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Does God Belong in the Bedroom?

by Michael Gold

Bibliographic information

TitleDoes God Belong in the Bedroom?
AuthorMichael Gold
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectGeneral Jewish-Interest Literature
Pages236


Description 

Jewish sexual ethics for today… We live in an age of sexual confusion. The traditional guidelines, evolved in simpler times, no longer answer all our modern questions.

Does Judaism offer appropriate guidelines to the intimacy of the bedroom? Can we bridge the gap between tradition and the dilemmas of our time?

In Does God Belong in the Bedroom? Rabbi Michael Gold turns to the Torah, the wisdom of the rabbis of the Talmud, the Midrash, and other classic Jewish sources.

He traces traditional Jewish responses through the ages and applies their lessons to the post-pill, AIDS-conscious world Jews live in today.

Rabbi Gold explores the vast reservoir of rabbinic sources on sexuality, ranging from extreme asceticism to a frank celebration of love and sexuality.

He demonstrates how those classical sources offer from Christian and modern secular ethics, examining such issues as marital, nonmarital, and extramarital sex · pornography · rape and incest · masturbation · homosexuality · birth control · abortion · new reproductive techniques · sex education.

More than a study of texts, Does God Belong in the Bedroom? is a frank and honest approach to sexual ethics.

“I have tried to emphasize sources,” says Rabbi Gold, “that see our sexual drive as God’s gift, to be used to achieve both happiness and holiness.”

God does, indeed, belong in the bedroom.





About the Author 

Michael Gold ---

Michael Gold was ordained as a rabbi in 1979 and assumed his first post at Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack, New York. There the dynamic young rabbi developed an adult education program that received national recognition from United Synagogue. Since 1984, Michael Gold has been rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He writes and lectures frequently on infertility and adoption and contributes a column, “The Practical Rabbi,” to the B’nai B’rith International Jewish Monthly. Rabbi Gold is also a doctoral candidate in rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary.




Contents 

PREFACE 11

1. GOD IN THE BEDROOM 21

2. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE HOLY 37

3. SEX THAT DESTROYS 57

4. IS LIVING TOGETHER IMMORAL? 77

5. THE MARITAL BEDROOM 93

6. SEX WITHOUT BABIES, BABIES WITHOUT SEX 113

7. JUDAISM: PRO-LIFE AND PRO-CHOICE 137

8. GAY AND JEWISH 155

9. RAISING SEXUALLY RESPONSIBLE CHILDREN 181

10. IMPLICATIONS BEYOND THE BEDROOM 201

NOTES 207

GLOSSARY 219

BIBLIOGRAPHY 221

INDEX 223



Excerpt 

As we have seen, the Torah never explicitly outlaws nonmarital sex (except in the case of adultery and incest); it was the rabbis who later forbade it. Even when there was room for a more liberal sexual morality, the rabbis refused to be permissive. Sex outside marriage simply did not fit their ideal of holiness. Why did the rabbis take such a hard line?

I argue that the rabbis were trying to protect the institution of marriage. To them marriage was not simply one of many life-style options; it was the ideal way to live. “A man who does not have a wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness.” They understood only too well the dangers of nonmarital sex. Why search for a mate when it is far easier to search for a sexual partner? Why bother to stay faithful within marriage when one has been sexually promiscuous before marriage? Our modern experience seems to prove a correlation between loose sexual morality before marriage and weak marriages.

One young Orthodox rabbi has written clearly on this point:

It is no longer clear to me that single adulthood in and of itself is responsible for the relaxed sexual morality of our generation. The reverse is true as well. Free sex encourages a casual attitude toward relationships generally, which, in turn, further discourages early marriages. The prevailing cultural prejudice that marriage is not necessary, and that a young couple ought to live together for a considerable t time before considering marriage, discouraged me, for example, from cultivating relationships with those women who still adhered to the “outmoded” norm of premarital chastity. Furthermore, I found that this attitude encourages predatory and exploitative approaches toward sexual partners, particularly on the part of men.

As we saw, the rabbis refused to allow a man to have sexual relations with a woman even when it would save his life because such relations would set a poor example for the daughters of Israel. In general, the rabbis taught that condoning permissive sexual behavior undermines the marriage ideal that they were attempting to protect.

The rabbis had certain secondary concerns when they outlawed nonmarital sex. For example, an unmarried woman would be embarrassed to go to the mikvah and therefore could not properly maintain the laws of family purity. Today an issue in some Orthodox circles is whether it is permissible for a sexually active unmarried woman to go to the mikvah each month. Another concern of the rabbis was the lineage of children born from casual sexual encounters. Rabbi Eliezer, the only Mishnaic rabbi explicitly to outlaw nonmarital sex, wrote:

He sleeps with many women and he does not know who they all are. She receives many men and does not know who she receives. It will turn out that a man will err and marry his sister, a woman will err and marry her brother and the world will be filled with mamzerim.

Jacob Emden, when he permits concubinage, insists that a woman wait three months after leaving such a relationship before marrying to ascertain the lineage of children.

These issues, although important, are still only secondary. The rabbis outlawed nonmarital sex primarily because of its potential to undermine marriage. If ultimate fulfillment was to come only within marriage, then any sexual relationship short of marriage could be used as an excuse for avoiding marital commitment. If holiness was to be the Jewish ideal, then every effort had to be made to sanctify sex by limiting it to the ideal relationship.

These concerns are as valid today as they were in Talmudic times. The Jewish community still seeks to encourage marriage as an ideal and discourage any behavior that might undermine marriage. Perhaps not every Jew lives up to the ideal; in fact, today only a small minority maintains the ideal of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Nevertheless, it is possible—perhaps even imperative—to establish and uphold an ideal even if few Jews live up to it.

The Jewish community can adopt policies which promote this ideal, as a simple example from my own synagogue illustrates. A couple living together but unmarried applied to become members. After much discussion, we decided that they could join as two singles but not as one family. We felt that the synagogue’s membership policy should reflect the ideals of Judaism.

In a similar way, I have argued for the right of parents to insist that an unmarried child and a boyfriend or girlfriend have separate bedrooms when coming to visit. Children have told me, “Rabbi, it’s hypocritical. We sleep together in college. Why shouldn’t we sleep together when we come home to visit my parents?” My answer is that parents have a right to set values for their own household.



Reviews 

Gold writes from a traditional perspective and yet with a liberal and compassionate heart. The book is a thought-provoking if brisk look at some of the most vexing -- and fascinating -- issues concerning Jewish tradition and sexual morality. It is written with clarity, directness and dignity, and Gold has a talent for presenting the apt illustration from the sources. There's a good deal here to think about for the rest of us.

- Jerusalem Post

Drawing on Jewish biblical and rabbinic sources for guidance, Gold, a Florida rabbi, outlines a Jewish sexual ethic, steering a middle course in this opinionated, lively discourse. He maintains that consensual sex outside of marriage can be caring and ethical, yet he maintains that it falls short of the Jewish ideal of holiness. His "ladder of holiness" has sexual fidelity in marriage as its top rung. Arguing that abortion is not desirable except in the most extreme situations, Gold urges the creation of a comprehensive support and counseling service to assist young, pregnant women. While condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and urging compassion toward people with AIDS, Gold opposes official recognition of gay marriages. He favors adoption for couples with severe infertility problems, yet argues in favor of a woman's right to become a surrogate mother. Emphasizing that sexuality, properly understood, can be a means to both happiness and holiness, Gold offers sensible advice on such issues as rape, incest, birth control and how to raise sexually responsible children.

- Publisher's Weekly






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