about this. You might also want to chek out a movie called Raise the Red Lantern about a woman who marries into what was basically the harem of a rich Chinese guy).

    I am glad they got rid of concubinage and teh practice of taking multiple wives – unless of course, some modern Rabbis were to say that yes, women can have male concubines and multiple husbands as well. Somehow, I can’t imagine that this would happen.

    Therefore, no concubinage for anyone. Or harems, either. Period.

  2. Strong points. All I can say is there always have been a minority of women who prefer that type of relationship. As bad as Orthodox sex regulations can be for women, you have to admit it’s far worse for single guys, at least under the more liberal interpretations of Orthodox halakha that allow women certain things guys just can’t have. Single guys have no outlet at all.

  3. Michelle

    I think another reason we are supposed to avoid sexual relations outside of marriage also has to do with the idea that a lack of sexual relations will often push someone to get married and stop waiting for Mr or Miss Perfect. Compatible is good. Perfect is impossible. Waiting for perfection will make you a lonely old person.

    Marriage is about compromise and understanding and, even if it started out with Mr. or Miss Perfect, requires a lot of maintenance along the way.

    Don’t give up! I got married to a wonderful religious man at 39, and we have a beautiful child.

  4. BK

    This is a great post.

    Couple the confusion a BT feels about sexuality with the seemingly impossible dream of a marriage for a BT. What about the BTs in smaller communities, where one foot is in the Orthodox world, and the other still remains with the goyim…”hooking up” with a shiksa becomes even more lucrative and innocuous at times.

    When the proverbial honeymoon with the Orthodox BT bit was over for me, and I started attending a more traditional yet Conservative shul, I met a wonderful woman who came from a good Orthodox upbringing, with an excellent day school education. We married over the summer, and enjoy a more observant household than I could have hoped for with another BT, more than likely. And, it was immensely more satisfying than the old hook up…well worth the wait, frustrating though it definitely can be.

    I always found being a BT very confusing on so many levels. We’re mired in the stigmas of our familiarity with the secular world, yet are expected to almost abandon it complete in the embracing of halacha, without the quid pro quo of ever feeling fully accepted (with some exceptions).

    The tzitzit must dangle at or near groin-level for a reason, but even then, it doesn’t stunt the desires, and davening can only do so much. Until they make the opposite of the little blue pill so that our single and observant friends can relax a little, I recommend bicycling and cold showers… and hope that every BT finds his or her beshert.

  5. CK

    Some married guys have no outlet either…

  6. Anonymous

    Shmarya, I don’t get it, are you the gay guy without an outlet, or just an old virgin?

  7. Schneur

    As with many things in real life , broad generalizatinos are only possible in …books.
    I think celibacy outside of marriage is the correct thing until one reachs his or her 30’s. But of course thats only an opinion.
    As one reaches maturity in our times, celibacy outside of marriage becomes less meaningful and a human being has the right to enjoy his bodily functions, emotions and needs and pleaseue and all the experiences assocaaited with LIFE.
    Should one die a virgin, becuase one never marries?T orah mandates commitment ie mikveh, the women commited to one man etc. But marriage is not necessarily mandated. There are “legal” ways around it for those bothered by halachic consraints.
    Finally divorced people have their own set of issues and I am not sure that abstaining from sex after a full sexual life is realistic.
    This is an issue that Halachic Judaism will never discuss openly. In fact its a one on one issue and I would hope there wuld be some Orthodox rabbis who can deal with you.

  8. “As bad as Orthodox sex regulations can be for women, you have to admit it’s far worse for single guys, at least under the more liberal interpretations of Orthodox halakha that allow women certain things guys just can’t have.”

    How is it far worse for single guys? What do liberal interpretations of Orthodox Halacha allow women that they don’t allow men (aside from lesbianism – perhaps)?

    You clearly have more knowledge of Orthodox Halacha on sexual issues than I do. Please give me (if you will) bullets on the halachot of which you speak.

    When I was more religious, I felt VERY stifled as a whole person and not just sexually. At least men get more permission to express themselves and more permission (at least socially) to deviate a little. My experience was that women, if they wanted to deviate, had to be WAY more cloak-and-dagger about it because less was allowed to them.

    Then again, I was never raised Orthodox and didn’t spend a whole lot of time being really Orthodox as an adult. I never even attempted to be shomer negi’ah, for instance. However, perhaps because of my past I was better equipped psychologically to be discreet (i.e., leading a double life) in these matters.

  9. “All I can say is there always have been a minority of women who prefer that type of relationship.” – Shmarya

    It is my feeling that:

    a) Most men are also unsatisfied with casual sex, at least after a while.

    b) More women than you think would like to have more than one partner (and do so), but they are just conditioned to LIE, especially to men, about it. (and they lie because they know that enjoying sexuality is seen as a no-no for women. Studies have shown that time and time again in surveys that women report higher numbers of sexual partners anonymously but the minute they can be identified they start skewing teh numbers of peopel they slept with downwards).

    I dated two men at one time this past summer and loved it. Granted, I liked one guy better than the other, but this is bound to happen even to men whith multiple partners. The point is that both men spoke to different sides of my personality – a great way to deal with the fact that not every person can be everything to their partners and made it easier to deal with teh lawyer’s busy schedule.

    c) Lastly, evolutionary psychologists (if you believe in them) have found that teh idea situation for women is NOT necessarily monogamy but a situation where they have one man who is nice, loyal and has money to support children on one hand and hot young studs for her own pleasure (i.e., a Desperate Housewives-like, husband-and-poolboy-on-the-side scenario).

    In the little bit of Talmud study I have done, I have observed that the Rabbis of the Talmud believe that women’s sex drive is less intense than men’s, that they barely have a sex drive (i.e., like the fact that tznius requirements for men are less stringent for women because it is assumed that women are less capable of being turned on) – THIS IS WRONG. They obviously didn’t ask any women and if they did the women may not have been 100% truthful with them anyway. Then generations upon generations of Jewish men are taught these errors further compounding the situation.

    A great idea (though rather pie-in-the-sky) would be an anonymous sex survey within the Orthodox Jewish world – for men AND women, single and married, like a sort of Orthodox Kinsey Report.

  10. “How is it far worse for single guys? What do liberal interpretations of Orthodox Halacha allow women that they don’t allow men (aside from lesbianism – perhaps)?”

    1. Lesbianism, if the goal remains marriage to a male.

    2. Masturbation.

    Male masturbation by definition involves “wasting seed.” This is forbidden in that legal system and is strongly equated with murder. For the more kabbalisticaly inclined, “wasted seed” is believed to create deamons that haunt a person, especially at their passing and before burial. Male homosexuality involves this prohibition as well as a seperate prohibition on anal intercourse.

    Once a person becomes a little “wild,” there is a stigma attached to them. In this you are correct – this stigma is much worse for a girl who “hooks up” or the like than it is for guys who do so. Part of this is because of the desire to protect a family’s “pure” lineage. A lot of though seems to be a boys will be boys attitude that doesn’t carry over to the girls they’re boys with. And that, as you suspect, is misogyny.

  11. “In the little bit of Talmud study I have done, I have observed that the Rabbis of the Talmud believe that women’s sex drive is less intense than men’s, that they barely have a sex drive (i.e., like the fact that tznius requirements for men are less stringent for women because it is assumed that women are less capable of being turned on) – THIS IS WRONG. They obviously didn’t ask any women and if they did the women may not have been 100% truthful with them anyway. Then generations upon generations of Jewish men are taught these errors further compounding the situation.”

    Agreed. Although the women I have known who have had both seem satisfied with neither. It’s also clear, I think, that men and women arouse differently. A good way to understand this is porn usage. Even with today’s near anonymous delivery systems and societal acceptability, women’s porn usage lags far behind men’s, which is why almost all porn continues to represent male fantasies, not female. So far, female-geared porn has turned out to be an economic failure.

    “A great idea (though rather pie-in-the-sky) would be an anonymous sex survey within the Orthodox Jewish world – for men AND women, single and married, like a sort of Orthodox Kinsey Report.”

    Now that would be a survey filled with lies, most to prevent “hillul hashem,” of course. 😉

  12. Yos

    I was probably the only six year old in the history of the planet who dreamed of having a wife and child. And now I’m a thirty year old virgin. I’m not sure if I should feel foolish for abstaining for the sake of piety, or if I should shake my fist at the wicked world.

  13. “A good way to understand this is porn usage. Even with today’s near anonymous delivery systems and societal acceptability, women’s porn usage lags far behind men’s, which is why almost all porn continues to represent male fantasies, not female. So far, female-geared porn has turned out to be an economic failure.” – Shmarya

    Hee hee hee. I wrote a couple of posts critiquing internet porn. Basically, porn doesn’t work for women because it is made for men, not necessarily the other way around. Moreover, some porn that is supposedly made for women really seems to be made more for gay men.

    I was just thinking about this recently – how do you make effective porn for women. It would have to be very involved which might make it more expensive.

    I should also note that I heard once that men actually DON’T like to see the man’s face in porn – this is one thing that makes porn male-centered. IF you even see teh man he is like a placeholder while they focus on teh woman’s face and arousal for the benefit of a male audience.

    Two posts where I discuss my critique of internet porn are:

    “Spoiler” http://treifalicious.blogspot.com/2006/07/spoiler.html

    Here I talk about teh stupid things that turn me off about mainstream porn – like men with bad hairdos

    “NEWSFLASH: MEN CLUELESS ABOUT WHAT WOMEN WANT!!!”
    http://treifalicious.blogspot.com/2006/03/newsflash-men-clueless-about-what.html

    Here, I discuss the idicies that can develop when men attempt to make porn for women based on what THEY like and not what women actually like (which often carries over into actual sexual life in general). I speculate that this site, supposedly for women, if really for gay men. That, or it is made by a woman who wants to convince herself that she is just like a man and makes teh same kind of porn for women that men make for themselves, convincing themselves that they are turned on by this consistently.

    And so, I would maintain that women use less porn NOT because they do not have as much sexual desire but that porn, as we know it today, is not a turn on for women.

    Lastly, back in January there was an article in the NYT about an all-male brothel being started up by Heidi Fleiss (“The Wild West Gets Wilder”):

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/08/fashion/sundaystyles/01HEIDI.html?ei=5090&en=204958fba767e252&ex=1294376400&adxnnl=1&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1161276688-sGWZoKpa+uAA7J+Rj2s6nw

    A quote from the article: “Women as well as men can be “sex tourists,” for example. While on vacation in spots like Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, women pay for sex and the companionship of usually younger men.”

    also…

    “More often, however, women pay for sex outside of the established sex industry, in the more informal, grayer area of a relationship with somebody they trust: a personal trainer, say, a tennis coach or, yes, a pool boy.”

  14. DK

    “I prefer a stable relationship because I find it more meaningful and more romantic than hooking up.”

    I am sick and tired of these types of excuses. I mean, I find a steak dinner with a $45 bottle of merlot “more meaningful and more romantic” than a burger, but sometimes a fellow needs to eat on the cheap.

  15. Paul Freedman

    I remain confused as to what the normative basis is for prohibiting consensual heterosexual adult sex outside the boundaries of marriage (if it is non-adulterous and no disallowed birth control methods are used). Culture? Rabbinic rulings based on clear halachic requirements? Rabbinic dicta based on general criteria?

  16. DK – Ah, but a steady diet of burgers is also sickening.

  17. Hmmm...

    Treif, do you get the sense that we women are a lot more clear-eyed about this stuff than a lot of men? But I guess women have had to be, given the way most societies have traditionally been structured and organized.

  18. Stephen Mendelsohn

    BS”D

    If it is tough for a single BT who does not have a disability, imangine the struggle here of a BT who does, whether it be a mobility impairment, a cognitive disability, deafness, Asperger’s (which interferes with the social skills needed to find a bashert), or a myriad of other limitations. Contrary to some stereotypes, people with disabilities have just as much desire in this intimate area of life as nondisabled people. What is it, does the frum world accept only nondisabled people as potential BTs? Are disabled Jews from nonobservant families just not worth the kiruv effort because they are not perceived as “good” marriage prospects?

  19. Spot on! Stephen, why not write a guest post on this for me?

  20. Bayit_Bourne

    I read Treif’s comment, and then I knew I had to say something. Millions of women today are living in concubinage – except they call it “moving in together.” It’s exactly the same thing – free milk, no buying the cow. Tossed out the door later if things “don’t work out.”

    Obviously, it didn’t used to be that way. Throughout recorded history, people got married in their teens – in the middle and lower classes based on attraction, in the upper classes it was usually arranged, but not always. Either way, though, the idea that marriage must be based solely on romantic feelings of “love” is one, recent, and two, simply not true. You will never feel romantic about someone for decades, trust me. Marriage is a committment, it’s a head thing, not a “feeling.” Feelings come and go, it’s only the “decision” that sustains you over the long haul. Even the Torah says that Isaac married Rebecca, and then he loved her. Infatuation is not the same thing. Real love is a decision you make in your head to be committed even when you don’t have “feelings.” That’s why there are so many divorces today – people have very unrealistic expectations about marriage, thinking those warm fuzzy feelings are supposed to last forever. In reality, they don’t. That’s why people have serial monogomy instead of true marriages – a mistaken expectation based on bad gothic novels, not life in the real world.

    So the natural paradigm is for teens to make a decision, a committment to marriage, and be sexually active during the time biology obviously programmed them to be. It is only our screwed up modern society that has imposed an unnatural, artificial paradigm which, as the number of teenage pregnancies shows, doesn’t actually work.

    It’s also worth noting here something else I said to Treif once: The normal range of childbearing years for human females is from about 15-17 years of age to 30-35 years of age. Guys start at the same time, but can father children longer than the average woman can. This is why in every society known to mankind except the modern Western one people got married in their late teens. That is the biological norm – that is the way that God/mother nature/evolution has programmed humans to be. It is entirely idiotic of modern society to turn around and try and claim that women should go to college, establish themselves in a career, and only then try to find a husband and try to have children. It’s completely against the natural order, and as myriads of women can tell you, once you pass thirty the odds of being able to have children without medical help go way down – after 35 you may as well give it up if you aren’t rich enough to afford fertility treatments. God never intended tired middle aged women to be chasing toddlers – you need to have children while you’re young enough to deal with them.

    We need to get back to a more natural paradigm of family life, and even orthodoxy doesn’t seem in any real danger of doing that (after all, they need their wives to have college degrees. Somebody has to support the family, and it isn’t going to be them – another unnatural paradigm, I might add. Children weren’t meant to be raised in herds of 30 by badly paid strangers who will never love them like their parents supposedly do – but that’s another post.).

    And one other thing – about multiple wives. It’s practiced all over the world, even here in the US, and it’s not as evil and terrible as NOW makes it out to be. For one thing, it prevents infertile women from being tossed out the door to fend for themselves or starve after ten years. The man doesn’t have to dump her to marry a fertile woman in those societies. In this respect, the Rabbis have done women no favors. As it is now, a man who needs heirs has no choice but to toss his wife out on the street. You know as well as I do they really don’t consider adoption an option. They want “Real” Jewish babies.

  21. Aviel

    And who’s to say that we can’t rise above what is natural for us according to evolution? People need to figure these things out for themselves and make their own decisions.

  22. Neo-Conservaguy

    A friend of mine knowledgeable in halacha has mentioned that it’s quite possible that a Jewish man is legally committed to a union with a Jewish woman if he physically consummates the relationship. A ketubah with witnesses may not be required! You shtup her, you bought her – and all of the implied obligations, assuming a beth din would actually act upon such a claim.

    As for multiple wives, I love to point out to my “Torah Jew” friends that Rabbi Gershon cheerfully overruled the written Torah for Ashkenazic Jews on that matter. The halacha has always moved forward over time, despite those who would claim otherwise these days. In Judaism, there is in fact no such thing as a “good old fashioned marriage”! Without development of the law, we wouldn’t have the ketubah, which was an instrument of radical social change at the time of its introduction. Without the ketubah, the rabbi’s wouldn’t have overturned the ordeal of Sota as early as they did. Sota and the ketubah were mutually exclusive approaches to relationships, and Sota had to go. And good riddance.

  23. Anonymous

    “Haredism’s version of a stable, long-term relationship often lacks romance and passion. It can be more of a business arrangement – with some interesting perks – rather than love.” With all the single baal teshuva’s out there, maybe the haredim are on to something?

  24. I agree with Bayit Bourne that moving in together is not a good deal for women and does amount to concubinage (to single men – a concubine is traditionally the additional woman if a married man as far as I know) and studies have shown now that when people live together it increases the chances of divorce. The marriage doesn’t seem as serious because they have already set up house.

    However, on the issue of multiple wives, from what I have seen jealousy between the wives is a MAJOR issue in every society in which it is practiced. If the women have ANY feelings for the man (and they most likely would if they were married to him. Moreover, feelings might tend to grow if she has had sex with him more than say 3 times in teh course of teh marriage. Sex does tend to make people possesive), they will NOT want to share him. And then they will turn against each other (again, check out “Raise the Red Lantern”) where women might try to hurt each other or the other women’s children.

    I know that Treifalicous does NOT, I mean NOT know how to share a man. I’d be liable to kill the man if he brought another woman home. Think about it, how would YOU feel man or woman if your partner brought home another sex partner and expected you to accept this?

    This, I think, would still be the case if the marriage is just a business arrangement. You would at least not want it thrown in your face that your spouse has affairs with someone else.

  25. As for marrying and having children young – I have NEVER, EVER met ANYONE who said they were glad they got married or had kids at 18 and 22. Everyone says, “I was young and stupid”.

    Of the people I have seen who have had kids (though not married) in their teens and early 20s, almost every one of them seems resentful that they have never had a chance to live independently and make the most of themselves before having to sacrifice so much for someone else. They went from children in their parent’s house to parents and possibly spouses and don’t know who they are and what they are capable of. That resentment shows in how they raise their children. The immaturity leads them to be very impatient with their children and often careless as well. The children grow up feeling like a burden that their parents would rather be rid of. One of my friends, whose mother had her older brother at 17 (in Jamaica, where this was not totally uncommon, especially in the early ’70s) said she could feel the resentment at times, like her mother felt like her and her brother’s existence held her back in some way. After we finished college the minute she found a job she basically threw her out of teh house, not giving her time to save for a security deposit or anything. Just gave her the boot.

    On the other hand, people I know who waited until at least their late 20s to marry and especially have children, are SO happy and were eager to have a child in their life. They lived for themselves for X number of years and now at 28 or 35 or 40 had the marurity to really give to someone else cheerfully instead of giving grudgingly and with resentment at all the things they can’t do now because they have a kid.

    Even from religious people I read about on the internet through blogs, those that married in their early 20s sound very immature and a bit selfish and seem to regret marrying when they did but say they caved in to community pressure.

    When one is single and you hear actual people tell you these things, what is a single person, frum or not, supposed to think?

    Moreover, if you marry at 17 and have kids at 19, you do not have time or money for an education to support those kids. Back when peopel primarily lived in farms, it didn’t matter iof people had kids in their teens when they had the energy to chase after them. However, without a LOT of support (which most parents/grandparents aren’t willing to give) they won’t be able to complete an education necessary to get a decent job. Then the young family will be doomed to a life of stunted opportunities and poverty.

    Face it, the world has changed. People, both men and women, MUST change with it or else.

  26. Okay, we are discussing re-instituting pilegesh here ? Whom would that benefit ? How would that be different from hookers, exactly ? Oh, longer payment procedure ? She would be all-mikvahed uop for you ?Would married men be using this service as well ? Would STD rates go way, way up ? Aside from the release of sexual energy, whom would this benefit ?

  27. Paul Freedman

    oninsoupmix, Neo-conservguy: anybody: what is the rabbinic concensus on the halachic boundaries of extra-marital sexuality? Is it that extra-marital sex is logically a self-contradiction since if a guy takes a woman outside of the regular procedures for marriage he has just “bought the cow” anyways? Trefalicious: there are women who due to personality shouldn’t have children or be forced by society or their own expecations to raise families. Some of those women who complain that they were stupid to have children early might also have found it was a drag if they waited.

  28. Hmmm...

    Paul,
    I would say the same for men, too. The Jewish community’s emphasis on marriage and children, while necessary to perpetuate itself, is, in my view, overdone. Not everybody is cut out to have children, which does not mean that they are flawed or “bad” people. Childless people can contribute to the community–and to child rearin–on myriad ways. As they say, it takes a village…

  29. TM

    I wonder what unmarried women who are reaching the end of their reproductive years have to say about all of this. Should they be trying to marry a non-Jew? Should they simply agree to be the childless but useful parts of the village? Would they benefit from concubinage?

    This is a very sad topic.

    What is sadder though are all the unmarried men and women I keep seeing at shul. Why are they not hooking up?

    (full disclosure: I am married and non-Orthodox)

  30. Harley

    Bayit Bourne and Treifalicous,

    The view of moving in together being equal to concubinage objectifies women and separates them from their sexuality. Some of us have no interest in marriage or procreation, but do want to spend our time with one person and move in together to do so. As for being discarded on the street, I speak from experience in saying that’s not true. Although I recently ended a relationship with a live-in partner, I still live in our apartment (my name is on the lease), albeit in a separate room. Furthermore, your responses completely ignore those without the right to marry. Partnership and sex are not a transaction any more.

  31. “Furthermore, your responses completely ignore those without the right to marry.” – Harley

    Who doesn’t have the right to marry?

    Even in a Halachich context, everyone can marry, they just can’t always marry exactly who they want. Thisis an issue only in Israel where the Rabbinate controls issues of personal status.

    I was once discussing what isconcubinage with someone. They told me thata concubine is a live in girlfriend (though usually of a married man).

    As for living together – sure you got the apartment but this is because you happened to put your name on teh lease? WHat if your name was NOT on teh lease? What if it was a house and we were dealing with a mortgage?

    As my father has recently passed away and we have had to deal with issues of inheritance and life insurance and beneficiaries, I am now seeing once again how important that piece of paper is. Wives are the first to inherit followed by children. Luckily (for me) they have stopped only counting children born in wedlock or I would have been out in the cold (to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars). Still, without additional paperwork there would have been no proof that my father really was my father. That additional paperwork was only done (half done, actually) SIX years ago.

    Now I am not a legal expert, but if you are living with someone and the person dies, his or her family would get everything and you would be out in the cold despite living together for years and years because you do not have a piece of paper binding you together. This, in fact, is exactly what happens to gay couples which is why they are fighting for the right to marry.

    Living together is nice and yes I know women have sexual agency and are not livestock for the purpose of breeding, but at the end of the day being married pays. Living together without being married carries more risk, especially for women. n

    This will only change when the laws change to strip marriage of all financial and legal benefit, which is highly unlikely.

  32. Stephen Mendelsohn

    BS”D

    Q. “Who does not have the right to marry?”

    A. A woman with a severe disability who is not physically able to safely immerse in a mikveh. She cannot marry because, being perpetually nidah, she cannot have kosher relations.

    The OU (to their credit) lists on their website about two dozen mikva’ot that are now accessible to people with disabilities; lift equipment may need to be arranged in advance. Chava Willig Levy’s story is detailed in Rivkah Slonim’s book, Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology. While this is important and all to the good that more mikva’ot are being made accessible to those people with disabilities who can use them, we must still remember that others with more severe disabilities simply do not have this option because of pikuach nefesh. For an observant woman with severe, permanent, but stable disability, this is a very difficult hardship. This also affects prospective converts with severe disabilities, whether male or female (as well as men with hemophilia), no matter how sincere their intent and how committed they are to mitzvot (including such things as having to move into accessible housing within wheelchair distance of a shul, and teaching a myriad of personal assistants the detailed laws of kashrut, including bishul akum).

    And this is just the halachic answer. Actually, the US social welfare / social security system discriminates against people with disabilities who want to marry by depriving people of benefits if and when they do. Some people get married in secret without legal sanction; others just live together without getting married. And if two people with disabilities are able to get married and decide to start a family, the state can often attempt to take away their children. This almost happened to a Jewish couple in my area.

  33. Steve – Are there men who don’t have the right to marry?

  34. Treifalicious –

    Stephen I’m sure will answer in more detail. Sadly, though, the simple answer is yes.

  35. Scam Alert

    Should we make a shidduch between Scotty and Tzemach Atlas from mentalcase? Or would Scotty be a better match for this Rokach lowlife who was caught molesting boys?

  36. emeslyaakov

    As background only so that you can evaluate the validity of the information – I am a hareidi rav and dayan and have written on the subject of the ban on polygamy and its applicability today and the issue of pilegesh from the perspective of halacha.

    Failed messiah et al: the halacha is extremely clear – all sex of any kind with a nida is totally prohibited under all circumstances. If that sex is intercourse – either anal or vaginal, the punishment is caret – the same as eating on Yom Kippur.

    Nonmarried sex when the woman is not a nida (it is not enough that she is not menstruating, she must immerse in the mikve or certain natural bodies of water to cease being a nida) is according to the Rambam prohibited by the Torah, and according to most others prohibited rabbinically.

    A pilegesh is somewhere between married and unmarried. A pilegesh is not casual sex and not chas v’shalom a prostitute. A pilegesh is a committed relationship, it is just that the terms are slightly different than marriage. A pilegesh may not have sex with any other man during the term of the pilagshuth. The status does not require a get at the end. It may be for a predetermined term or may end when she decides to leave or he decides to end it. After it is finished, she may not have sex (married or otherwise) for 92 days (really 90 days besides the last day she was with the last guy and the first day that she is with the next guy). During the relationship, rules of birth control are the same as for married people (i.e. in general not allowed, and when allowed, only certain methods). There is no ketuva. The financial and living arrangements during the term of the relationship are by agreement. Any children born are perfectly legitimate. If either party has other children, they must know about all of their siblings.

    All of this is a matter of halacha. As a practical sociological issue, I think that guys have difficulty making the plunge to get married. I know a little bit about the NY Westside scene second hand. It seems that guys get Shabbes meals cooked for them and social companionship and many other things without the committment. Add to this tephillin dates, unless a guy has his head straight it is very easy for him to think that he doesn’t need to get married.

    If we encourage pilagshut for single men, then the number of guys/men getting married will be even less. Until polygamy comes back, every guy who doesn’t get married means that a girl/woman doesn’t get married.

    I think that pilagshut can be an important ingredient in our society, but not to enable single guys to avoid the commitment of marriage but rather to relieve the pressure on married guys who would otherwise get divorced.

    Considering that there are by age 30 more women than men, there are more ba’alot teshuva than ba’alei teshuva, there are more gioreses than gerim, more male homosexuals than exclusive lesbians, it really means that if a guy really wants to get married, he can. Therefore, get with it and get married.

    As for the comment that women are allowed to masturbate and participate in lesbian activity let me say that vagina/vagina sexual contact is forbidden under the posuk “according to the deeds of the land of Egypt do not do”. This is one of the pesukim which we read in the afternoon of Yom Kippur. See Rashi’s commentary on the possuk.

    As for the Talmud’s attitude to women’s sexuality, I think that the other commenters simply are not familiar enough with the Talmud’s attitude. The differing rules of tsniut between men and women may relate to an attitude (still held by modern psychological thinking) that men are more visually stimulated than women, not by an attitude that women have lower sex drives. The Talmud clearly states that women would prefer poverty with plenty of sex to wealth with limited to no sex. The halacha specifies the minimum amount of sex that the wife is entitled to and the man may not refuse this to his wife, and also more if she wants it. The Torah itself obligates the man to fulfill his sexual obligation to his wife, and failure to do so is grounds to demand a divorce.

    As for celibacy – with the exception of the intermediate state of pilegesh, the Halacha does not permit sex outside of marriage. It does not matter if you are 15, 17, 35, previously married or whatever.

    If you are a guy over age 18, get married right away. In a time when the world was in better order, a man who had hot married by age 20 was beaten by the beit din. They would then make him marry the first available girl/woman. If he continued to refuse, they would continue to flog him.

    If you are a girl/woman – examine yourself honestly – have you rejected guys who could have been a viable husband? Do you have middot that you could improve to make you a better shidduch?

    As treifalicious said, many (perhaps most) women do not want to be a pilegesh or second wife, but some may agree that it is the best thing for their situation. If even a few women make successful polygamous marriages, it should help everyone’s situation. The single guys who have been holding out will feel a much greater pressure to get married because they will see opportunity slipping away.

    If anyone serious wants further information about the halachot of pilegesh or polygamy from a strict halachic point of view, please write.

    If there are women still in their childbearing years who would consider being a second wife, please write, there are a lot of very fine men who are looking for second wives, especially in Israel.

  37. dude

    mr mednelsohn,

    why does the problem presented in this post afflict only bt singles? are ffb singles not as badly affected for the very smae reasons….?!

    regarding your assertion that kiruv orgs target only ‘normal’ folks to become bt’s, i find that hard to believe. since most of the bts that i know are so cracked and very often lack not only mental stability many of them have issues physically too. otherwise, why would any sane individual give up on the liberties and luxuries of normal life….

  38. Bayit_Bourne

    To answer a couple of questions…

    I am 38 years of age, and my oldest daughter is 21. You do the math. I am certainly not sorry she was born – I am very proud of her. She is now in med school just this fall, after getting her undergrad degree a year early! And I love my other children just as much. And more: I just this past spring graduated with a BA and am now working on a masters.

    Not realistic, you say? I just did it – the differnce between myself and many other women is that my husband isn’t allergic to being gainfully employed. It is only men’s refusal to provide for their families in the yeshiva culture that prevents women from being able to enjoy their childbearing years and their children. Now that I’m pushing 40 and my kids are no longer small, it’s the perfect time for me to do the college and career thing. Yes, for years we had one car, and lived modestly. So what? We are all better off for not being slaves to the materialistic culture. Were the kids deprived? $%*^* no. There are libraries, parks, free cultural events (pack a picnic) , and resources of all kinds available to anyone who isn’t too lazy to find them or take advantage of them (not to mention charity, which we never used). Stop expecting other people to solve your problems and you’ll go far – but you have to be willing to make reasonable sacrifices and put some effort into it. The “poor” in this country live like kings compared to real poor people in third world countries.

    And no, I am not against polygamy. In fact, I have a friend from Lebanon who I could imagine being my husband’s second wife. It’s only strange to Americans because we’re raised on ideas of “romance” and “True Love” that are far more fiction than fact. As for “jealousy” and all that, you’re presuming the first wife has no say in whether or not a particular woman becomes a second wife – in modern polygamy, she certainly does.

    I also want to say I am opposed 100% to shacking up in any form, and that includes living together (i.e. concubinage), and furthermore, I am 100% opposed to unwed mothers being able to extort a contract after the fact from men in the form of child support. [The law should be clear – no marriage contract, no obligation for support. Women have the right to have an abortion, to move away and “neglect” to mention to the father they even have a child, or claim they don’t know who the father is and give the child away for adoption. Women have a half-a-dozen ways to avoid motherhood, and men deserve equal protection under the law. I’m not talking about forced abortions, so don’t go there.] If you want to encourage marriage, simply pass that law. It’s all that free milk that keeps men from buying it and free support that keeps women dishing it out. That’s not social policy – that’s economics 101.

    Someone asked about the basis in Torah for rejecting premarital sex: The basis in Torah for not having premarital sex is from the law which states that if a girl living in her father’s house gets married, and her husband finds that she is not a virgin, she was supposed to be stoned for promiscuity (Deut 22.) Of course, here the girl was advertised as a virgin, I suppose, but the presumption is clearly that since she was not previously married, she must be a virgin or “she has done wickedness in ISrael, to whore in her father’s house.” Of course, there’s no way to prove whether or not a guy is a virgin, now is there?

    Hope that covers it. Shalom.

    That’s all I can think of for now. Shalom.

  39. Neo-Conservaguy

    “If you are a guy over age 18, get married right away. In a time when the world was in better order, a man who had hot married by age 20 was beaten by the beit din. They would then make him marry the first available girl/woman. If he continued to refuse, they would continue to flog him.”

    Keep this in mind, folks, the next time you sing, “chadeish yameinu k’kedem”. There are Jews out there who are praying for a return to the “good old days”… Most men at age 20 are barely ready to make a rational choice voting, never mind selecting and caring for a mate, fer gosh sakes!

  40. In earlier times, the two steps in a marriage – erusin (the first two b’rachot and the giving of the ring with the declaration harei at…) and nissuin (the yichud etc) were separated by a year.

    In the case which you sited, she is killed because the assumption is that she had sex after the erusin and therefore it was adultery, not because she had premarital sex.

    The most extreme opinion, that of the Rambam is that the punishment for premarital sex (assuming that she is not married to anyone else, is not a close relative and is not a nida or zava) is 39 lashes. The Torah definitely does not prescribe a death sentence for it.

    And to Neo-Conservaguy: if guys of 20 are immature, this is the result of faulty upbringing. Don’t be proud of it, work to change it. There are plenty of guys in their 30’s and 40’s who feel that they are not ready for arriage. They probably never will be.

  41. Paul Freedman

    emeslyaakov:

    “Nonmarried sex when the woman is not a nida (it is not enough that she is not menstruating, she must immerse in the mikve or certain natural bodies of water to cease being a nida) is according to the Rambam prohibited by the Torah, and according to most others prohibited rabbinically.”

    Could you briefly describe the different modes of authority for prohibitions according to Torah and rabbinic prohibitions?

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