Culture, Religion, Sex & Gender

Sexin' Up The Tribe

Getting straight to the point, these (NSFW) two articles raised some pretty serious questions for me.  As a big proponent of personalizing religion (that is, participating in traditions or rituals that have meaning to oneself), it’s challenging to see someone else doing something with aspects of Judaism that I find almost offensive (i.e. it runs sharply contrary to some of the ways I practice).  And as a young man who’s written about the ethics of Jewish dating before, it’s also legitimately disconcerting to see someone else sexualizing the religion as it relates to dating to this extent.
The traditional argument for the legitimacy of pornography holds here: that it’s an act between consenting adults, and there is no reason that other consenting adults shouldn’t be able to see it.
So consider this: one of the best ways to test your own, or someone else’s, philosophy or morals on any subject is to stretch them to the extreme.  When I’m arguing for a public option in health care, I ask my opponents to justify axing Medicaid.  When I’m arguing at the Brown Hillel for the inclusion of prayer alternatives in our Friday night programming, I ask my opponents to justify removing one of the existing services so that other ones won’t have to worry about getting a minyan.  And so on.
Is this really any different?  If we believe that people have a right to do what they will with their perception of their religion, can we oppose its sexualization in such a context?  I don’t believe so.  Our religious experience (and that means the way we relate to the religion as a person, not just how we pray, for example) is the sum total of everything we’ve ever learned about it, everything we’ve ever experienced, and all of the influences on our personal beliefs that come from outside the religion.
If someone feels that using or relating to their Judaism in this way is right for them, we have no right to protest.  Let’s welcome the definition of new ways of practicing Judaism, new ways for the rest of the world to perceive it, and new ways to offend the status quo.  And, both in ourselves and others, let’s welcome the discomfort that this will cause.

28 thoughts on “Sexin' Up The Tribe

  1. If we believe that people have a right to do what they will with their perception of their religion, can we oppose its sexualization in such a context?
    I don’t totally get the conflict here. Why can’t we assert the right (whatever that means, and where do these rights come from anyway?) of people to do whatever the hell they want, while also asserting that we find certain ways of doing things problematic? Nobody’s rights are infringed upon simply by virtue of posing objections, are they?

  2. As a Jewish woman with freckles I have a whole new appreciation of my potential seductive powers. But seriously, the notion that Jewish women are lascivious, while the men are schlubby and bad at non-intellectual things is not new. Both articles perpetuate those stereotypes.
    Not much of it actually speaks to how sexy Jews have anything to do with Jewishness, with the exception of perhaps the link to the Kinky Jews. Most of article #1 is about the way Jewish women’s sexuality is perceived, and how that is supposedly different from in the past. Article #2 is just silly.
    Although you’ve chosen not to pass judgement, you’ve not said which persons or comments specifically made you uncomfortable.

  3. I don’t know. I totally support what you’re saying about letting everyone do what is really best for them. But at the same time, where is the community in that? If you have a room of twenty people all doing their own thing, how can they come together? Where’s the bottom line? How far do we go until we are no longer doing “Jewish” things and just doing “human” things? And also, maybe that is a good thing? Hmm…
    Also, what about heritage and honoring your tradition? There is something to say about doing something because your parents and grandparents and greatgrandparents and great greatgrandparents did it too. And there’s something really powerful in that.

  4. @miri, I agree that one’s personal opinions can be separate. There are just too many cases where making a judgment on this sort of thing is easily extruded to restricting someone else’s right to practice freely.
    @unlikely outsider, I think the articles are drawing a link between the way these people express their Jewishness and the way the way they express their sexuality. That’s what I’m inspecting here.
    @maybe more traditional, community is created by consenting individuals (like pornography!). It’s neither a necessary consequence of similar practice or an essential element of it.

  5. Another commonality between pornography and community is the “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” effect.
    I like this very much. I’m debating whether to continue with this list of “how is community like pornography?”. It could go downhill pretty quickly, though. On the other hand, this is the comment thread of a post linked to an article in which crucifix-shaped dildos were mentioned, so how much lower can we really go?

  6. It’s not the porn that’s the problem, but the fact that there’s nothing Jewish here except stereotypes of a certain ethnic group of Jews at play with non-Jews. There are strong Jews and poor Jews and even illiterate Jews – and neither of those traits has anything to do with their being Jews.
    I don’t like that Judaism in both articles is essentially equated with eastern-European schlubbyness. God did not give schlubbyness to the Egyptian Moses on Mt. Sinai. He gave him the Torah.

  7. “If someone feels that using or relating to their Judaism in this way is right for them, we have no right to protest.” Bullcrap. I don’t know what religion you’re a part of, but in the Judaism I’m familiar with (love it or hate it), if somebody doesn’t like something someone else is doing, they’re gonna know about it. You know like, if someone won’t doesn’t want to count women in the minyan because of yada yada yada, fine, but I’m still going to bitch about it. And vice versa.
    Someone’s right to do something and my right to complain about and say its wrong are not mutually exclusive. Besides, heresy is no fun if you’re not getting excommunicated by SOMEONE. Shabbatai Zvi and Jesus agree with me. (By the way, in modern Judaism, we are also obliged to reference one or more historical figures to back up our opinions, regardless of whether or not anything they said or did gives conclusive support for our position.)

  8. this is totally not related to the actual post here, but i thought i’d note that the details article seems to assume that the 13% of jdate members who are “religiously unaffiliated” are all “jew-obsessed or jew-curious” NON-jews who have “wormed their way” onto the site.
    i was going to comment on my reaction to that assumption (which is clearly false), but i think for now i’ll just note it.

  9. Amit, clearly the Torah doesn’t factor into pornography. But we already know that being Jewish constitutes something more than just having been given the Torah. The question is how different people perceive their Jewishness (or their having been given the Torah) affecting them as humans.

  10. The question is how different people perceive their Jewishness (or their having been given the Torah) affecting them as humans.
    No, the question is how different people perceive their Jewishness makes any difference. And if Jew=Nebbich, then that’s cute for a Woody Allan movie, but not much more.

  11. I find it curious that rb looks at this phenomenon as though it’s something Jew-generated. I have no problems with Jews relishing their own sexuality – far from it. But the idea that Jewish sexuality is a prize to be won from the outside is a little skeevy.
    Once, years ago, I was in a situation where it was clear that at least part of my appeal to my partner of the moment had to do with a Jew-fetish. In this case, he grew up in a working-class situation where he had never met Jews before college, so Jews had an almost mythical significance as having access to money and power. I know we sometimes like to joke that if we’re going to be subject to antisemitic stereotypes, they could be much worse, but let me tell you, it sure didn’t feel good to hear that I was being pursued for that reason.
    So yeah, sex-positivity between consenting adults is great, but it’s hard to keep the fetishization of a group consensual.

  12. given the intellectual and social achievements by women of the Jewish faith and/or ethnicity, who the hell cares if we also have pornstars? It doesn’t take a lot of work to be sexy. Were Rosa Luxembourg and Emma Goldman sexy? Does anybody care? Simone de Beauvoir? Hannah Arendt?

  13. Simone de Beauvoir was definitely not Jewish. (Maybe you’re thinking of Simone Weil?) But I agree with shmuel on everything else.

  14. on the theme of potential tensions between being a community and everyone doing what they want as Judaism… and to the ongoing question of the place of “tribe” in everyones jewish identity… especially as I’ve read in Amits strong desire in posts here and otherhwheres to being a “tribesperson”..
    As I understand it- one of the strong pointers away from Jews being a Tribe is the fact that Judaism is open to conversion? anyone can join and what kind of club is that… Anyone can join up, makes us decidedly not an ethnic group like any other. Especially as young Jews growing up amidst the movement to distance ourselves from the vagaries and atavisms of Nationhood and other such faux pas human narratives, (re Daniel Gordis reading of young Jewish America, shlomo sands thoughts) Judaism is rather our chance to have our own authentic spirituality. A tradition of expression for those seeking to connect to the One Divine- the Love Divine, the imageless Shrine… A spiritual path that each one of us can pick up and engage in however seems right.
    Contrary to this vein is Maimonides’ description of conversion… The first step of the process(chap14:1 of Isurei Biah) isasking the prospective convert
    “Why did you choose to convert? Don’t you know that in the present era, the Jews are afflicted, crushed, subjugated, strained, and suffering comes upon them?” If he answers: “I know. Would it be that I be able to be part of them,” we accept him immediately.
    The commitment to Jewish peoplehood- to be a part of “the People of Israel”- the Ruthian model of conversion (your people are my people) cannot be overlooked. Especially in its source in Megilat Rut it is a most ancient source of what conversion… This says that conversion if very much about joining the Tribe, leading us to be a tribe, albeit with permeable walls-generally something inconsisten with Tribe as a strict ethnic group.
    I post this in this topic because I think the desire to let everyone define their own standards for what is Jewish (if sexiness is what makes you spiritual then thats like- your judaism man!) is a little shortsighted. even if major jewish organizatinos are gonna give millions of dollars to help Jews get with Jews… I think we have something to be gained by actively binding ourselves as part of our larger group and engaging the questions that “group policy” poses to ourselves… the question of how to maintain a global community that the Jewish people have been dealing with since the days of the Mishna are strikingly relevant to our own tensions of self/people… anyhoo the hour has grown unintelligibly late…

  15. well, i don’t think conversion makes us not a tribe. you can join tribal societies. many american tribes allow for foreigners to become tribesmen, or they did at least. not saying that we are a tribe, just saying, conversion (which in the Torah reads more like naturalization) does not disqualify us from being a tribe.

  16. I think folks are using the word ‘tribe’ anachronistically.
    A tribe in the distant past would have, potentially, quite a few members not genetically related. This could include slaves, or those descended from slaves who are free. Captives/hostages who decided to stay or could not return. Clans or individuals who for whatever reason left a former tribe and needed to consolidate with another existing one.
    Finally, and most commonly, if you were a woman and married a man from another tribe, you were at that point a member of his tribe, and not your birth-family’s. This was automatic, and not the result of a long soul searching process with rabbinic interns at a weekly class.
    Joining another tribe was a serious thing, but a bit more normal in the course of things that we might think today.
    Count me as a fan of Judaism as a religion or civilization – not as a tribe, nation or ethnicity. Every Jew is a Jew by Choice these days, and the assumption of a shared genetic and historic past is more myth than fact.
    Hey holier than thou converts who love the tribal/ethnic features of the Jewish people: your paradigm is clashing with mine. Stop it please.

  17. Count me as a fan of Judaism as a religion or civilization
    You are not alone on this view, so I’ll put the question out there:
    Who is a Jew, according to Judaism the religion or civilization?
    And, what is Judaism?
    These are questions that are never addressed here.
    Thos of us view Jews as a tribe/nation/ethnicity have our answer–basically–a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother (or maybe father,) or a person who becomes a Jew through a process, with the supervision of a rabbi (although there are disagreements about which processes/rabbis are legitimate.)
    But, if a Jew is one who adheres to Judaism, than what exactly is Judaism?

  18. The problem with your question is that it presumes an answer. There isn’t any one answer.
    The rabbis and high priests have futzed for millenia around the issue. When we returned from Babylonia to reclaim the land, a decision was made to whitewash all the Hebrews, despite the rampant intermarriage that had been occurring during the exile.
    At one time, descent was patrilineal and then it switched to matrilineal.
    Viewed through one lens, the boundaries are amorphous, changing, culture and context dependent. Viewed through an Orthodox lens, what matters is what the rabbis say NOW.
    I’ve made myself a few rabbis. My rabbis’ answer to the question is: it depends.

  19. That there is no exact answer as to what is Judaism is itself a problem then, if we want to have any idea as to who is a Jew through the “Jews are not an ethnicity” lens.
    From what I understand (of course I might be wrong,) a Christian is one accepts Christ as his/her lord and savior.
    A Muslim is one who declares that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his final prophet.
    So, if a Jew is one who adheres to Judaism, what does that mean?
    Are Jews for Jesus Jews (they consider themsleves so)? Is an atheist born to a Jewish mother and father not a Jew? Is one who accepts the written but not the oral Torah a Jew? Is one who does not accept the Torah as the word of God a Jew? Are Chabadnicks Jews? Was Mordechai Kaplan a Jew? Was David Ben-Gurion a Jew?

  20. And
    When we returned from Babylonia to reclaim the land, a decision was made to whitewash all the Hebrews, despite the rampant intermarriage that had been occurring during the exile.
    At one time, descent was patrilineal and then it switched to matrilineal.

    Aren’t these ideas/debates still looking at Jew from the concept of peoplehood/ethnicity? Look at the language: “When we returned from Babylonia”; “reclaim the land”; “Exile”; “Descent”

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