The Sexless Jews Of Orthodoxy

I’ve always been told that Judaism encourages all manner of human nature, as long as it is properly channeled, and in the right context. As it says in Kohelet, “Lakol zman va’et…tachat hashamayim.”

Everything within human nature is allowed…in the right time. There are times we are obligated to be deliriously happy (Purim) and times we are commanded to mourn (Tisha B’av). There are times for enjoying the company of family and friends (chagim), and times to be introspective (Yom Kippur).

There are times when husbands and wives are encouraged to increase their physical closeness and love for each other, and times when they are required to keep their distance, and work on the emotional and intellectual connectedness of their relationship, instead.

But for some Jews, that physical closeness is forbidden to them. I refer to three types of people:

Agunot–Jewish women who are refused a writ of divorce by their husbands, and are therefore chained to a dead marriage, unable to move on with their lives, lest they be labeled adulterers, and their future children mamzerim.

Gay men–for whom the Torah proscribes the sin of “lying with a man as one would lie with a woman,” declaring stoning as the punishment for such activities. Of course, no such punishment would be meted out in today’s day and age, but the prohibition is clear. I will include gay women as a subcategory because I know that there is plenty of prejudice against them in the frum community, but the actual prohibition against lesbianism is less severe, from a Torah perspective.

Divorcees and never-marrieds.

The forgotten, sexless Jews of Orthodoxy. The ones who are *never* given an outlet for one of the most basic human needs.

And I say this as a married, heterosexual woman in a loving relationship. But it’s for exactly that reason that I cannot fathom how a religion that prides itself on making room for the needs and desires of human nature, that shuns asceticism, can simply overlook these people, can simply say, “Sorry. We do not have any solutions for you.”

Of course, lack of sex is only one small hardship among many in the lives of those mentioned above. They may also be facing physical threats, financial hardships, ostracism, depression. But it’s that inconsistency in Judaism’s approach to these issues, or in some cases complete silence on these issues, that bothers me so much. Gallons of ink have been spilled in halachic literature about human sexuality, how strong the drive is, how necessary it is to building love between partners. It’s no secret that sex is an important part of most adults’ lives. And yet, these people are expected to simply not engage. To simply forgo fulfilling basically the strongest urge a human has, after breathing and eating.

I am not so naive as to think that every person in such a situation is celibate. But I imagine the decision not to be is excruciating. The weight of it constantly felt even in the happiest moments of their forbidden relationships.

I hope that’s not the case. But I know that through sheer luck I was born straight, and by sheer luck, I got married practically straight out of high school, and by sheer luck, the man I married is a kind, and loving, and moral man. And when I take myself out of the comfort of that bubble and put myself in the shoes of someone who was not as lucky as I was, I want to cry. I want to scream, and tear my hair out and run away. I want to shake my fist at heaven and shake every rabbi by the shoulders and demand that something be done. Something must change.

11 Comments

  1. Happily divorced April 26, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Sexless life might be hard for divorced men. Things are not that bad for divorced women. Love can be expressed in many different ways.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous April 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    This just got me emotional..
    My close friend is in this situation.
    Thanks a lot for caring..and sharing!

    Reply
  3. Neshamah April 26, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    As an unmarried straight woman – GOD it’s hard. Nearly impossible with just the smallest sliver of possible that I hang on to as hard as I can. Thank you for the recognition. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous April 26, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Thank you for your sensitivity. It is an impossibly difficult decision for a religious person to make as it feels like you are violating the very essence of judaism. But then on the other hand, as believers in G-d, many believe that we were given innate desires by Him.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous April 27, 2017 at 1:27 am

    Thank you for shedding light on this topic. It must be very difficult to be in any of those situations without an intimate loving partner accepted within Halacha. Just a thought.. Is this what makes orthodox marriages have an extra measure of stability, is it perhaps what is the push and pull towards building a Jewish home, quicker and with more effort and alacrity. Otherwise what would be the rush? I still think there should be some kind of halachic solution to those stuck in the above situations.. Maybe there is

    Reply
  6. anoymous April 27, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    And of course you forgot to write about widows!! I feel we are shunned and that we are forgotten. We also have drives. Remember most of us had very happy marriages. That and the specialness of intimacy have been ripped from us. Most of us widows have a 20% chance of ever having to re-marry. As a orthodox female who became a widow in her 30’s and has been a widow for quite a few years, my chances of being remarried are very slim. I have asked to be set up, but have yet to go out, with anyone. The problem that widows with children, as opposed to those women divorcees is, that the kids, most of the time have another parent, that they can go to. I on the hand have my kids with me always. I have to support them. And because of that, I am finding it very hard to be set up. Most widowers get snapped up, almost right away. Now in my 40’s, I have to compete with divorcees and older singles, for the very few available pool of eligible men, who are nice and not deadbeats. Also, divorcees get to mingle with the opposite gender. Especially with the org, Frum Divorce, there is a chance to meet other eligible singles. In a widows, case the other half in 6 ft under. So no chance of meeting males on that end. I miss the intimacy of a loving relationship.

    Reply
    1. The author April 28, 2017 at 12:13 am

      You’re right. Widows/widowers should be included. So sorry I overlooked you.

      Reply
    2. Leeba April 30, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      My Savta was married in the ‘old country’ at 15 years old. My Sabba was 19. When he died, she was only 45 and so beautiful but she never remarried. I now look back and remember the look in her eyes – She loved him so much but she was still a woman with feelings. She was still alive. Touch deprivation is real. Grandchildren and adult children can fulfill only so much.
      I’m sorry for your predicament. B’H, I do hope you can talk to someone who will introduce you to someone kind and gentle and who you feel you can accept into the lives of you and your children.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous May 4, 2017 at 2:02 am

    I was thinking about this article this morning…I am behind on my Torah reading, and just got to Tazria. The book I’m reading says tzara’at comes as a result of our not noticing the pain of others.

    And I just kept thinking…”okay, so we go straight from telling people not to have sex into telling people to notice each others’ pain…whoever wrote that post was right, there is something *wrong* if we are ignoring this pain. Shouldn’t someone be there with them?”

    (…and thinking about myself not being there for people…)

    Reply
  8. Ben May 11, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I really hope that my comment is not misunderstood. What about married men and women who are stuck in sexless relationships? And this is very common!

    Reply
  9. Anonymous June 6, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Aside from a little and brief handholding years and years ago, I have strived to be shomeret negiah for my entire adult life in the dating world. I spoke with a Rav, who permits shaking hands in workplace/business settings when he is the one to reach his hand out first.

    When it comes to dating, I have been firm and strong…until now, when I have crossed lines I never imagined I would cross. I’m still B”H betulah and haven’t done anything that would disqualify me from being with a Cohen, but even the lines I have crossed leave me feeling so guilty. I am 39 and until the past few months never did anything more than holding hands, briefly and full of guilt feelings – until recently. Even before meeting the man I am B”H currently dating, I felt more and more like I had all this energy racing through me, with no acceptable outlet. Even something like going dancing is outside of what I would do.

    I’m 39 and human. And now I feel so guilty for doing human things and not transcending them and connecting more deeply to HaShem and my soul. And each day I G-d willing and with G-d’s help try again to cleave more closely to G-d’s will…

    Reply

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