[Editor’s Note: This is the first post in our Sex with the Rabbi series. Each column profiles one rabbi’s response to an assortment of sexuality and Judaism-related questions. Rabbis from across the denominational spectrum are invited to participate. Our series kicks off with Rabbi Rachael Bregman of Atlanta, Georgia.]
Bio: Rachael Bregman is the Rabbi for Open Jewish Project which strives to enrich and invigorate young Jewish Atlanta one relationship at a time. She will soon begin serving as the first female rabbi for Temple Beth Tefiloh in Brunswick, GA. She has been ardently working to add the Jewish voice to the outcry against human trafficking and other issues concerning basic human rights. Additionally, she is working on new Jewish community engagement models. She sits on the board of T’ruah and The JCRC in Atlanta. She recently received the Kingenomics Conference award for excellence in social justice and is a fellow with Rabbis without Border and the Georgia Women’s Policy Institute. Originally a Boston native, she currently lives in Virginia Highlands on the beltline, an urban revitalization project with her partner, Dan his daughter Alyssa and their puppy, Safi Dag.
What’s the most common sex-related question you get from your community members?
When it comes to sex itself, I get very few – if any – questions. I think people are a little freaked out when it comes to talking with their rabbi about hooking up, making out, nookie, sex, fornicating, whatever PG words we use to describe intercourse and other sex acts.
However, when it comes to relationships, dating and sexuality, I get asked advice questions all the time. Because a person’s or a couple’s sex life is an excellent indicator of relationship quality and strength, I might broach the topic of sex only to ask if qualitatively it is good and quantitatively it is sufficient without asking for specifics.
Genesis dares us to try new things and explore life in a productive, fruitful manner. There is holiness in building something new, whether it is a new universe, a new life, a new relationship, a new connection, a new practice or a new habit. Anytime we create something, we have to make room for that creation (tzim tzum – like sucking in to fit into tight jeans, but in this case sucking in to make way for the glory of what’s next). That means giving a little bit of yourself away to make space for someone or something else.
What story from the Torah do you think has the most to teach us about sexuality?
It’s terrifying, but without it the world is “without form and void” (Genesis 1). Creation teaches us that we need to stick with other people always. In Genesis terms, that means a man cleaves unto his mother until he cleaves unto his wife. In today’s terms, I believe this text tells us that you always need other people in your life in intimate ways: not necessarily just to marry, but to be somehow integrated into the fabric of our lives.
Another hot text is the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah- and not because of the three-way jokes one might want to make. Here is this guy, Jacob, who is so committed to being with the person he loved that he literally slaved for her and married someone else to get to her heart. It is incredibly romantic – if not a storyline from Days of our Lives…
Truly, I think all of Torah has much to teach us about sexuality everywhere we look. Lessons of kindness, inclusion, graciousness, open-handedness, acceptance, non-judgment abound in the Torah and can apply to all aspects of our lives. It is why the blessing for the study of Torah ends with “la’asok b’dvrei Torah”: Let us busy ourselves with living out the words of Torah.
What’s the best way to keep a relationship vibrant?
Find what strengthens you and your partner together and do that as much as possible. Find what drains you and your partner and avoid it. Keep your separate selves well-nurtured from both within and beyond the relationship, keeping your emotional treasure chest full so that you have love, kindness, compassion and generosity of spirit to give to your partner at any time. Say sorry when you mess up even if you’re not ready to admit to yourself that you mean it. Tell each other when you goof up. Forgive one another as fast as possible and just listen to what each other’s wants and needs are. Do what you can to give whenever you can. And put love notes in each other’s lunches or other unexpected places.
What do you think is the biggest sexuality-related problem for the Jewish community right now?
Denial. We pretend we are not facing infidelity, lack of interest, abuse, rape, assault, trafficking, boredom in our sex lives, disappointments, stress, erectile dysfunction, menopause, post-partum depression, job-loss, transitions and so on. We pretend everything is fine, transforming our problems into our secrets. Secrets have power which adds to the destruction of libido, intimacy and trust. How awesome would it be if we had a day where people walked around wearing t-shirts listing their sexual-related problems so everyone could talk about, heal, mourn and nurture those wounds we feel so deeply?
What’s your favorite Jewish book on sexuality?
I don’t currently have one. I am hoping 50 shades of Oy! comes out soon.
Any other thoughts?
The Torah says man was not made to be alone. But that does not mean pick your partner and be with them all the time until you are ready to throttle one another. To keep your relationship vibrant, feed it!! Feed it by spending time with your partner, with friends, with family, with strangers. Employ exciting stimuli like learning, culture, arts, new experiences, time alone, time with others, new adventures, old adventures revisited, so forth and so on. Share the stories of your experiences with your partner.