The first episode of “The Joy of Text” may make you blush. If it does, you’re likely its target audience. The podcast, which is sponsored by JOFA and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT), includes a frank and lively discussion about the role of fantasy in sexual activities between Jewish spouses. Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, a renowned sex therapist and Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh Yeshiva of YCT, dispel myths about Talmudic prohibitions on fantasy. They explain how fantasy, most often, is a helpful way to trigger arousal and strengthen sex lives.
The two explore the vast halakhic permissibility of fantasy, and, along with moderator Ramie Smith, talk about ways in which fantasy can bring husbands and wives closer together. Dr. Marcus contends almost all fantasy is healthy and cautions women not to edit their imaginations because they feel they have drifted into untoward or shameful territory. She points out that the very nature of fantasy is unreal and therefore it is almost impossible to commit a transgression in that realm. At the conclusion of the podcast, in response to listener questions, they discuss the role of props, including vibrators and Kama Sutra cards, in fulfillment of onah, the Talmudic commandment to sexually fulfill one’s wife.
The podcast also includes an interview with Michael Lesher, an attorney and writer, whose new book Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities, looks at the tendency to hide abuse. Mr. Lesher says that, historically, victims of sexual abuse were discouraged from reporting the incidents and advocates discussing healthy sexuality with children to help them understand what is appropriate and when lines have been crossed.
In the second episode, released today, Dr. Marcus and Rabbi Linzer discuss whether Orthodox Jews who engage in premarital sex are permitted to use condoms to prevent STDs, and how parents should talk to their kids about mikveh.
I know that attending the Yeshivat Maharat graduation is the “right thing to do” but it is easy to forget, until I am there, how incredibly important it is to my own spirituality and notions of what Orthodoxy can be. This past Sunday was Yeshivat Maharat’s second graduation and as Rabbi Avi Weiss noted, seconds are pretty big in the Torah, i.e. Noah, Yitzchak, etc. Seconds validate that firsts are not a flash in the pan.
Sunday was that kind of big day. There will soon be five practicing, Orthodox, female clergy who have been ordained by Yeshivat Maharat. They will be working in synagogues in Washington D.C., St. Louis, and Montreal and on the West Coast. This year’s incoming class of seven students is the largest class so far. What strikes me each time I see them is: how natural, warm, wholesome, and unmotivated by ego they are. It just seems so right.
For me, the highlight came when Rabbi Daniel Sperber, unable to contain himself, talked about the “generic criticism” that innovations in leadership and ritual in Orthodoxy have been getting. As he noted, the traditional role of halakha was to solve problems that arose. Halakha was never meant to be static or petrified as people now demand. Hence the root—halekh—to go, to move forward—makes that abundantly clear and yet is so distant from where we are today.
For those who weren’t at the graduation, I suggest that you watch it online—it should give you renewed hope in the vitality of Orthodoxy. For those who were there, and some who were not, I look forward to seeing you next year for the “Chazakah graduation,” the third graduation.
Mazal tov Maharats Rori and Victoria, Rabba Sara and team. May you go m’chayil l’chayil, from strength to strength! We need you!