Sunday, December 11, 2011

YU Beacon: Open Confrontation

It seems like there's always something controversial brewing.  While it's not my intent to comment on every controversy that occurs in the Jewish world, I think that the current one merits special attention.

What I'm writing about today (you might have guessed from the title) is the debate and controversy caused by an article that appeared recently in the YU Beacon, a student run literary publication.  The Article (which can be read here) features the literary description of a pre-marital sexual encounter.  In the article, it is unclear whether the first person speaker is intended to be a fictional or non-fictional character; what is clear is that she is a female undergrad at YU and her boyfriend is also a YU student.  In the very short piece, it seems that the author comes to regret her actions and the shame that follows. 

Following the publication of this article, a back and forth resulted, culminating in the Beacon's loss of funding from the University and an end to its status as an official YU publication.  The publication will continue to exist as the voice of YU students who choose to write for it.  

Undeniably, the subject with the largest taboo in the Orthodox Jewish world is sexuality.  Sure, we discuss things from a legal perspective.  Every bride and groom usually learns the laws of taharat hamishpacha, family purity, and discussions about modesty and its values are commonplace in the Orthodox world.  However, the reality of life in the modern orthodox world is almost entirely ignored by the rabbinate.  That reality is as follows:  For better or worse (I would argue better, but that's a separate discussion), dating in the modern orthodox world has moved away from the shidduch model; instead, courtships are longer and usually involve the development of deep bonds and a strong relationship between individuals who would choose to marry.  Even when two people are formally set up by a shadchan, they still expect to build a relationship of some kind or another before marriage is on the table.

Given this reality, it is only inevitable that sexual tensions will rise to the forefront.  This tension is added to by the taboo surrounding the subject, and the embarrassment and shame that comes with discussing sexual experiences, feelings, tensions, etc.  Additionally, many traditional sources have primarily negative things to say about sexuality.  It should be avoided, it's sinful, etc.  One need look no further than takanas Ezra, no longer officially in effect, which would require men's immersion in the mikveh after any sexual experience in order to limit intercourse and prevent men from acting "like chickens."  Even when sex is permissible, it should be discouraged.

What I'm writing about today, however, is not sexuality in the Jewish religion per se.  Rather, the fact that an institution such as YU would censor student discussion on such an important topic is very disturbing.  Whether the leadership is aware or not, this is perhaps one of the most stressful and dominant issues dealt with by youth in the orthodox world.  Banning discussions about it will only serve to further the taboo, and continue the increasing irrelevance of Orthodox leadership in the lives of so many individuals.  I don't need to belabor the point, but this kind of approach doesn't need to turn people off to religion; it literally removes religion from the everyday lives of the Jewish people by silencing it on the important issues.  Rather than being concerned with image and appearance, leadership should be solely concerned with improving the lives of Judaism's adherents, and with helping to foster a dialogue about the today's important issues based on the divine teachings and truths we're so blessed to possess.  What a sad day when people can no longer express themselves and talk about the day's most important issues.  What a terrible day when a person can't freely convey the lessons they learned on such a difficult and timely topic.    


  1. Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one

  2. Protect the institution's image....never mind its purpose.

  3. i mostly agree you, and its a well written article, but when you talk about the negative feelings from rishonim, and bring as proof- Ezra, not only is it not a proof, but is a total lack of understanding. Ezra could be saying sex is one of the best things in the world, but that doesnt mean to over use it,"you save the best suit, for special occasions"- typa thing. and also how much can an institution bend to "fit in" with students lifestyle before they become the followers instead of leaders