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Written by Aryeh Pelcovits. Aryeh is a recent graduate from medical school and a new writer – and a first-time Jewrotica writer. His writing has recently been published online at The Jewish Literary Journal and is forthcoming in The Altar Journal.

Rated R

Eddie is treif. He dresses treif, looks treif, and somehow even smells treif, his pheromones genetically predetermined to elicit the response of a seventeen year old Jewish girl. I remember the smell ten years later, call it to mind and feel the way it triggers dormant senses. I feel the way Rivka and I are pressed against him and his friends most of the concert. I taste the alcohol, hear the music and feel myself dancing, a haze of marijuana smoke blurring the lines between forbidden and permitted. I close my eyes and allow myself to drift back to these moments even though it feels wrong, remembering the sin that put me in this hospital bed. I don’t want to call it that, name it such that implies somehow this is my fault. I can hear my teachers voices though saying just this. It is God’s way. Hashem is laughing in your face. You try bending the rules and He snaps them right back at you. God is just. God anoints the righteous and punishes the wicked.

“Unfortunately, there is some bad news as well. Mrs. Friedman, have you ever had sexual relations with anyone other than your husband?”

I am sitting across from the oncologist. My husband and I, we thought it was cancer, thought the fatigue and weight loss were signs of a malignancy eating away at my innards. It wasn’t cancer. It was something worse.

“Of course not!” I respond almost by reflex, the accusation a personal attack on my faithfulness, to my husband and to my God.

“I don’t mean to accuse you of anything Mrs. Friedman. What I am about to tell you though, well there are only a few explanations that could explain how you contracted this disease. One of them is through sexual relations.”

I wait for her to continue but she doesn’t. “And the other?”

“Intravenous drug use.”

“Oh gosh! No I have never done any of that.”

“Mrs. Friedman, I am sorry to say but your blood shows that you are infected with HIV.”

It has to be his smell. His hair is long and greasy, his face scarred with the remnants of a pimply pubescent attack. But I am loving everything that isn’t what I have been taught to love and Eddie falls into that category. I can sense it with my nose of all places, the thing about him that makes me feel like someone other than me. We are back at Rivka’s after the concert and Eddie and I are alone in her parent’s bedroom. I flip over on to my stomach and whisper into his ear, in what I am sure is a jumbled mess of the English language, that there is more than one hole we could use. It’s a ridiculous compromise but it gives me relief from the abdominal pangs that announce my fear of vaginal intercourse. This won’t count right? I would still be a virgin and I wouldn’t technically have had sex. Karet, is the punishment at stake, total excommunication, and this seems a blurry enough line that my soul can remain part of the community.

It’s a few weeks after the concert and into the new school year, my last of high school, and I am feeling sick. It starts with fevers, sweats, and chills. A rash breaks out all over my body and I find that every one of my muscles refuses to do more than the most simple movements. My parents take me to the pediatrician, a fellow member of our shul, and he tells them it is likely the flu. He is wrong. It is the the first attacks of a virus that won’t fully make itself known for another decade.

“The only other thing I am thinking it could be is mononucleosis.”

“Mono?” My mother asks.

“Isn’t that the one you get from kissing?” My father offers.

Everyone in the room breaks out into laughter, except myself, the thought so ridiculous it doesn’t even warrant a response.

“Just keep her hydrated and out of school for a few days. I am sure it will all resolve on its own.”

“What about Yom Kippur, do you think she will be able to fast?”

The holiest day of the year is only two weeks away and my mother is already concerned that I might be too sick to participate. Eating on Yom Kippur, another violation worthy of karet.

“I think it will be many years before Shayna won’t be able to fast on Yom Kippur.”

This gets another round of laughs. My doctor is referring to pregnancy, one of the few reasons people are given the leniency to eat on Yom Kippur. The doctor is right about this at least. Over the next few days my fever breaks. Eventually the rash clears and by Yom Kippur I am feeling alright again, just in time to starve myself for 25 hours. I go with my parents to shul, sitting in the women’s balcony next to my mother for what every year feels like an endless journey through the entire prayer book. I close my eyes tight occasionally, shaking my fists in fake concentration, not wanting my mother to think I am taking this day as anything but serious. I strike my heart with extra fervor as we recite the al cheyts.

Al cheyt shechatati….

“For the sin which we have committed before you under duress or willingly.”

“And for the sin which we have committed before you by hard-heartedness.”

I strike my heart with each utterance of the word sin, wondering if God could be so petty to not forgive me if I missed this vital organ. What if my fist struck sternum? Lung? Who knew. I go through each of these lines, both in my private prayer and then in the public rendition without much thought. Even the ones that perhaps should speak more deeply to my past year barely register.

“And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.”


“For the sin which we have committed before You with sexual impropriety.”


I have never eaten a cheeseburger though. No meat and milk. And sexual impropriety? Well, it didn’t really count.

“What is most important now is that we treat the infections in your lungs and mouth and we start you on medication for the HIV immediately. We will also need to have your husband and two children tested as well.”

I knew nothing of sexually transmitted diseases let alone HIV. Ten years since I have even thought of transgressing the word of God and I have spent none of it filling in the gaps of my sexual education. My school didn’t even have a class that pretended to be sex ed, it just simply didn’t have it. What’s the need when all the girls will be chaste until marriage? Nothing a few kallah classes can’t catch you up on.

“My children? Why?” I don’t understand. What did my children have to do with this?

“I’m sorry. How much do you know about HIV?”

“I don’t know. I guess very little.” I feel like I should be crying but my eyes remain dry, my limbic system shutting down in protest.

“I will give you some information to take with you today. There is a lot to learn and I am happy to answer any questions but I know much of what I say right now you will likely forget. The reason we need to test your children is that one of the ways HIV can be transmitted is through the placenta, during birth, and through breast milk. Now there…”

I stop listening. She keeps speaking but she was right, anything she is saying now I will forget. My children. That’s all I can hear. Somehow I had put them at risk. I had possibly given my children a death sentence. I close my eyes and scream at myself from within, scream at God for an answer as to how this has happened and why I deserve such a cruel punishment. And then God answers. The memory of Eddie surfacing with force, my thoughts wrenched back to a drunken night and a terrible mistake. But it wasn’t sex! I think. The doctor had been clear, it could only be passed along in certain ways. I knew that had to be it though, knew that in some way this was punishment for my night with Eddie, for the non kosher food and broken shabbat afternoons.

Al cheyt shechatati….

The doctor says she wants to admit me to the hospital in order to properly treat my lung infection. My husband comes and picks me up from the doctor, driving me across town to the hospital for admission. We ride mostly in quiet, neither of us sure what should be said at a moment like this. After I settle in my husband leaves to gather our children and have their blood tested as well, to see whether my sins have spread into their life stream. I am alone in the hospital room, myself and the hum of the machinery around me, I take out the information packets the doctor had given me and begin to read. I do my best to focus on the positives, try my hardest to think that gam zu l’tova – so to this was for good. I reach a page that discusses the risk of transmission, citing the various ways one can become infected. There are rates of transmission for oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex. Little did I know that all this, all these secret acts between husband and wife are given the name of sex. The rates look to me like a cruel joke from God. The rates of HIV transmission are 138 in 10,000 exposures of receptive anal sex and 8 in 10,000 exposures for receptive vaginal sex. I had managed to increase my risk of getting this disease from Eddie by having anal sex. I thought I had found a loophole. God found a way to close it. I continue reading and find that it only gets worse. Without treatment, the risk of HIV transmission from infected mothers to their children is 15-30% during gestation or labour, and 15-20% during breast feeding.

I read this sentence over and over. I had a one and a half percent chance of getting the virus, and I did. My children? Perhaps higher than 50%. It is almost a certainty that at least one of them is infected. And my husband? How many times have we been intimate. His chance according to the pamphlet is 4 per 10,000 exposures. We have been married for several years and yet it still seems like he has a better chance of being negative than my children. I fall asleep with a siddur open on my chest marking my attempts at prayers for health and forgiveness. I dream of Eddie, my minds attempt at reconciliation.

I wake up in a sweat, the sheets twisted around me in a violent mess. It takes me a moment to remember where I am and then to remember why I am here. This is when I remember the dream, when I allow myself just a few moments to enjoy that night which will forever scar me. Then I remember my children. I grab my phone and call my husband, preparing myself as best as possible to the horrific news.

“Shayni?” he answers after several rings, confirming my presence on the other side of the call.

“Yes Rafi, it’s me. What did the -”
“All negative!”


“The kids are negative Shayni!”

“I don’t understand, how is that possible?” Almost 50% for each of them. I have the numbers committed to memory.

“It’s a miracle Shayni. Hashem has protected us.”

I should be ecstatic, overwhelmed with joy that my children are uninfected. I am angry though, enraged even. I had less than a 1.5% chance of getting infected from that single encounter with Eddie, and yet here I am in a hospital bed, my veins receptacles for life saving treatment.”Will you bring them to see me? I am so lonely here Rafi.”
There is a pause on the other end of the line, a hesitation. “I am not sure if that is such a good idea, Shayni. I will come by later today but lets keep the kids at a safe distance for now.”

“A safe distance? You are afraid I will get them infected?”

“I just think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Hashem has protected them once, let’s not test fate with this.”

“But Rafi, it’s not even possible for me to give it to them. I mean, they have already -”

“I have to go Shayni. I’ll be there in a few hours.”

“Rafi? Rafi!” The line is dead, he is gone. Clearly Rafi hadn’t read the pamphlet like I had. I just need to explain to him the way the virus is transmitted, that the children are safe now.

I wait for Rafi the rest of that day, staring up at the ceiling while doctors and nurses periodically come in to change a bag of medicine or check that I am still conscious and breathing. I ignore them as best as possible, releasing my anger and frustration on the only people providing me help.

There is a knock on the door.

“Shayni?” Rafi pushes the door open a crack and pokes his head inside, checking to see if I am awake.

“Rafi! Come in, come in!” Rafi pushes the door open the rest of the way and comes into the room. He isn’t alone though, two men similarly dressed in black and white, large fedoras on their heads, follow him in.

“Rafi, who is this with you?” I don’t recognize either of the men.

Perhaps they are from the shul, or maybe the yeshiva where Rafi learns a few nights a week.

“Shayni, how are you feeling?” Rafi ignores my question, walking over to the side of my bed and pulling up a chair. The two men stay by the door like Rafi’s bodyguards, preventing anyone else from entering the room.

“Much better, actually. I think the medicine they are giving me is already working. Rafi you have to read these pamphlets the doctor gave me. My disease, it’s not as bad as I first thought. And the kids, there is no reason they can’t see me, I can’t get them infected.”

I reach over and try placing my hand on Rafi’s but he pulls it away, pretending to search for something in his pockets instead.

“I am glad you are feeling better. The children will be happy to know.”

He isn’t listening to anything I am saying. “Shayni, these two gentlemen work with Rabbi Gribman, they are here as witnesses.” Rabbi Gribman is the head of Rafi’s yeshiva.

“Witnesses to what, Rafi?”

Rafi pulls something out of his back pocket and hands it to me. It is a folded up piece of paper and I take it from his hand, opening it up to see what is written inside. I look it over and let out an audible gasp.

“Rafi! No! We don’t have to do this.”

“Yes we do, Shayni. I’m sorry but there is no other way.”

“Listen to me, Rafi, I figured out how I got this illness. I swear it was from something stupid I did a long time ago. I have been totally faithful to you our entire marriage.”

Rafi smiles briefly, quickly trying to recompose the look on his face.

“That’s not why I am giving you a get Shayni. I don’t think you violated the sanctity of our marriage.”

“So then you are divorcing me as punishment for something I did as a rebellious teenager?”

This time Rafi actually laughed, his hand jumping up to cover his mouth. “Shayni, I had my rebellious days too. It’s not something I am proud of, but it would be hypocritical of me to divorce you for something I’m just as guilty of.”

Rebellious days that for some reason God has decided to let go unpunished. I am having trouble accepting the justice in God’s ways.

“Then why!? Why are you doing this?”

The smile is completely gone from his face now. He sits down on the edge of the bed and takes my hand, holding it in a way that signifies he knows this will be the last time he ever does.

“After the children and I discovered that we were negative the doctor pulled me aside. She said the children were incredibly lucky and asked if we had been using any protection when we weren’t trying to have children. I told her that other than the birth control you took for a few months we used none. She said that going forward we would have to, every single time. I told the doctor that we would have to get permission from our Rabbi to use birth control permanently going forward but that I didn’t think it would be a problem. The doctor though Shayni, she said that wouldn’t work. She said we would have to use condoms.”

It is starting to make sense. I can imagine Rafi going straight from the hospital to his yeshiva and asking Rabbi Gribman for permission to use condoms. He must have said no. He must have told him that if we could no longer be intimate than we should no longer be married.
“Rafi, there have to be more lenient positions. Can’t we ask Rabbi Notzak from shul? Or maybe my parent’s Rabbi, I know he has given kulas for all sorts of reasons to other people.”
“Shayni, please. You know we can’t do that. We can’t just go fishing for the answer we want. Rabbi Gribman’s word is final and we have to accept it.”

There are tears welling up in Rafi’s eyes, his body revealing the mental acrobatics required to make this decision. He wipes them away and looks back at the two men by the door. They gave him a nod and exit the room. Their services apparently complete. Rafi lets go of my hand and gets up from the bed. He gives me a kiss on the top of my head, despite us no longer being husband and wife, and walks out of the hospital room. I am left there alone, only my sins and my disease to keep me company. As Rafi walks away I realize he is looking skinnier than usual. His jacket hangs off his body as if it is several sizes too big. I want to let this take me places. I want to start and wonder if I am not the origin of this disease. All I can think though is…

Al cheyt shechatati

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