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The following article details an approach to sexual ethics characteristic of the Jewish Renewal movement, in which the author is a leader and teacher. Many—if not most—more conventional Jewish authorities would disagree with its suggestions and conclusions. The following is reprinted with permission of the author from “Down-to-Earth Judaism: Sexuality,” published in
, March-April 1988 (3:2).
Most Jews reject in their own practice and in theory the traditional adherence to early marriage and the traditional opposition to sexual activity by unmarried people. The two sentiments are connected. Few American Jews believe that early marriages are wise in our complex society, where personalities, careers, and life paths almost never jell in the teens and often not until the mid‑thirties, sometimes come unjelled during the forties and fifties, and usually change again with long‑lived retirements beginning in the sixties or seventies. It is hard enough to make stable lifelong marriages when one partner is changing in this way; when both are changing, it becomes extremely difficult.
There are several different conceivable responses to this situation:
1) Reverse the basic situation and restore the kind of society in which life patterns are set close to the onset of puberty and do not change much. Few American Jews believe this can be, or should be, done. The Hasidic communities, however, may be showing that for a sub-community such a society can be created.
2) Accept the notions that first marriages will occur many years after sexual awakening and that most marriages will end while the partners are sexually active and alert—and practice celibacy for long periods of unmarried time. This is the solution that almost all American Jews have rejected. It is also, however, the solution that they identify as the “official” position of Jewish tradition and religious authority. There are few public assertions by religious authorities or communities that this is not the “correct” Jewish view, and almost no public Jewish way of honoring or celebrating sexual relationships other than marriage exists.
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