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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, and Male-Female Intercourse.
I admit that I find this week’s Parsha a bit difficult. On the one hand, I have the utmost respect and reverence for the esteemed commentaries, who so frequently illuminate the Torah with their undeniable wisdom and insight. On the other hand, however, as one who describes himself as a “sex positive” person, I often find it difficult to reconcile what appears to me to be the clear interpretation and meaning of the verse with that offered by the commentaries. That dissonance is particularly pronounced in this week’s Parsha.
If you read the Parsha without the aid of the commentaries, you might find it full of obvious sexual passion, chemistry, and infatuation, as Jacob meets the love of his life, and then navigates the various challenges to their union and relationship. The commentaries, however, seem to carefully (and sometimes inconsistently) reject any suggestion that Jacob, Rachel and Leah were quite so…human. Let’s have a look.
Escaping the anger of his brother Esau, Jacob travels to Haran, planning to take a wife from his mother’s family. His first encounter with the girl who would later become his wife is described as follows:
Now Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and behold! a well in the field, and behold! three flocks of sheep lying beside it, because from that well they would water the flocks, and a huge rock was upon the mouth of the well. And all the flocks would gather there, and they would roll the rock off the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and [then] they would return the rock onto the mouth of the well, to its place. And Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” And he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know [him].” And he said to them, “[Are things going] well with him?” And they said, “[Things are going] well, and behold, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” And he said, “The day is yet long; it is not the time to take in the livestock. Water the sheep and go, pasture.” And they said, “We cannot [do that], until all the flocks are gathered together, and they will roll the rock off the mouth of the well, and we shall [then] water the sheep.” While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother and the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother, that Jacob drew near and rolled the rock off the mouth of the well, and he watered the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept. Genesis, 29:1-11.
Look at the sequence of Jacob’s conversation with the shepherds. He initially takes no interest in the fact that they appear to be loitering around a covered well; he expresses interest only in what they know of Laban’s family. Until they mention Rachel approaching. Suddenly Jacob “suggests” that the shepherds take off and continue to pasture their sheep. For a total stranger to give the local shepherds such an order would be an unthinkable and inappropriate breach of social protocol – especially after they had been so helpful and friendly in answering his questions about his family. It would also seem to be an abrupt change of topic. Yet, as soon as Jacob hears that Rachel is approaching, he immediately challenges the shepherds’ right to be there. To me, it seems almost as though Jacob would have preferred for his first encounter with Rachel to not occur in front of all of the shepherds. It is a pure example of male -female chemistry. Strangely, however, none of the commentaries appear to notice this odd juxtaposition; they offer simply that Jacob was suddenly concerned about the shepherds’ responsibilities to their employers.
Next, Jacob actually sees Rachel for the first time. As soon as he does, he walks over to the huge rock, lifts it from the well, and draws water for Laban’s flock. When I read this, I had no difficulty identifying with Jacob’s actions. He wanted to impress Rachel. He acted chivalrously towards Rachel. It was the age-old mating dance between the sexes. He wanted her to see how, unaided by the other shepherds, he was able to remove the huge stone covering the well on his own; and he additionally wanted to make her life easier by watering her flock for her. Most commentaries, however, do not mention why Jacob found it necessary to move the rock by himself, or why he did it only when he first laid his eyes on Rachel. One of the few that do address his timing explains simply that Jacob was concerned that, if he removed the rock before Rachel’s flock got there, the other shepherds would water their flocks and then leave without staying to help the latecomers. See Seforno. But then, couldn’t Jacob simply have left the well uncovered for a time? Or, if not, couldn’t he have hung out and then removed it again for Rachel’s flock?
And then we have the first recorded heterosexual kiss in the Torah, as “Jacob kissed Rachel.” (The first ever recorded kiss was Isaac bestowing a fatherly kiss on Jacob right before blessing him in Parshat Toldot.) He kissed her! The Torah has no record of Adam kissing Eve, of Abraham kissing Sarah, of Isaac kissing Rebecca. But it tells us that within minutes of meeting Rachel, Jacob kissed her! ignores the kiss altogether. Ramban, however, explains that Rachel was either too young for the kiss to have been a romantic gesture in any way, or that the kiss itself was merely on her head or shoulder. Rabbeinu Bachye echoes this view.
While many people fear the “sex talk,” Jewrotica offers an opportunity for writers and audiences to speak about sexuality in a open and safe space. When I attended a Jewrotica reading, I heard stories that reminded me that love takes many forms, and that expressing it is a vital part of who we are as a people.
Jewrotica was everything I had dreamed of and more: sexy attendees, tantalizing confessions, and well-written literature to boot! More importantly, it empowers us Jews to reach inside and own our sexy selves and heritage!
I stepped out of my comfort zone to be a part of this. I was glad to open up the topic of sexuality in my community. We are trying to build a safe space to talk about sex. The result I am most happy about coming from this event is that hopefully now my friends know they can come and talk to me, that I can be their ‘safe space’.
Jewrotica is a great way to ask interesting questions about the interplay between sensuality and Jewish wisdom. Check it out.
I’m Heshy Fried from Frum Satire and I am very, very frum. And I completely support Jewrotica – it’s doing a service to the frum community. We need some sort of kosher sexual education. Jewrotica even has a system that allows frum filters to filter out certain things to make it PG for us. It’s mamish Torah. It’s like The Little Midrash Says for sex.
I had a great time deejaying at the Jewrotica event at Columbia University. The live readings were hilarious, informative, and in some cases, deeply moving. I know that I, along with many of my AEPi fraternity brothers, loved being able to connect our Judaism and our sexuality in a way that made all of us feel comfortable and welcome. I look forward to being a part of this again in the future!
I’m so glad that Jewrotica is represented here at Jewlicious! It’s bringing voices that need to be heard in the Jewish discussion and Jewish climate environment.
The people behind Jewrotica are quite quality! I have confidence that any project these folks take on will be equally quality.
The Jewrotica event “Evening of Jewrotica: Bedside Reading” was awesome. As Master of Confessions, I got to read the deepest, darkest secrets of people in the room out loud… It was scintillating, titillating, and – yes – even educational!
Jewrotica is awesome. It expands the mind and for people who were raised with narrow views on sexuality. Whether you are Jewish or not, or in different sects of Judaism like Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, no matter what your background or where you’re from, Jewrotica gets you to see Judaism and how it relates to sexuality in new ways. I really appreciate Ayo being here and helping us learn different ways to connect with our sexuality.