it might be easy to assume that pop culture has no rules about sex, and judaism has only restrictions. but that's not the whole picture. this 10-week seminar explores the ethics of sex, gender, sexuality, and intimacy in the jewish tradition. no topic is taboo; our approach is open-minded and non-judgmental.
week 1 - what’s sex got to do with it? Is it Jewish to talk about sex? Examine your place in the complex Jewish story and start to confront your own assumptions and associations about the intersection of Judaism and sexuality. How might Jewish ideas and values help you understand your own (and others’) boundaries when it comes to sex? What’s sex got to do with being Jewish?
week 2 - intimacy & consent What is intimacy, anyway, and how does it intersect or overlap with sex? How do Jewish notions of sexual responsibility resonate (or clash) with contemporary ideas about sexual consent?
week 3 - what does it mean to be a partner? Delve into the Torah’s two versions (there are two versions?!) of the story of the creation of human beings. What do these tales suggest about being sexed, gendered, and desiring people? What can the fabled story of Adam and Eve teach us about our responsibilities to our intimate partners?
week 4 - does “the one” exist? Pop culture encourages us to imagine that “The One”—our perfect “soulmate” is out there. Performers like Aziz Ansari lament the “swipe app” culture that makes folks paranoid that they just haven’t looked enough. What characteristics do you rarely or never seek in a partner? Do you have expectations about what your partner might provide for you or bring to your life? What’s the purpose of a romantic relationship, anyway? How can Jewish tradition to help us shape our own values and boundaries when it comes to relationships?
week 5 - can modesty be a modern virtue? Sometimes when we think about modesty we think only about repression and control. In our world, the boundaries between public and private are increasingly blurred. In this self-promoting, you-do-you culture, what could modesty mean? How might Jewish texts help shape that conversation? Can modesty be a modern virtue? What do we have to lose in pursuing a modest lifestyle? What’s at stake?
week 6 - frequency & pleasure Negotiating the frequency of intimacy—sexual or otherwise—in a consensual relationship can be a challenge. Are there “rules” we’re all supposed to follow? Does Judaism have anything to say about how much sex is too much sex? Not enough? Using the Jewish legal concept of onah, we will explore the notion of whether we have an obligation to intimacy, and how we might fulfill that obligation.
week 7 - what’s normal? It’s way too easy (and just plain wrong) to say that pop culture has no rules about sex and Judaism has only restrictions. So what’s normal human sexual behavior according to Jewish tradition? We’ll sample some texts on the place of pleasure, desire, and sexual variety in traditional Jewish texts.
weeks 8 & 9 - you do you For at least two weeks of our semester together, you’ll have the opportunity to propose topics and, in pairs or small groups, work (with Rabbi Nikki’s help) on creating your own source sheet. You’ll lead the week’s discussion, too!
week 10 - drawing your boundaries We begin the semester by asking whether Judaism has a place for sincere, serious inquiry about sex and sexuality. We end by formulating our own Jewish sexual ethic.
sample past topics: separation & reconnection Transitions are difficult. Sometimes it’s easier to recognize and to mark the monumental changes in our lives than to track and acknowledge the small changes that happen to our bodies on a more regular basis. Jewish tradition encourages women, in particular, to mark these monthly transitions. What might these long-practiced customs surrounding separation and reconnection teach us about intimacy, touch, and communication?
queerness in jewish tradition The contemporary view on human sexuality and sexual orientation differs vastly from the traditional rabbinic view. How are non-heterosexual relationships understood in the Jewish tradition? What are some of the ways Judaism has responded to this human reality? How can we respond as modern thinkers to these ancient texts and ideas?