Monday, February 25, 2019

Do Jews and Romance Mix?

Do Jews and Romance Mix?  Topic Notes

We are in love with love. But whose concept of love?
I have seen a lot of texts on human relations that tries to pin the blame on “ Judeo-Christian” theology. I say, leave us Jews out of it. You will see why.

Blame it on Romance
We start with Romance,  Greek and later European Christian concept, which arise from the thought that the ideal is greater than the real. The idea of justice is greater than justice. The ideal of beauty is greater than physical beauty. Therefore, the idea of love is greater than physical love.

Helen of Troy will never satisfy Paris, as she can not be perfect ( she dumps him, according to some versions). Therefore, the object of desire can never be obtained physically. 

The idea of love is greater than physical love.  Hence, courtly love. The knight who is pledged to his lady, Don Quixote enamoured of his Dulcinea.

Take Dante Alighieri and Beatrice. He saw her on a bridge when she was only 9; he fell in love,  greeted her on the street, but never met with her. He married Gemma, but loved Beatrice.

But woe to the lovers who consummate their love.
Sir Lancelot loves Queen Guinevere, wife of Arthur, and the kingdom falls apart.
Romeo and Juliet are the star crossed lovers who loved not wisely but too well.
It contyinues into modern years. A recent Polish movie, Cold War, shows two paramours who love each other madly, can’t live without each other, can’t live with each other, and commit mutual suicide. They die happily ever after.

Hence, love’s eternal fail, ancient and modern.

Western civilization was also burdened by another aspect of Geek thought.
Greeks ( such as Aristotle) perceived the sense of touch as inferior to other senses. Hence their heirs, the early Christian thinkers, looked down upon physical sex . This impacted Jewish thinkers as well; the great intellect , the Rambam , disparaged” chush hamishush”. ( To be discussed further on).

They didn’t like their wives:
Hesiod, the Greek poet and father of Greek mythology says of half of humanity,women : “ the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”
It is interesting to note that “ helpmeet” as used in this translation, is the same word used, in English translation, to describe Eve. For the Greek, no helpmeet, for the Hebrew, the helpmeet.
Whence Woman?
Pandora is no gift- she is the Trojan horse of the gods-
Pandora, the first woman, was created by Zeus to punish man because the blessing of fire had been stolen by Prometheus from Olympus. Zeus gave humans “an evil thing for men as the price of fire.” Thus  woman was created endowed with numerous beguiling and seducing gifts which would plague humanity from then on.
Their greatest philosopher didn’t think highly of women:
Aristotle states in his work Politics "as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.” Women are "more mischievous, less simple, more impulsive ... more compassionate ... more easily moved to tears ... more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike ... more prone to despondency and less hopeful ... more void of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive, of more retentive memory [and] ... also more wakeful; more shrinking [and] more difficult to rouse to action" than men.”

For Us Jews
Male and Female
We are created together, in Chapter 1 of Genesis, both are “ Adam:, male and female !
Chapter 2 gives an “expanded version” of the creation. Adam is lonely and God brings all the animals of the garden to Adam. None satisfy him. He then creates Eve out of Adam’s “Tzela”( rib or side) and we have now “ Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” At this moment, we are told, man abandons his parents and clings to his wife. This bind is the transition form child to adult.
In Rabbinic thinking, the difference between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 is squared away by the image of an androgynous human, bound in a face to face embrace of male and female entities, joined at the “tzela”, not a rib, but the organ of procreation. Separation of the two entities is the first step for self-fulfillment, while the reunion of the two marks the completion of that fulfillment.

What is the original sin?
Here we split with the historic Christian church
 Eve is Adam’s answer to existential loneliness, and we are told that both are “Erom”,naked, and unashamed.
In the very next line, we are introduced to the snake, who is “Arum”-Clever!
Was the sexual relationship the result of the snake’s machinations ; was it the original sin?
Said Rabbi Joshuia ben Karcha, the text comes to tell us what prompted this wicked creature: He saw them engaged in “ Derekh Eretz” ( the way of the world, in other words, copulation) and desired them! ( Bereshit Rabbah 85:2)

Their relationship began before the fruit, not after!

The early Christian fathers saw sexuality as the outcome of the original sin. Desire is the seat of the first sin. For the Rabbis, human desire, passion, was created by God as he shaped( Va-Y-Yetzer) the first Adam. He shaped Adam  with two letter Yods, to indicate that both “ yezter”, the impulse to good and the impulse to bad are of divine origin, and essential for the human being.

For us, wife and lover are one and the same

There is an odd comment on the story of Lemech, the killer of Cain, and of his two wives,,Ada & Tsila ( Genessi, Ch. 4)

Rabbi Azariah said in the name of Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon: this is what the men of the generation of the Flood would do: each of them would take two wives, one for procreation and one for pleasure. The one who was for procreation would sit as if she was a widow …and the one that was for pleasure would drink a cup for sterility so that she did not bear [children], and would sit by him adorned like a prostitute.  ( Bereshit Rabbah 23:2)

Midrash used past to reflect on present. The scholar knew of the Greek concept of Hetaera, a female companion, both intellectually and sexually, who attended the symposium banquet with the men, and spent the night with them afterwards, while the dutiful wife stayed at home with the kids.  This idea pervaded many societies.For example, in medieval Japan, the ideal wife was a modest mother and manager of the home; by Confucian custom love had secondary importance. For sexual enjoyment and romantic attachment, men did not go to their wives, but to courtesans. It continues to modernity. Recall the funeral of  French President Mitterrand—both wife and mistress walk by the funeral bier.

Rabbi Azariah was teaching us that we Jews, as couple, are to love each other, for family and for love, together. Never was the wife/mother to be locked away as a “living widow.”

Is there“ Romance” in the Bible ?
Isaac and Rebecca find refuge among the Philistines ( Gen 26:8) Abimelech, the king, looks out the window and sees Isaac “metzahek”, playing with Rebecca. That word for play connotes, in Biblical Hebrew, love-making, in broad daylight, of all things!  (This leads to a Rabbinic discussion on just what is appropriate, during broad daylight, between husband and wife).
Jacob sees Rachel at the Well, and without so much as a blink, he single-handedly rolls away the stone over the well that required a band of shepherds to move. (Gen: 29:10). Such is the power of love, that he, a fool for love, works for 14 years as servant to his father-in-law!
What could be more romantic than the book, the Song of Songs, so very physical, sensual,so
fixed on the bodily attraction of the two central figures. Therefore, it is the ideal metaphor for the
love between God and the people Israel, so that Rabbi Akiba therefore declared it the Holy of
“Let me be a seal upon your heart, Like the seal upon your hand. For love is fierce as death, Passion is mighty as Sheol; Its darts are darts of fire, A blazing flame.
Vast floods cannot quench love, nor rivers drown it. If a man offered all his wealth for love, He would be laughed to scorn. (8:6-7)”

From whence  do we derives our obligations for conjugal relations?

Exodus 21 deals with the laws of indentured servants and makes a clear distinction between a man and a woman. The woman was to be regarded as a wife, for either the lord, or for the lord’s son, and was required to be given the same status as any other wife. The text summarizes that requirement:”  Sheera,Ksuta v Onata lo Yigara”- as with all wives( mishpat habanot), she may never be deprived of proper food, clothing, and conjugal relationship.

From this, our Rabbis determine what is the minimum obligation a husband has to his wife – but not vice versa!
One who vows to separate from his wife , Beit Shammai say, two weeks. Beit Hillel say one week. Students who leave for the purpose of studying Torah without the consent of their wives [have] thirty days; laborers, one week. [The law of providing sexual] pleasure [to one's wife] that is stated in the Torah [is as follows]: one at leisure, daily; laborers, twice a week; donkey drivers, once a week; camel drivers, once every thirty days; navigators every six months; these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer Mishnah Ketubot 5:6
( The only exception for delay is niddah, the menstrual impurity-- two weeks on, two weeks off. This results in a heightened desire for the wife and a greater chance of fertlity. It is the direct opposite of Catholic rhythm  method of birth control.)
Hence, the Talmid Chacham was obliged once weekly, and that day was Shabbat. The song” Never on a Sunday” could never have been a hit as “never on Shabbat”.
Did our sages have illusions about marriages turning sour?
They were realists:
When love was strong, we could have made our bed on a sword-blade; now that our love has grown weak, a bed of sixty [cubits] is not large enough for us.
( Sanhderin 7a).

The relation between husband and wife was a matter of serious study:

On a similar note, the Gemara relates that Rav Kahana entered and lay beneath Rav’s bed. He heard Rav chatting and laughing with his wife, and seeing to his needs, i.e., having relations with her. Rav Kahana said to Rav: The mouth of Abba, Rav, is like one whom has never eaten a cooked dish,i.e., his behavior was lustful. Rav said to him: Kahana, you are here? Leave, as this is an undesirable mode of behavior. Rav Kahana said to him: It is Torah, and I must learn.( Talmud Bavli Berakhot 72a)

So how do we look at physical intimacy?

One of the great classics of marital relations was the Iggeret Hakodesh”, the Sacred Letter ( commonly attributed to the great commentator and philosopher, Ramban, Nachmanides, but more probably the work of a great Kabbalist, Ibn Gikatilla). It was reproduced by many other Jewish writers, a tribute to its widespread acceptance.

Here is an excerpt of one key part:

Know that this connection (between make and female) is a holy and clean thing when it is as it should be, in the right time and in the right intention. Do not think that in a proper relationship there is a disgust and ugliness, for the proper union is known as “knowledge”, and not for nothing is it so named . . .This is not the case when the teacher ( Rambam, Maimonides) wrote  in the “Guide for the Perplexed” ( Moreh Nebuchim)  in praising the Aristotle for what he said that sense of touch is a disgrace to us. God forbid, it cannot be as the Greek said, for this Greek’s opinion has a taint of heresy that is not immediately noticed , for if he truly believed that world was created afresh, this useless Greek would not have said such a thing! . But all of followers of the  Torah believe that God created everything as His wisdom decreed, and did not create anything that would be disgusting or ugly. If he would claim  that the union  is a disgusting thing, then the very body parts would be disgusting as well. . . How could  the Holy One create something that is a deficiency or a curse, God forbid, but rather all  God's actions are perfect.”

What is kosher sex( as rabbi Boteach has phrased it)?

  Shulkhan Arukh  Even Haezer 25, in the comments of Rabbi Isserles, that made the code authoritative among Ashkenazim as well as Sephardim: 
 He may do with his wife whatever he wishes. He may have intercourse whenever he wishes, he may kiss any part of her body that he desires, he may have k-darka [typical] or lo kdarka   [atypical] intercourse, or stimulate himself with other parts of her body, ..

(Most importantly, he adds, the wife's interest comes first:)

 He may not have intercourse without her consent, and if she is not interested he should appease her until she is interested.

To sum, back to the theme of Romance, all of this is wrapped up in songs of the Jewish people down through the ages, themes of longing and yearning, all wrapped up, as in the last song, with the classic Jewish concept that love is the prototype of religion:

Romanceros  Ladino ( Ladino Love songs)
Los Bilbilicos
Los bilbilicos cantan
Con sospiros de amor
Mi neshama y mi ventura
Estan en tu poder
La rosa enflorece
En el mes de mai
Mi neshama s’escurece
Sufriendo del amor
Mas presto ven palomba
Mas presto ven a mi
Mas presto tu mi alma
Que yo me vo morir
The nightingales sing
With sighs of love
My soul and my fate
Are in your power
The rose blooms
In the month of May
My soul darkens
Suffering from love
Come quickly my dove
More quickly come to me
Come, you my soul,
For I will surely die

Dort unten in veldl dort zenen gevaksn
Margaritkelech ilent un kleyn,
Mit vaysinke zimen, mit vaysinke shtralen,
Mit vaysinke...tra la la.

Gegangen iz Chavale, farcholemt farzunken,
Tsulozn di goldblonde tsep,
Gegangen zich zuchendik, murmelnd farzunken
Dos lidele...tra la la la.

Then, there is the eternal tale of the young man and young woman who
Yiddish - DAISIES
Deep in the woods there grow
Daisies small and hidden,
With stems so pale and petals white,
So white...tra la la la.

Little Chava wanders about as in a dream,
Her golden blond braids undone,
moving about, seeking, and murmurs in thought
A little song...tra la la la.

A good-looking young man comes upon her,
His eyes are black as coal,
There is a twinkel in his eye and gaily he answers
Her little song...tra la la la.

"Tell me my young girl, what have you lost,
What might you find in these woods?"
"I'm looking for daisies," Chavale blushes,
She blushes so...tra la la la.

"You are still seeking, my maiden,
and yet I have found
The most beauteous daisy of all--
A daisy with braids and jewels for eyes,
Such eyes"...tra la la la.

"O tell me my maiden if one may stroke you,
If you will go hand in hand,
Maybe one may kiss you
or maybe embrace you,
Or perhaps even...tra la la la."

"Let me go, I must not,
my mother says I must not,
She is angry, my mother, and old,"
"What mother, which mother,
there's nothing but young trees here...tra la la la.

"You love me?" "I love you."
"You are shy?" "I am shy."
"Love me then shyly and hush--"
And look how the golden locks mix
with the dark/pitch black ones...tra la la la.

The sun has long gone,
the young man gone too,
Still the girl sits alone inthe woods,
Her look dreams afar and she murmurs in thought
A little song...tra la la la.

From Yemen comes a prayer by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, written as a romantic love poem, to express the longing for redemption
איילת חן—A graceful doe ( also- the Morning Star)

אילת חן בגלות תסמכני
ובלילה, ובלילה בתוך חיקה מלוני
אילת חן בגלות תסמכני
ובלילה, ובלילה בתוך חיקה מלוני
לכוס יינה אני תמיד מזומן
ונתערב, ונתערב חמד יינה בייני
לכוס יינה אני תמיד מזומן
ונתערב, ונתערב חמד יינה בייני
שתו דודים לעומתי ושכרו
והעירו, והעירו לשכל רעיוני
שתו דודים לעומתי ושכרו

English Translation: A graceful doe supports me in exile/ And here in her bosom she’ll lodge me./ To drink from her cup I am always prepared,/ She mingles her wine with my lees. /Before me, my friends, drink and be drunk,/ Rouse the reason that’s sleeping within me./ There in her palace sits the daughter of kings, Her table ready for those who are with me./ For every lover there comes a time to part, But with ardor my love shall recall me./ He adorns his lady with grace and with kindness, In paths of grace and of kindness he leads me./ For my beloved I spread out the clouds of the heavens, My desire she never denies me./ Fifty are her gates, solid and firm, and with The favor of Leah her wisdom sustains me. /She arouses Rachel’s love for her children, Unto the tenth kingdom’s secret she’ll raise me./ God, hasten to bring unto thine people salvation, And may my tongue be made pure within me. /Thy great peace shall encompass those whole of heart, The sons of the pure man, a charm unto thee.

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