The Rabbi

A172 rabbi

Written by Melanie B. Melanie is the author of “Post-Feminism, Tzniut and Queen Bey: An Open Letter to Rakhi Kumar“.

Rated PG-13It is evening time when he shows up outside my door. I am walking at a clip back from the liquor store with a bottle of wine, trying to arrive back at home before him, but he has beat me. He is standing by my front stoop in his bekishe and surprisingly trimmed beard, texting furiously. It is a couple months before the Satmar anti-Internet rally at Citi Field.

It is humid and rainy, a great night for a Hasidic man to lurk outside of a shiksa’s apartment in almost­-Williamsburg. I barely avoid puddles as I pick up the speed and wave hello, the black plastic bag containing my bottle billowing in the breeze. Of course I know who he is because of his outfit,­ but he might not recognize me right away from my pictures on my Fetlife profile, as I am wearing jeans and a tank top now.

I lead him upstairs, ­but not before he notes that I don’t have a mezuzah on the doorframe ­where he introduces himself and shakes my hand for a second time. He is adorable and has a voice ­so deep and inflected with Yiddish that I sometimes don’t quite understand him, though I try. His hands are soft and though he is not yet forty, they remind me of my grandfather’s; his payos are small and neat, and his white shirt is well­-pressed.

I welcome him into my room and offer up a glass of white wine. He looks nervous so I tell him he can sit in the armchair instead of on the bed with me ­- the bed is a positioning of traumatic proximity. I pour him a glass of Beaujolais, laughing a little to myself because he is the one who initiated and insisted upon this rendezvous. He takes a sip of wine and puts the glass on the windowsill next to the open window, and then sets his coat down on my armchair and stands before me.

His wife is a lesbian, he confesses. He has tried to please her in spite of this, bought her vibrators and taken classes on sensual massage and read books about sexpertise. He doesn’t know what to do, because he is a sensual man and he loves to have sex but he’s never had sex with anyone other than his wife, who is, he repeats, a lesbian. It’s becoming a problem in their marriage, he tells me.
He sits gingerly on the edge of my bed and asks if it is okay to touch my tattooed arms, uncovered and vulnerable in my pink tank top. I tell him of course, and he puts his soft hands on my shoulders, and runs them up and down my arms slowly, with an expression that marries incredulousness and admiration. “They’re so soft,” he tells me. I wonder what he expected. “I’ve never touched a woman other than my wife.”

He stands up again and tells me that he is a rabbi. Well, not a rabbi ­- he studied Talmud but was never ordained ­but he could be, wants to be, a rabbi. I feel like he could tell me he was a locksmith and I would believe him­, but I do know that nearly all Hasidic men study the Talmud and could be a rabbi. I nod sweetly. He tells me to lie down on my tummy.

He starts to rub my back, my shoulders, my arms. It’s cute, but it doesn’t feel like much; I can’t help but wonder where he learned his techniques. He tells me to turn over and when I do, he touches my collarbone, and makes his way ­almost down to my chest, before he jumps up and stands in front of me again.

He doesn’t want to violate me, he says, and he doesn’t want me to think he’s a pussy, either. I tell him I don’t think anything of the sort, but he spends the next half hour trying to convince me that he could have sex with me, but he’s not going to: ­ it’s not that he doesn’t want to, it’s just that it would be against his sense of piety.

He says his restraint is out of respect for me, which is hard for me wrap my head around, considering that I don’t find sex to be dirty, shameful, or disrespectful. I note a pattern of Hasidic men deciding for women what is and is not respectful toward women, instead of letting the women choose. It frustrates me because I do know that even as I hard as I try, I cannot comprehend it. ­And yet while maybe not on a religious or pious level, I know that on a personal level, it comes from a place of love. I tell him I understand ­ and even though I’m not lying, it’s not entirely the truth, either. I don’t understand such a strong conviction that would keep a man from engaging something harmless, anonymous, pleasurable… impious.

He tells me he thinks I am just “perfect” and “so beautiful.” He tells me that despite these compliments, he has to go. He just can’t do it. He says he is sorry but he is going to have to repent over lusting for me. I tell him it’s not Yom Kippur. He laughs and says, “I’m sorry, but I have to.”

As I walk him to the door, now safely enveloped in his long coat, he tells me not to be offended if I don’t hear from him again. It’s not because he doesn’t adore me – ­ he does,­ but he adores Hashem more. I tell him I understand that, and I do.

Two months later, he emails me to tell me that he has repented. He wonders if we can hang out again. I tell him sure, and he emails me again to tell me that he has changed his mind, that he is going to work things out with his lesbian-­identified wife instead.

Short of sexual reassignment surgery, I’m not sure there’s much more the rabbi can do to make his wife happy. I don’t respond to his last email -­ I just press delete.

Melanie is more Jewish than most of her Jewish friends. She is a writer living in dangerous and delicious proximity to Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She attends Chabad Shabbat services, speaks a tiny bit of Yiddish, and hopes to one day convert.
  • BJ Juneberry

    a wonderful story that looks at the religious/ sexual conflict. i loved the last line…