[Avodah] De-Chokifying Arayos (including MZ)
Micha Berger via Avodah
avodah at lists.aishdas.org
Fri Jul 3 15:16:24 PDT 2015
In a recent blog post, R' Aryeh Klapper (Cc-ed) writes
Imagine pre-snake Adam and Eve walking into the Jewish camp. They
would not praise the Jews for their modesty, and they would have no
idea why the tents' openings did not face each other. For Bilaam
to praise the Jews' virtue, even in the context of his deep and
unremitting hatred, he had to be capable of understanding that
modesty was a relevant evaluative category.
What would it take for Bilaam to have this capacity? Unlike the
prelapsarian original couple, he would have to be conscious of his own
sexuality, and experientially aware that sexuality could be associated
with shame. He might nonetheless choose exhibitionism for himself,
and for his culture. He might decide that sexual shame is the root
of neurosis and dedicate himself to its cultural eradication. But
he would understand what he was eradicating. Perhaps there would
even be moments when he regretted his victory.
My tentative suggestion is that the Torah teaches us here that there
is a value in making our moral premises intelligible even to our
enemies; this is part of our mission to be the light of the nations. I
want to be clear that this value is not pragmatic, and that we are
not safer, or less likely to be hated, if we are understood. Like
Bilaam, the world may use its understanding of our virtue to learn
how best to undermine us. It is simply part of our job to enable as
much as we can of humanity to make informed moral choices.
I suggest further that perhaps we can understand the Seven
Noachide Commandments as intended not to provide a formal code of
behavior, but rather to identify a set of moral premises. Perhaps
our mission is particularly to make those premises universally
intelligible. Making premises intelligible is not accomplished
through rational argumentation. Rational arguments depend on mutually
One core premise: let us identify it with the Noachide commandment
against forbidden sexual relationships, or arayot -- that is no longer
intelligible to many Americans is that sexuality can be evaluated
in nonutilitarian terms, that a sexual act can be wrong even if
no one gets hurt. We have replaced sexual morality with sexual
ethics. Conversations on topics such as chastity, masturbation, and
adultery are wholly changed from what they were even two decades ago,
and tracts from back then can seem less contemporary than prehistoric
There are many reasons that traditional rationales in the area of
sexuality have moved rapidly from self-evident to unintelligible. Here
are two: (1) Effective birth control and in vitro fertilization have
broken the connection between intercourse and procreation. It is no
longer self-evident to speak of intercourse as potential recreation,
or as inevitably associated with the risk of pregnancy. (2) Many
human beings with homosexual orientations have told compelling
personal stories of pain and alienation.
In the secular world, the natural reaction to a premise's social
unintelligibility is the repeal of any laws that depend on it. In the
Orthodox world, where immediate repeal is rarely a viable option,
one reasonable reaction is what I call "chokification," or the
declaration that laws that once depended on the now-unintelligible
premise should be regarded as either beyond human comprehension or
else as arbitrary rules intended to train us to obedience.
Let me take a step toward de-chokifying arayos.
I utilized the following "Lonely Man of Faith" based idea to open "The
Talk" with my sons.I wanted them to understand the sanctity of sex,
so before getting into the mechanics of it, I tried to open by setting
a religious context.
As far as I can tell, the Torah gives two purposes for marriage:
1- In Genesis 1, the goal is to procreate and raise children. This is
Adam I's drive "to fill the earth and conqure it", his place at the end
of a sequence of creation -- above the animals, but more quatitatively
2- In Genesis 2, the goal is to reunite the two halves, Adam and Eve,
who were originally created as a single unit. Adam II seeks redemption
through community. In this case, romantic love. Sex in its role of making
a bond between people.
And therefore a problem of premarital sex is that one thereby learns
to minimize the bond thereby created. It weakens that function of sex,
so it won't be as effective once you are married.
Either alone -- procreation or the romantic reunification of the two
halves of the original Adam (which again, I mean psychologically, not
mystically) would be sufficient reason to justify sexual intimacy. But
without either, it's the pursuit of our mamalian drives for insufficient
reason. The objectification (or at least animalization) of the self.
In order to buy into #2, one needs to believe that gender (as opposed
to biological sex) is an innate set of existential and psychological
differences, and not just a role imposed by convention. And therefore
Adam and Eve are distinct and different halves of a whole. That this is
an existential and deep-psychological truth, which will hold no matter how
much society attempts to change those roles and bury gender differences.
Notice that despite the social trends that brought the Supreme Court
to conclude last week that traditional sexual morality (in contrast to
sexual ethics) is irrational and thus prejudicial bias, the above implies
that the Torah's ban on homosexuality can be explained in mishpat terms.
On a different note, the shift from morality to ethics is typical for
postmodernism. When all narratives are equally valid there is no way
to insist there is an absolute moral code. Never mind determine what
Therefore, one encourages a freedom to act as an end itself, rather than
as a means to greatness.
(Which is a logical progression from the American legal system, the
concept of rights-based law taken to its extreme. It's notable that a
society that values a "maavir al midosav" would not laud taking rights
as far as all that. As a legal philosphy, though, it is the best we've
come up with to avoid "ish es rei'eihu chaim bal'o", which is the central
role of a secular gov't, no?)
However, the lack of establishment of a common moral code is itself
damaging to society. No one private violation of moral code, whatever
the society holds it to be, will necessarily harm others. But living in
a society that doesn't promote morality, that doesn't work toward aiming
that autonomy toward some higher end, is harmful.
Micha Berger Despair is the worst of ailments. No worries
micha at aishdas.org are justified except: "Why am I so worried?"
http://www.aishdas.org - Rav Yisrael Salanter
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