Identity, Mishegas, Sex & Gender

From Tefillin Dates to Abstinent Kohanim: Observance of Family Purity amongst Single and Married Jews

I just received the following from a listerv. It’s 100% anonymous and participants need not be shomer negiah or observant of family purity laws in order to participate. However, if you’re someone who goes on tefillin dates (you crash at someone’s house after having sex with him/her, but you bring you tefillin with you since you will need to daven first thing in the morning), or you’re someone who is following the laws of family purity outside a legal marriage, you’re definitely someone that the people conducting the survey are looking for:

This study investigates the issue of premarital touching in Judaism (“Negiah”) among Jewish women and men. In addition to providing data as to what is going on, we hope to gain some insight as to why.
You are hereby invited to participate as a subject in a research project entitled “Observance of Family Purity amongst Single and Married Jews” conducted by Mark Guterman, and Orit Avishai Bentovim, a graduate student in the Sociology Department in the University of California at Berkeley, working under Professor Barrie Thorne of the Department of Sociology, University of California at Berkeley, in the United States.
The survey and full information is at:

p.s. unfortunately, they are clearly out of touch, since “My level of observance” is followed by a list of denominations. aren’t the researchers looking at people that don’t fall into categories?

19 thoughts on “From Tefillin Dates to Abstinent Kohanim: Observance of Family Purity amongst Single and Married Jews

  1. And even if we all fell into categories, calling them “levels” is inaccurate and offensive. I was so disgusted that I stopped taking the survey when I got to that question. If other people react the same way, that has to introduce some kind of response bias.

  2. you don’t even have to read the actual questions to be turned off. I was initially interested but when i saw that they titled it “Observance of Family Purity…” i realized it was unlikely to be value neutral.
    Good social scientists tend to describe behaviors in reasonably objective terms. They perhaps should have called the study something like Clever Quote: Interpersonal Contact and Sexual Activity amongst Jews.

  3. I also got stuck on that “level of observance” question, because I was simply unable to answer it.
    I also did not understand why the question was necessary. If they want to track according to denominational affiliation, they should should have phrased it as such (and provided an “other” option). And there were other questions about religious practice which would give a better perspective on how the contact/sex stats correlate with other religious practices.

  4. on the other hand, if this study shows that more ortho identified/raised kids are having sex than many educators would care to believe, that could [theoretically, I know] lead to better sex ed in ortho schools.
    the odds aren’t great, but here’s hoping.

  5. You all should be aware of the program Tzelem. It’s run by Jennie Rosenfeld, and was picked up by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future as part of its incubator project, is focused on understanding sexuality within the Orthodox world, preparing better sexual education programs, and possibly, leading to changes in the way the community at large relates to sexuality (socially and halakhically) It is a brave project, and one that everyone should keep their eye on.

  6. Also, using self-definitions (from “flexible” to “strict”) for various religious practices is completely useless if the goal is to correlate specific practices with other specific practices.
    My kashrut practice would be seen as uber-strict in my hometown (not only won’t he eat dairy and meat together, he won’t even eat dairy after eating meat!) and uber-flexible (or even “not kosher”) by some people in my current neighborhood (he’ll eat [veggie] in restaurants without kosher supervision!).

  7. my favorite part was when it asked if I’d ever kissed someone for longer than one minute, and if so, would I do it again.
    If I was looking at my watch while kissing someone, I most certainly would not kiss them again.
    But all joking aside, questions about denomination and observance would have been better served by asking participants to check off as many theological and practical statements as they agree with, such as
    “I understand halacha to be Jewish law as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch and similar codes to be binding”,
    “I understand halacha to represent traditions I may find meaningful, but I do not feel bound by it”, etc.
    and “I eat diary and fish but not meat at restaurants that are not certified kosher”,
    “I do not keep kosher in any regard”, “I will not eat any food that is not certified kosher, or has not been prepared in a kitchen that is not strictly kosher”

  8. josh– I’ve heard of tzelem, but I don’t know much about them.
    what worries me are the religious kids who start having sex (esp not in the context of relationships) and think that they’re being pretty safe by using condoms *sometimes*. (or don’t know how to use them properyly, or still have hangups about them b/c “they’re assur”, or are just entirely clueless)
    is this something tzelem would address?
    [ have no idea what the numbers are so I’m making no claims about prevalence; all now is from friends, and friends of friends]

  9. Unfortunately, the Jewish establishment doesn’t have an incentive to address this problem, because improper condom use leads to more Jewish babies.

  10. Cute, BZ, but the Orthodox community is starting to become aware. Tzelem is a grassroots program, that was picked up by an incubator program. I know that Jennie has far reaching and daring goals, but from what I have heard, YU has restrained the program a bit. While, this might seem like ‘the man’ taking away all the fun, and being wroried about the wrong thing, it might actually be the right choice. Jennie’s original goals are still meaningful, and I’m sure they will have hteir place, but from what I hear the current program is talking about sex ed programs that will focus more on the role of caring and love, and responsibility in the context of relationship and less on the public school, “alright, now let’s allfigure out how to roll one of these babies on” type of approach that we’re more familiar with. All of that above is just rumors, it would be nice to get some actual facts. Though, teh bottom line is – YU has clout, and thanks to them, at least this watered down sex ed program will probabaly start rolling out very soon, if it hasn’t begun already.

  11. I understood why participants were asked to indicate their sociological circle within Judaism. Calling it “level of observance” may have been a bit silly, but the lines exist, and – for the purposes of the survey – I understand them. I would like, however, to take issue with “family purity”. No Jewish sources (i.e. The Bible, the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Rishonim, the Poskim) use the term, and it smacks not only of supremacism (I am more “pure” than you), but also of prudishness (can’t we say “menstruation” or simply Niddah and Tevilah anymore?).
    I would also like to take issue with the survey’s interest in marriage. The neccesity of marriage is halakhically questionable, and might skew the results of the survey, since it might end up saying “there are all these sociologically orthodox people who would have sex before they were married”, since there is no box to check if this premarial sex would or would not involve a mikveh. The same goes otherwise: many sociologically “conservative” or “reform” people may agree with the marriage part, but not obey Niddah and Tevilah, thus making the marriage part (halakhically) superfluous. (and, of course, many O may marry but not dunk, and many C/R may dunk but not marry, and many of all three might do all or none).
    So we have crummy terminology and inaccurate questions. or is this just a luxury I have?

  12. There’s a forum on the JewishSurveys site to discuss current surveys, but there aren’t any comments there. Perhaps some of these comments should be reiterated over there as the surveyors could benefit from seeing this discussion.

  13. I just wanted to note that the creators of the survey aren’t going for a representative sample (in response to BZ’s comment about people being turned off mid-survey and not completing it and that creating response bias), but for correlations in whatever sample they get.
    Also, while I and a lot of other people aren’t so comfortable with denominational labels, I think it’s safe to say that many, many Jews are, and they’re probably still the best (or if not best, then quickest) shorthand for assuming certain beliefs or ways of being Jewish.
    Just my two cents. I agree with everyone that it wasn’t the best-designed survey I’ve ever seen.

  14. I was looking for a tzelem site to link to, but I cou;dnt’ find it. i ust foudn lots of various articles about tzelem. here’s an article from the Jewish Week about them from last August. This is from the YU student newspaper. And, Jewlicious also apparently has a blogpost about them, but they’re server is slow now, so I couldn’t find it.

  15. It sounds like a very good program for a certain demographic. Actually, even the kids who do choose to have premarital sex will probably learn good stuff abut communicatin, healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, holiness in relationships, etc.
    But I’d like them to learn how not to get sick or pregnant as well. . .

  16. is that a controversy in the religious-but-seually active community? Condoms? Are they accpeted across the board amongst the modern orthodox? In Jerusalem , I remember eschewing condoms, and just being very careful and intentional over who i’d get into bed with, under the pretense that pre-martial sex was never forbidden by “Torah” Law (ha ha ha), but that condoms certainly were. Is there any social debate about this going on?

  17. I just want to say again that I wasn’t offended so much by the use of labels, but by the fact that these labels were identified as “levels of observance”.
    Even if there is a meaningful way of defining “levels of observance”, and even if this is correlated with denominational identification, it would not have been cool if they had asked “What is your level of income? White / African-American / …”

  18. Hey, check it out. It looks like they’ve gotten enough complaints, and they’ve changed it! Instead of “level of observance”, it now says “denominational identification”, and there’s a “None” option.

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