Censorship, Deceit and Values

From The Desk Of New

Rated PGDarling readers,

I have lately pondered the values of Jewrotica, and they are several fold.  We stand for the need for respect in all relationships, the importance of direct communication, and the prioritization of sexual education and safe sex. Beyond these universal values, we are a catalyst for the creation of Jewish erotic literature, a forum for the exploration of Jewish text and tradition in a novel way, and an incubator for a global Jewish community that embodies a positive approach to sexuality.

Jewrotica was created as a platform for conversation and literary expression, a hub for many – sometimes contradicting – viewpoints.  We try our best to publish as many submissions as possible, even if it means mentoring writers and going back and forth with edits until a piece is fine-tuned.  I would like for Jewrotica to be an open-minded publication that is pluralistic whenever possible – a site for everyone.  That is why our pieces have run the gamut representing interfaith, Orthodox, gay, straight, serious, playfulvanilla, kink, poetry, prose, educational, Judaic, fantasy and scores of other flavors and communities.

We, as the Jewrotica team, have collectively decided not to include certain pieces.  We rejected a piece that felt hateful toward Jews and Jewish people (and also happened to have little redeeming literary value).  However, there is a different category of (equally distasteful) writing that we have allowed ourselves to publish: stories involving deceit, cheating and extramarital affairs.

As a self-proclaimed inclusive publication, it would get tricky for us to start taking ethical stands.  Nevertheless, all religions and modern ethical frameworks, including Judaism, frown on deceit, lies and cheating – each of which shatters trust, betrays relationships and diminishes one’s sense of worth.  Modern media tends to glamorize, glorify and even eroticize the cheating moment and the “art of the affair” without giving due voice and discourse to the real wounds that are inflicted through these behaviors.  There is one type of person who deserves to behave selfishly and demand instant gratification on a regular basis: a toddler.  One would hope that we outgrow these behaviors and learn consideration of others as we mature.

Folks can have their own positive or negative opinions about Orthodox frameworks of marital intimacy, BDSM and the kink community, polyamory, same sex relationships and so forth. However, all of these frameworks include a fundamental level of communication, respect and honesty, which is not present with cheating and extramarital affairs.

This musing brings us to my main question.  Though the Jewrotica team is fairly non-hierarchical, the publication of all stories and articles are ultimately subject to my discretion.  So I wonder: Would opting not to include stories that promote disrespectful or deceitful behavior be a “brave stand” that speaks to the values of Jewrotica, or would it simply be an unrealistic and prudish attempt at censorship?

Your opinions are requested and conversation is invited!

Light and Love,

Ayo Oppenheimer - Final Version of Signature

Founder and editor of Jewrotica, Ayo spent the past two years full-time RVing North America with her Jewish educational film program. Ayo alternates between intensely pursuing fun new experiences and equally intensely trying to do good by people. She would love to hear from you.
  • LawWizard

    If this forum is intended to display reality and/or is to be held up as an example for how one should live one’s life, then there is no place for adultry/deceit here. However, what I have seen in the few weeks I have regularly viewed articles posted here is a great variety of forms of expression (with an erotic tinge, which is why I’m here, after all). It seems to me, so far, that part of the purpose for this expression is meant to be as an outlet for FANTASY, which is, after all, a huge part of erotica and sexual expression for most of us. If fantasy is welcome here, then to eliminate a large portion of it in the name of nobly (naively) trying not to set a bad example seems wrong-headed, to me. We need to recognize that, to the extent we are fantasizing about being adultrous, we may be resisting the urge to be adultrous in real life. I have always believed, based upon what I have read and upon my own value system, that as long as it doesn’t involve hurting anyone IN REALITY, what one fantasizes about can be not only a healthy outlet for what–in reality–would be wrong, but allows one a peek into one’s own psyche. It can only help one to know oneself better, no?

    • Yes, that is an interesting point and I think your perspective on fantasy (“as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone in reality”) is healthy and important. I agree with you on that. Something to consider.

  • Quasi

    Along Jewish lines, I would divide the topics between chukim (prohibitions that we don’t understand, are controversial in the sense that some people are in favor and some are against, and are up for serious discussion) and mishpatim (prohibitions that were instituted for obvious reasons, should be prohibited by religious and/or secular law, and are not really up for discussion or debate because the actions are wrong). I am against any form of censorship on the controversial topics, but don’t support publication of articles portraying clearly-wrong sexual actions in any positive light. The policy is similar to the self-censorship adopted by Marvel Comics (until 2001) and DC Comics (until 2011) in accordance with the Comics Code Authority.

    • What a fascinating explanation and distinction of chukim and mishpatim. Thanks for introducing a traditional Jewish element and framework into the conversation.

      Can I ask you to elaborate on what would be considered to be “portraying clearly-wrong sexual actions in any positive light”?

  • karma babe

    While I believe that adulterous behavior is self serving, painful in the extreme to the partner who is being cheated on and not a quality that enriches any individual’s personal growth, I also believe that it would be wrong for this site to censor posts.

    A better approach would be to allow the adulterous content and hopefully have comments that strongly respond to why this isn’t a path that should be followed.

    In a perfect world, someone who has been cheated on could also post. I would also be interested in how the “other woman” or “other man” can justify her/his actions and not be concerned that he/she will be cheated on in turn one day.

    • “I would also be interested in how the “other woman” or “other man” can justify her/his actions and not be concerned that he/she will be cheated on in turn one day.”

      Intriguing. I would indeed be interested in sharing all perspectives. Thanks for sharing yours, Karma babe.

  • I would say if the piece does not glamorize or rationalize adulterous or ANY unethical or immoral behavior, then it should be considered for publication. I do not see this as potential for censorship with negative connotation. Words have meaning. Words are very powerful. So are images. The media uses both and the media have a profound effect on the world at large which is well influenced by what the media chooses to publish. I strongly believe that much violent behavior that is exhibited today is the result of growing up exposed by the media to repeated, graphic portrayals of violence, whether with images or words. I would extrapolate that much of the marital discord that is evidenced today is also largely influenced by the media’s portrayal of relationships and marriage. Infidelity is “normal” on most TV shows and movies, and in books and magazines. It is rampant. Thus, we are inured to the behavior and it becomes “acceptable”. You need not issue a blanket refusal of any or all portrayals or writings about this topic but you can use common sense and your (rightful) sense of morality and ethics when considering whether to publish any particular piece. Good luck!

    • Thanks for sharing, Rachel! I personally agree with what you say, but have a hard time justifying the rejection of pieces on moral grounds – given that I am just one person, the site is meant to be inclusive and spark conversation, and even my own lines and perspectives have changed over the years (like most people).

      But I profoundly agree with your statements that “Words have meaning. Words are very powerful.”

      A conundrum, indeed.

  • Joey

    Either way it’s censorship, but that’s okay. People have a right to speak freely, but they don’t have a right to do it on your platform. That said, I can’t say how much I respect your desire to avoid censoring ideas you don’t like.

    Censorship of hate-writing that probably won’t contribute to discussion seems like a fair choice to me. Censorship of writing that promotes ideas you don’t like, but might stimulate good conversation, does not.* I say toss the anti-semitism and publish the cheaters.

    *Unfortunately, these two categories are not always easy to distinguish.

    • Yes, that makes sense. I think there will still be blurry lines and tough calls down the road, but I generally agree with you.

  • Salmah

    Loved the piece and the witty insertion about a toddler. I would say it is brave to condemn cheating and not necessarily ‘ethical imposing,’ so go ahead and condemn it but I would not censor pieces on cheating because they could bring valuable debate and discussion to your website. Why do people cheat? What do people long for when they cheat? Are they filling a void or just being selfish? Or are they pursuing the ‘erotic’ which they cannot obtain from their domestic affair? How will readers of jewrotica respond to pieces on cheating? Will they too take a brave stand against it? I think the non-censorship of such pieces can be fruitful without tarnishing jewroticas reputation or your strong stance against cheating. Hope this helps xoxo

    • Thanks for your input, darling Salmah. I especially appreciate these questions of yours:

      “Why do people cheat? What do people long for when they cheat? Are they filling a void or just being selfish? Or are they pursuing the ‘erotic’ which they cannot obtain from their domestic affair?”

      Something to think about, for sure.

  • Sam Ell

    “Censorship, deceit and values”… I believe that is the Conservative platform my dear.

  • smudge

    Obviously, as editor, it’s your call what to print in your own publication. But I think it’s a slippery slope to pick this particular moral flaw and say that’s where you draw the line. There will be another and another after that. Next week, perhaps “an illicit tryst at Jewish summer camp” won’t seem so appropriate. Writing about adultery doesn’t make it happen more; if it did, someone would have sued John Updike a few hundred times before he died. Not writing about adultery doesn’t make it go away. Is the story erotic or isn’t it? Does it glorify adultery or doesn’t it? I don’t see why you can’t judge the story on its own merits.

    • All fair points. What, if any, boundaries would you suggest? Pieces that include graphic violence? Bestiality? That are misogynistic? Curious where – if anywhere – you might draw a line regarding the appropriateness of content.

  • Anon

    Having been a writer of one of the pieces with cheating content (Making a Very Long Story Merely Long), I was wondering until now, why the piece was not posted to the Jewrotica facebook page. Neither has the latest piece “Deborah and Aviva” by Dirty Di.

    I can’t know your thoughts, but I wonder if you think maybe if by posting these pieces to the facebook page you would somehow be showing approval for an issue you find inherently wrong. Even though you are posting these pieces to the actual website, it is a form of censorship to not include them on the facebook page. Less people will be exposed to the story.

    I think, like some of the others who’ve commented, that the subject might be distasteful but it is valuable in order to encourage conversation and commentary. I know I value the feedback that was left on my piece and know that I would appreciate hearing more.

    Perhaps, if you feel the need, when posting such pieces to facebook you can write a disclaimer of your feelings towards the topic and invite others to then read and comment themselves.

    • Anon,

      Thanks for writing!

      First, I apologize that your piece has not been featured on the Facebook page yet. Your writing deserves to be promoted just like our other pieces.

      Second, the absence of your and Dirty Di’s piece from Facebook has NOTHING to do with its content. (After all, I think we featured two adultery-themed pieces called Astray and Kiruv on Facebook earlier this fall.) For full disclosure, our social media guru notified us a couple of weeks ago that she would need to move on, and we are only this week starting to onboard someone for the position, so maintenance of our social media has been slightly more ad hoc over the past couple of weeks.

      Sorry that it fell through the cracks, but thanks for the heads up as well as the feedback and I’ll try to post the piece in the coming days!

      • Anon

        Ah, now I feel like an ass. Well, I’m glad it was just a maintenance thing rather than a form of censorship. I think every writer should get the chance to get feedback.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s a slippery slope. Homosexuality is also condemned in the Bible, is Jewrotica going to stop posting stories about that too? What about bestiality? Rape? Or is rape okay so long as the person who does it pays what he is supposed to pay and marries the girl? I think Jewrotica needs to reflect the Jewish reality in all its shades and colors. Adultery happens. Including stories about it doesn’t glorify it, it presents reality. It happens everyday, all the time, in all sectors of the Jewish community. Everyone must grapple with their own moral choices, but one person’s moral choice might be someone else’s taboo, and one person’s choice to break one commandment may be no better or worse than someone else’s choice: lashon hara, public embarrassment, slander, libel. But nobody’s going to write a sexy story about those things. People write sexy stories about adultery because it is a very real temptation. In the same vein Jewrotica should then choose not to indulge in lesbian/homosexual fantasies, rape fantasies, or bondage fantasies, because some people might find those choices repugnant. Like I said, slippery slope.

    • I agree – all of these things are a slippery slope.

      Out of curiosity, do you think that anything should be censored at all? Drawing lines is tricky, but everyone draws a line somewhere. If not bestiality, then with pedophilia or another socially-sanctioned act perhaps?

      I wonder what the stats are on how much reading about and being exposed to activities normalizes them and makes the viewer more inclined to DO them as opposed to leaving things in the fantasy realm. This is parallel to the conversation about sex and violence in video games, for instance.

      • Anonymous

        In terms of reading about something=normalization: yes and no, sometimes reading about something deviant helps you understand you are not alone in feeling the way you do sometimes. Whether you act on such feelings is another thing entirely. Sometimes it helps to just know its out there and that you are not alone. That sometimes these feelings are very human and real, even if they are not morally right.

        I do think there is a realm where things might be deemed inappropriate for publication. I think bestiality and pedophilia are good examples. However, there is a difference between a story that says “I had a dream about this and it was erotic even thought it was strange” and a story that says “getting it on with animals rocks” – and ditto with pedophilia. We can’t always help the urges we have but we can talk about them and that can help us and others face them, even if in doing so we decide that while it’s ok to feel this way, its very very wrong to act this way.

  • chaim

    I think the context of the situation is very important to determine if it belongs in an erotic publication. This is what will differentiate Jewrotica from pornography. I understand the conflict you must face and it is complex. But from what I have read so far, Jewrotica is very erotic and shows a sensitivity to a variety of sexual behaviors and situations. The photos and drawings are erotic and never have approached pornographic, although some might define it that way. I think the feedback you get will help you adjust the boundaries if people are willing to be open, understanding, and polite.

    • You’re right. And I appreciate your understanding the subtle lines we try to draw in conveying the erotic. Not everyone can see the distinction. Thanks, Chaim.

  • Having been on the receiving end of infidelity more times than I care to count, I am the last person to be sympathetic to cheaters. Yet, I tend to agree with the general sentiment expressed by many here in the comments. I say throw it up there and let the community discuss it. There’s already lots of content here that is controversial. There’s a lot of content here that explores topics that I find offensive or at the very least uncomfortable. But I welcome the opportunity to be challenged. I value the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective – and I am glad that I can express my opinion on any topic here freely.

    Ayo, I totally understand your perspective. I nonetheless urge you to run the pieces in question, as long as they meet our standards in all other respects.

    • Right. I hear you. And though I am less comfortable with the content of certain pieces, I was inclined to publish them (I mean, I did after all publish them) before writing this column, but more so now that the community has spoken up. Thanks for the advice.

  • Daniela Mitrovic

    I think that sexuality is something to be embraced and explored in whatever ways it manifests itself. I would never cheat on my partner, but I understand that some people have different values. It doesn’t mean that I should judge them and tell them they’re wrong because it’s not for me to decide.

    I don’t necessarily believe that a story should be censored because of something like adultery. People cheat all the time and not all sex is clean, emotionally or physically. Is there maybe some way to tip the reader off at first that there’s “unscrupulous behavior” in the story?

    • Daniela,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Your point about “not all sex is clean, emotionally or physically” is important to keep in mind, and perhaps a mention of the content could be added in the editor’s note to give readers a heads up. Good idea.

  • Wow! I wasn’t expecting this much feedback, but I’m glad that it came. This post clearly stirred up strong feelings.

    I’ll momentarily respond to individual posts, but first wanted to thank everyone who took the time to thoughtfully respond – both publicly and privately – to this issue.