A Touchy Subject

Sexuality is a very touchy subject within the religious world, and understandably so. As I’ve tried to explain to my teenagers, this drive, right after the basic need for food and water (and those needs are met for most people most of the time) sexuality is the strongest natural (aka animal oriented) desire that humans have.

Though this subject is very touchy and must be discussed with the utmost discretion and care, still the religious world does a good job of educating those less knowledgable about kosher relationships, the mitzvot related to close contact between men and women, the obligations of family purity (those mitzvot regarding use of the mikvah for women and appropriate times and boundries for a kosher marital relationship).

However, there is a touchy subject within this touchy subject that is rarely dealt with, sexuality for men, especially the single man. Given that this is a more appropriate topic for a private discussion, it’s going to be tricky to get across some important concepts and still maintain the absolute G rating of this forum. But, I’m going to give it my best as I feel this is critical information that is, unfortunately, rarely shared.

Shemirat HaBrit, maintaining male purity is amazingly important and also amazingly spiritually powerful. It’s powerful exactly because the ta’ava, the desire to do otherwise can be so strong. Clearly we have mitzvot from the Torah that directly discuss prohibited actions. Yet, among men, especially among young unmarried men, the drive for these actions can be very strong.

If one is hungry and learns you can’t eat pork, for most this is rarely a problem, just substitute a nice steak. For many prohibitions of drive, there are easy kosher substitutions. In other prohibitive mitzvot, such as Shabbos, while there are many actions one may not do, there are many very positive replacement actions that redirect the energy.

But for men and shemirat habrit, maintaining male purity, there is no easy kosher substitution or replacement prior to marriage. Hashem YeRachem, G-d have mercy, this leads many to violate this strong prohibition.

So what’s a guy to do? I’ve got to tell you, many years ago I actually approached my Rav with this question, to which I only got a response of “Oh My G-d, you want to talk to me about what???”. But there is something to do.

First, of course, a man should realize that this need is very much driven by thought and vision. He should avoid the types of mental input, visual or otherwise, that remind or reinforce this. This is physical protection, avoiding, averting, filtering, be aware of what you are seeing and make a point to avoid such material or sights, turn away from it when such sights enter your vision, and filter what does (select appropriate books, magazines, news sources, and Internet sites). Some web sites such as TikunHabrit.Com offer tools (many free) to assist with this for protection on the Internet, which can be very dangerous territory. Highly recommended (for everyone!)

Next is the spiritual. Within Breslov chassidus they teach a specific set of tefilot (prayers), both to protect one from this trouble and to help rectify oneself. These tefilot are called Tikun HaKlali, the General Repair, and in Hebrew/English can be found in the book Rav Nachman’s Tikun. In general (not specific to Breslov), tefilot and rectifications for this prohibition are called Shemirot & Tikun HaBrit, and again these tefilot (prayers) strengthen one against a violation and, G-d forbid, help rectify stumblings if needed. The site BrisKodesh.Com provides links to resources in this area (as well as a free mailed copy of Tikun Klali in Hebrew).

Gentlemen, in our time when society leans so much the other way, we must take proactive steps to protect ourselves. Both physically, protecting our computer and Internet use with good filters (if one is using the computer at all, which you obviously are if you are reading this) and spiritually, with appropriate tefilot (prayers), shemirot (protections), and tikunim (repairs).

May Hashem strengthen us to avoid averot and forgive us for our weaknesses.

40 comments on “A Touchy Subject

  1. Again it is the contrast between the ideals of Judaism and the reality of those who must deal with life’s disappointments and pressures.

    In general, I would say that Judaism in this area seeks to lessen one’s thoughts and pre-occuaption with sex, but I find it backfires, that as one has to make arrangments with less potential days available, ther is more disappointments built-into the system, of course this is all Judaism not just Charedi.

    I prefer a Judaism that accepts that one does good, and one should be happy for this good.

    I don;t beleive that most men can control this inclination however they think that they can.

  2. … it’s great to say prayers about this, but there is also a physical side.

    Regular, *strenuous* physical exercise goes a long way to absorbing the energy of this drive in a healthy way – even for us married guys. Are you working up a sweat for at least 30 minutes, 2-3 times a week? It is SOOOOO unfortunate that many Yeshivos neglect this, or look down on it.

    Another very important thing is stretching and relaxation. A lot of men carry life’s stresses and worries around in their hips and spine, as nervous tension (also in the neck and jaw area). Regularly stretching and relaxing these areas – after exercise or before bed – can prevent the release of these tensions by other means. Put together a routine of stretches for the (lower) back, hips, and legs, and do it every night, yoga-style – hold the positions and breathe deeply until the area relaxes.

    These approaches work!

    Here’s one way to bring phsyical and spiritual together: when you bow forward in Shemoneh Esrei – breathe in and wait until your neck and spine relax. This is the point of the kneeling and bowing movements – relinquishing and subjecting your will to G-d’s kingship and His desires.

  3. JR-My understanding was that these Halachos are certainly in SA.Yet, as this Gadol pointed out, one cannot expect a Tzadik, Ben Torah or BT to be on the same wavelength as to their application to their lives. Very often, when a Posek writes “HaMachmir Tovah Alav Bracha”-that means for that person, as opposed to others who have other legitimate Baalei Mesorah to ask their questions to who may render a contrary or modifying opinion.

  4. That WAS my intention Bob. But I think you’ll admit that “dead” chasidim of any denomination (including non-Chasidic ones if you get my drift) i.e. those that think that they may bypass a personal rabbi for guidance and draw their own conclusions from disputed or controversial texts can be dangerous. Most of all to themselves.

    (FYI in pre-war Europe the Breslovers were collectively known as the “Toita Chasidim”= the Dead Chasidim. This was not a pejorative. It merely meant that in spite of some very highly respected madrichim and group leaders there central Rebbe had not been among the living for well over a century.)

  5. As I guess Chaim G. understands, today’s more typical Breslover relies on a personal rabbi for guidance as well as the texts.

  6. “The Shulkhan Oruch, and even the Mishna Brura lists a number of halakhos that are L’halakha but not L’Ma’aseh”

    ah, but is this one of them?

  7. Sounds quite normative and routine checks-and-balances to me. Torah She-Ba’al peh continues to unfold. One needs to be plugged into a living breathing link in the Mesorah, not just to the written word. To many this is what makes some of the factions within the large tent known as Breslov “dangerous”.

    The Shulkhan Oruch, and even the Mishna Brura lists a number of halakhos that are L’halakha but not L’Ma’aseh (SB and anony-sources, please help me on this one!)

  8. “I know of a major American Gadol who has told anyone who asks that those sections are for Tzadikim.”

    And what is that supposed to mean? That they’re optional, unless you’re a tzaddik? Sounds very dangerous to me, to relegate select halachos as beyond the reach of most people.

  9. Two short contributions:
    When I decided it was time to discuss these topics with each of my boys, the basic premise was that everything HaShem created CAN be for good or can be abused.

    The sexual attraction thing I equated to the attraction of magnets, and also communicated that unfortunately some people’s “magnets” are mixed up and attracted to the wrong gender!

    As for the spilling of seed, it was much easier and more direct. Everything has its time and place. Within the time & place Judaism promotes (before 24 yrs of age and within marriage) everything is a blessing. Wasted outside that scope, it has tremendous destructive potential.

    It seems to have worked so far! Two out of six married in first year after the army/hesder experience and at least one more this year. Now I’ve got other problems to contemplate!

  10. Like a fire in the hearth , shedding light and warming bones,

    Cooking, baking, washing, sustaining,

    Knowing and loving all that can be known,

    Such is love that’s harnessed, focused by refraining and containing,

    Unleashed it burns free, destroying and consuming,

    All within it and those that dared to stand in loves path,

    And in the stillness that follows storming, to dissipation dooming,

    Loves arsonists, dejected in self-directed wrath,

    For hell hath no fury like love to hatred turned,

    And love of self is no love at all,

    Play at matchless and be burned,

    By spurning the prayer shawl,

  11. I suspect that many on this site may have seen or been terrified by the English KSA’s view on this issue. Likewise, the end of the second volume of the MB contains many halachos in this area. I know of a major American Gadol who has told anyone who asks that those sections are for Tzadikim. I think that those sections are not exactly the first ones that I would talk to a BT about-either before or after his marriage.

  12. One issue that deserves more discussion is the view of Chazal and Rishonim on the issue of sexuality-as opposed to tznius.First of all, Chazal certainly discussed issues involving sexuality both in terms of Halacha and Aggadah. There are all sorts of sugyos on this subject in numerous Masectos involving all sort of halachos. The Rishonim also have different POVs ranging from Rambam’s POV, which views sexuality basically as a concession to human needs to the Raavad and Ramban who view sexuality within marriage as a very beautiful mitzvah and who both wrote what we would call “manuals” on this subject-Igeres HaKodesh and Baalei HaNefesh.In fact, none less than Ramban attributes Rambam’s view to that of Aristotle! On the Aggadic side, there is a famous Gemara involving one Amorah in Brachos who sneaked under his rebbe’s bed and when confronted by his rebbe said “it is Torah and I have to learn it.” OTOH, it can be said that the influence of the Zohar and the rise of Chasidus led to a less rationalistic and philosophical view which finds itself in the Chasidishe and Yeshivishe worlds-especially within Gerer, which has developed its own hanhagos and chumros in this area. Although I am not a fan of R S Heilman’s approach, in his book on the Charedim of Yerushalayim, he wrote beautifully on how one Chasidishe couple went for the equivalent of counselling in this area. I reccomend it for anyone who wonders how Chasidim deal with problems of this nature.

  13. DK said

    “I am pretty open about where I stand on my own site. I would describe myself as secular-Orthodox.”

    Maybe like one of those meato-vegetarians?

  14. Michoel,

    There is teaching Torah, and there is driving people nuts. From what I saw on this issue specifically, there is much too much of the latter. For instance, when I was discussing (very, very young at this point, in Israel, and brand new to charedism) I was discussing an ex-girlfriend (she wasn’t ex yet) who wasn’t Jewish. The charedi rabbi demanded that she be written a letter ending the relationship, and that I was not to write the letter, and to have no further contact. He would do it for me.

    I did not accept that proposition, but I don’t think it should have been proposed in the first place. That is not how you break off with someone. It was a very invasive and inappropriate demand.

  15. “Most rabbayim don’t talk about this stuff for a very good reason – talking about it hurts people and screws up lives.”

    Is that the reason they don’t talk about it? Really? Have they told you so?

    You mean they can teach about the prohibitions of Shabbos and the kosher laws, and before marriage the laws of family purity, but teaching this particular halacha messes people up?

    So are you saying that this halacha should be deleted from Shulchan Aruch?

  16. DK,
    OK, a few websites might express things in ways that sound extreme. But the halacha says what it says. Is having a girlfriend now mutar? Or other ways of releasing oneself? That this is a painful issue for a lot of people doesn’t mean we should nulify the Torah. Even if you don’t agree with that for yourself, surely you don’t fault rabbeim for teaching Torah. I am correct?

  17. Steve(20)-

    A cursory reading of Rav Tzadok/Rav Nachman on the topic will reveal the connection/identity between Shmiras Halashon and Shmiras HaBris. It is not coincidental that a great emphasis is placed on learning sifrei Chofetz Chaim among Gerrer Chasidim, a subculture within Frum Jewry where Akiva’s general rule there is a touchy subject within this touchy subject that is rarely dealt with, sexuality for men, does not apply.

  18. Bob,

    I am pretty open about where I stand on my own site. I would describe myself as secular-Orthodox. It’s a long discussion, and would prefer not to have it here.

  19. When someone is hungry, he eats and becomes satisfied, at least for a while. When a man gives in to this, instead of satisfying, it causes more desire. The opposite applies as well.

  20. The above Rambam should be read in context with another Rambam wherein it is stated that a small percentage of Klal Yisrael transgress Arayos and Gezel, but that everyone transgresses Lashon Harah in some way.

  21. Well, Michoel, assume for arguments sake that you are not married. Then check out the website Akiva gave’s suggestions on what that means pragmatically, and what your options are, and if it is a big deal or not if you go outside that paradigm.

    If there is no relief in any form for years on end, I would call that extreme male sexual deprivation.

    I once saw a guy break in a charedi administrators office. Not cry — complete nervous breakdown. Fighting with people as they held him down, he still carried on with his dialogue with the administrator. He even asked the rabbi if he had any daughters, the rabbi apologized that he had none of marriagable age. It was not watching a train wreck, it was watching a spaceship wreck. Needless to say, the young man left the yeshiva. Immediately.

    The administrators recovered rather quickly. I suspect they have seen such things before.

    Of course, some will probably write that poor kid off as having “problems before.” But even if true, I don’t think following the tikkun habrit was particularly helpful to his state of mind. In fact, it apparently pushed him into a place that was really, really, bad for his state of mind. But I don’t think it is all that helpful to any BT at a young adult age.

    My Rosh Yeshiva’s advice was not very helpful to me. He simply advised us not to think about sex before marriage.

    Still, in some ways, the BT view of sex was certainly crafting in important ways. Like many who learned to live alone in these environments, I ended up preferring it in many ways. While no longer abstinent as they insisted, and that is a big difference, I did learn to live without a partner, with those years of living in a same-sex environment. I am not the only one who did. I doubt I would have been quite as lackadaisical about finding a partner if I wouldn’t have had that training of living without women completely as an adult. It doesn’t bother me, though it upsets my parents. I was taught that marriage is overrated, and only worthwhile from a mitzvah perspective. I guess I accepted that on some level.

    I could give you more stories, but this is
    not the site.

  22. FWIW, Chazal were well aware of this temptation . Take a look at a fascinating discussion in Chagigah as to one solution offered when one is RL overcome by this temptation. Then take a look at the Chayei Adam’s Tefilas Zakah that is in every Machzor YK before Kol Nidre. The bottom line would appear to be that even if one succumbs to this taavah, one can do teshuvah for it.

  23. RMF has a Tehuvah in ShuT Igros Moshe where he discusses this issue with someone who asked him for advice.

  24. Rambam Hilchos Isurei Biah 22:21

    “More(effective)than all the other tactics for battling immoral leanings of the sex-drive) is to turn himself and his thoughts to Divrei Torah and to expand his consciousness with wisdom. For untoward (arayos) thoughts overpower hearts void of wisdom.”

  25. DK,
    Please provide a source for the alleged emphasis of “extreme male sexual deprivation.” Also, while your at it, please define your terms.

    Thank you

  26. Most rabbayim don’t talk about this stuff for a very good reason – talking about it hurts people and screws up lives. Further, if one actually speaks to a real, honest to goodness posek with experience dealing with BTs, divorced people, etc., you’ll find they for the most part would pay a lot of money to bring down that Breslov site – more than they would pay to bring down mine.

  27. Chaim G, you wrote

    “Did they have a conformist or a near-revolutionary reformist agenda?”

    Well, some would say that R. Nachman had the latter.

    But like you said — they weren’t speaking to newly observant Jews. Some might say that the extreme male sexual deprivation emphasized (oh, yes it is) at certain BT insitutions are all too frequent in, um, similar tactics employed by, shall we say, newer faiths in order to achieve, well, lots of things. And prevent lots of things as well. And no, not just sin.

  28. Re #8:

    Lest we look at things as normal people do, we are now enlightened about yet another fiendishly clever tactic of the black hats.

    Enough of this monomaniacal poppycock!

  29. DK I don’t get it. Were Rav Tzadok HaKohen Of Lublin and Rav Nachman Breslover, two of the most explicit and prolific authors on the topic being discussed here, addressing BTs? (I mean of course in the contemporary sense of the word). Did they have a conformist or a near-revolutionary reformist agenda?

    To wax slightly semantical/philosophical for a moment it also strikes me as fascinating that shmiras HaBris is identified with the nature of a Tzadik=one who never sinned (cp Yoseph Ha Tzadik and midas Yesod) rather than a Ba’al T’shuva/Yehuda/Malchus.

  30. I used to resent the way certain charedi groups place such empahsis on BT “restraint.” But now I understand it. Nothing enforces conformity (and not just the subtle kind) like marriage as the only possibility for release, and the opportunity for shidduchim for the BT in a yeshiva demands change. Very great change indeed.

    It is quite clever, this emphasis.

  31. Here are some other things one can do:

    1. From http://www.jewishsexuality.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=21&Itemid=72

    To prevent an unintentional seminal emission on Yom Kippur night, G-d forbid, the sages have recommended reciting the first four chapters of Tehillim before retiring to sleep. This is also an excellent remedy for people who have a reoccurring problem with keri at night.

    2. Listen to a Torah tape, cd, or MP3 as you go to sleep. I listen to Rabbi Lazer Brody’s Emunah CD’s and this is a powerful way of silencing the Yetzer and those images. Think about it, what is more enjoyable: those images, or hearing words of emunah, love, and Torah?

    3. Since I am single, I put up pictures of tzaddikim and rabbis in my bedroom. You could also put up pictures of loved ones and friends. Would you commit p’gam habrit with all those rabbis and relatives looking down on you???

    4. I use my work computer as my home computer. I wouldnt dare put junk on the work computer. Then I disconnected the home computer and removed it!

    5. Keep saying Tikkun Klali and go to mikveh at least once a week.

    6. Never ever ever get depressed if keri sets in. Just get to a mikveh as soon as possible and keep smiling. The yetzer wants you to be depresssed. Rebbi Nachman says “Even if I commited the worst sin in the Torah, I would not despair! I would just do Teshuvah and be happy” … from R. Lazer Brody.

    Keep up the good fight!!!

  32. Akiva noted,
    “Gentlemen, in our time when society leans so much the other way, we must take proactive steps to protect ourselves.”

    Are there ever times when a society is morally so far off the deep end that we have to remove ourselves from it altogether?

  33. “Eventually, a person will get married, or gain self-control”

    Being married does not eliminate this yetzer hara as married men will attest (if they confide in you).

    I commend Beyond BT for posting this post.

    Since this topic is not addressed in most yeshivos, one is left to wonder how on earth boys are supposed to know that this is prohibited, never mind an extremely serious prohibition.

  34. I appreciate the mention of Breslov teachings as I’ve recently become more interested in Rebbe Nachman and Breslov teachings. It definitely adds to the diversity of Torah hashkafah on Beyond BT.

  35. Akiva,
    Thank you for bringing this up. Far from being an inappropriate discussion for this blog, I think this is the type of subject that most justifies the existence of blogs.
    While it is not in our hands to minimize the frightening statements of g’dolei hadoros about the gravity of shmiras habris, it is appropriate to give context. I would start with the Steipler, certainly a very big tzadik and not one we would suspect of fluffy hashkafos. He writes very clearly that if one stumbles in this area, they should not worry about the past. He writes that the seforim talk about how serious the issur is at lenght but that they are short on stressing the possitive. Meaning that not being nichshol even once, or even defering being nichshol is an incredible z’chus. All this is explicit in the Kreina D’igrata, see there. He is addressing baalei t’shuvah and one can see the great kavod he had for their struggles in this area.

    BTs should think of the issue as follows: Yesterday, I was nichsol in serious aveiros and it didn’t bother me. Today, I am keeping Shabbos, kosher, trying to grow in Torah and yiras shamayim. So if I am still nichsol in some of the same aveiros because I am so habituated in it, should I then punish myself with guilt feelings and getting angry or discusted at myself? That would be like punishing myself for becoming frum, where I should be congratulating myself!

    In general, the ikkar is to be b’simcha and not think about “it”. Eventually, a person will get married, or gain self-control. I heard also from a big Rav that being overly frum about shmiras aynayim can have a very bad boomerang effect. Then when one suddenly sees something immodest (as is unavoidable in this world), the yetzer is much more pronounced and powerful. It is better to just do the best one can to keep ones thoughts and eyes clear by not looking at obvious temptations but to also learn to deal with the world. We see some baalei t’shuvah that lose the ability to have a normal conversation with a woman. That is tremendously unhealthy.

    Hatzlacha Raba

Comments are closed.