Encounter and Havdalah

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A164 Thesis4

Written by Chelsea Garbell. Chelsea, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is a graduate of NYU in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication.

Chelsea wrote “Online Erotica & The Space to Move Forward: A Modern Jewish Sexual Ethic” for her senior honors thesis in May 2013. The thesis, which was overseen by Professor Brett Gary, is dedicated to “those friends, teachers, and surprising men who have forced me to recon with my Judaism and with myself”. The piece is being published on Jewrotica over four consecutive days, and this is part four. Part three is available here.

PART FOUR

Rated R

Ok, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.
There should be stars for great wars
like ours
(83)

Saint Teresa of Avila, a renowned mystic of the 16th century, once wrote of a vision that befell her as she sat in meditative prayer. An angel pierced her heart with a flaming golden arrow, and she said that, “the pain was so great that I screamed aloud, but at the same time I felt such infinite sweetness that I wished the pain to last forever… It was the sweetest caressing of the soul by God.” (84) She described the pain as both physical and psychic, flooding her brain and her body with what sounds like an overwhelmingly orgasmic experience.

At Jefferson University a neuroscientist named Andrew Newberg scanned the brains of praying Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks and saw that some of their neural activity was similar in those moments to the neural activity in sexually aroused subjects. Prayer and sex have similar rhythmic movements, and “religious experiences produce sensations of bliss, transcendence beyond one’s self, and unity with the loved one that is very like the ecstasy of orgasm.” (85) The overlap seems to indicate that both orgasm and embodied prayer can achieve similar effects, and speaks to Martin Buber’s theory of Encounter and the ability to connect to God.

“The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being.” (86) In his seminal work I and Thou, Martin Buber examines the ways in which human beings choose to relate to one another and to the world. Relation happens through a dialogical model of word-pairs; the I never stands alone, it always stands in relation to the world as object or as subject. There is the model of Experience, the I-It, in which man relates to another person as an object, as knowledge to be gained, as experience to be attained. And this Experience is deeply crucial to humanity, for it is how we craft laws and systems and act with agency in our world.

But this necessary Experience isn’t sufficient. To sustain us, we also need the relational paradigm of I-Thou in which people relate to one another as subjects in the mode of Encounter, approaching each interaction with intention and mutuality. “All actual life is [E]ncounter.” (87) This mode of relation is a conversation, a reciprocal interaction that transforms both people as they dwell within the space in between their words. Much like, love, where two people dwell in their love. Buber then explains that if each people approach this love as subject, as Encounter, then they have the potential to glimpse the Ineffable. It is not that moment of Encounter with God that we are aware of, but rather of our changed nature afterward, when we are able to say ‘You’ to the entire world. (88) This is God’s part of the conversation. The ideal then would be for each person to have this experience of God so that a community of Encounter might move forward in the world.

It may not be possible for each person to have a moment of Encounter with God (if they believe in God at all), but the idea that a society of individuals can make a conscious effort to build a community in which all strive to relate to one another as subjects is at the heart of Jewrotica and this discourse. For that moment of Encounter with God might very well be reached by an ecstatic, St-Teresa-like moment of Encounter with another human being. “The bridges between heaven and earth is sex, where the greatest pleasure known to humans is matched by the possibility of life being created from sexual union.” (89)

Jewrotica is ecstatic possibility; a framework for sex and spirituality that values having a transcendent experience of both, and Encounter is a method of achieving that. It is an online community of sharing, of exploring the sexual experiences of others in order to heighten your own sexual understanding and experience with partners and with yourself so that the entire process can come full circle. As you become a more fulfilled person, your contributions both to this virtual community and to your own embodied communities, both Jewish and not, expand and take on new meaning.

If Jewrotica can teach others about sexuality in Judaism, if it can teach you to live a sexually fulfilled life inspired by and not constricted by Judaism, then you can reach your own moments of Encounter. Have them often enough and you will Encounter God. Once you Encounter God, every one of your experiences, both sexual and not, is an experience of Encounter and you bring that to the world around you. You gain control over the Erotic, the yetzer, inside of you, and the ability to harness and utilize it to its full capacity. You combine that Knowing with the Knowing of Torah in order to take advantage of the Power of your body that is solely productive, and you can produce those experiences and those communities.

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Chelsea is a graduate of NYU in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication. Chelsea wrote “Online Erotica & The Space to Move Forward: A Modern Jewish Sexual Ethic” for her senior honors thesis in May 2013.
  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    Chelsea, thank you for taking the time to write on this subject and share your important work with us.

    I know that you were hoping for comments on the series. Our readers do pipe up on the Jewrotica Facebook page, but tend to be shy in the comments section due to the nature of the content we write about. You will be happy to know, however, that our stats show that over 2,000 readers read through the full four-piece series. That’s a great reach and, with time and your promoting your work, I imagine it will be shared with many more.

    Mazal tov on your thesis!