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           Modern novels, movies, magazines, and television programs which fantasize and glorify the notion of "romantic love" are describing a type of ideal relationship that may exist in literary form or in the poetic imagination, but which bears very little resemblance to what love is all about in the everyday world of real life. People who read love stories or watch TV should realize that while courtship, chivalry, romance and passion do play their separate and respective roles in the dramatic awakening and eventual attainment of satisfaction in love, these are all elements in a process, but they do not by any means add up to the whole of the love experience.


Nor is romantic love an end in itself, so that it cannot and should not be accepted in defense of any type of behavior in any male-female relationship which is less than a properly controlled one. Such explanations as "We couldn't help ourselves, we just fell in love," or, "We didn't realize what was happening" are excuses, not reasons, because people usually do realize very well indeed what is happening. They all too often try to convince themselves that certain forms of intimacy are justified because the two individuals concerned happen to be truly in love. To fool oneself through this tactic is to lose control over oneself.

Romantic love is not always related to real love, especially when it ignores the true personalities and mutual interest of those involved. To be ruled by one's emotions and feelings, uncontrolled and undirected by logic, values and clear thinking, with no clear sense of goals and responsibility, is to ignore the only factors which can establish a firm foundation for a permanent and mature life-long relationship.

The theme repeated everywhere in novels and movies is that "I am in love and my love is beyond my control"; "I fell in love"; it was as though someone pushed me off a cliff and it was all accidental and unintentional. The Jewish approach warns us not to "love in spite of yourself," but to love "because of yourself." Find out what you're headed for. Enter into the love relationship with your eyes open, not with your eyes closed. Don't accept blind dates, unless you know who the potential partner is.

If you find that you are "falling," realize while your eyes are still open, while you can still think clearly and objectively, who this person is for whom you are falling. By whom, I refer to background, commitment, education, character, personality, family, friends, values, concern for others, goals and ideals -- the things that really count -- not the external, superficial things, some of which may be "put on."

Fall in love with the real person inside the skin. Fall in love deliberately, with control, not on the rebound, or because you're simply "in love with love." Fall in love only after you have come to know yourself, not because you feel insecure and think "no one loves me," and not because you don't get along with your parents and are anxious to leave home. Don't let your craving for acceptance or love lead you to throw yourself at the first person who gives you a tumble or is "pliable" in physical conduct.

All this is a matter of decency, honesty and fairness to yourself, to the other person involved, and to your family and Jewish tradition. It is a pre-condition of authentic and lasting love. Let the woman use her "feminine charm"; it's her legitimate prerogative, a healthy manifestation of her femininity. It's quite one thing to be charmed by it, but don't be taken in. Don't let it blind you; don't fall for it. If you take the romantic love angle too seriously, you will lose your proper place in the marital relationship and, with it, lose your dignity and your role as master of your destiny.

Young men, too, often employ a trickery more harmful and more dangerous than that employed by women. There is no ultimate danger if a girl employs her femininity to charm a young man into turning a fleeting interest into a more serious one. Young men, however, sometimes deceive a young woman into thinking that they are in love, while all they want is a physical relationship. Intimacy without true love, commitment and permanence is a price too high to pay.


FRIENDSHIP BEFORE MARRIAGE


Why does Jewish tradition demand that the relationship between men and women before marriage stop at the point of physical contact? And why is such restraint, forbidding even mere "touching" ("negiah" in Hebrew) so crucial a factor in the successful observance of those laws that define the Jewish standards of family loyalty and interpersonal relationships?

Jewish law states that once a young woman begins menstruating, she assumes the status of nidah, and remains, from that point on, "off limits" in regard to physical contact with men, until the day of her marriage. Just prior to her marriage ceremony she removes the nidah status, in accordance with Jewish law, by immersing herself in the waters of a mikveh (a body of water used only for spiritual sanctification), and may then be approached by her husband. As a married woman she becomes nidah once again with each onset of a menstrual period, marital relations must then be suspended until she immerses herself once more in a mikveh, at least one week after the completion of each menstrual period.

It will be acknowledged, even by those unaware of this law, that the sense of touch in male-female relationships often constitutes a type of borderline where simple association begins to pass from the area of friendship into the area of intimacy. In any male-female relationship, it is easier to maintain self control up to the point of physical contact because, from the moment of contact on, control becomes much more difficult. Also, once the principle of "no contact" has been violated, there are often no other barriers effective enough in helping two people to restrain themselves from further kinds of involvement that could lead naturally to a intimacy.

A physical relationship is an essential element in the binding together of two people in marriage. Before marriage, however, physical contact has the effect of forging bonds without sincere commitment. [Therefore, objectivity is distorted, and the essential relationship becomes confused... are we really headed towards commitment? Are his words, "I care only for what's best for you" grounded?] Any sort of physical contact or intimacy, as it brings people closer together, tends to bind -- a kind of glue as it were -- but as glue should be used to bind together only when a permanent bond is decided upon, physical contact should begin only after the marriage itself.

Some people will claim, with reasonable justification, that some of the social practices which Jewish law prohibits, such as hand-holding, social dancing, and goodnight kissing, are simply matters of form or social grace, which people perform without attaching to them any great significance. It is precisely this point that we are attempting to make. As Jews, we take relationships between people much more seriously than does "society." Jewish society cannot tolerate a situation where a young man or woman is used, taken advantage of, or hurt. Nor can we accept, for all the casualness of society, that kissing, or any form of expressing affection, can ever be regarded lightheartedly or as a game or social grace.

Most people who have dated know that even a casual goodnight kiss is just a beginning. The nature of kissing and touching is such that it calls for more and more... once you begin, it is hard to stop. If each date begins with the understanding that before it ends there must be some kind of physical contact, then a high point of the date is the physical expression, and not a more intellectual or conversational type of exchange, or the excitement of sharing each other's company.

If dating is limited to conversation, then each successive date can bring new and more stimulating conversation, and a greater interplay of personality. But if dating implies even the most casual physical contact, it is natural that on each date you will want to have more; each partner will feel impelled to give a little more, to let down a few more barriers, until there is little left to surrender. The result is a transaction in which the young woman is selling herself cheaply, and all too often, suffers a loss of self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem, and in many instances the breaking of the relationship.
 


WHAT IS TRULY BEAUTIFUL?


In order to master the fire of attraction rather than be consumed by it, Judaism teaches the virtue and value of tzniut (modesty). The idea of tzniut differs fundamentally from the non-Jewish concept of chastity, which bears the connotation of prudishness and ignorance, arising from an underlying Puritanical-Christian notion of the human body as evil and "flesh as sinful."

The Torah concept of tzniut bears connotations of restraint, privacy, good taste and dignity, which arise from the underlying acceptance of the human body as a vessel of man's sacred soul. The body should always be properly and tastefully covered, in order to preserve a sense of dignity, worth and self-respect, rather than openly flaunted and thus debased. To the Jew, tzniut is a major element of true beauty. True beauty lies not in what we reveal, but in that which we conceal. Only a body properly clothed, not openly flaunted, is a fitting vessel for containing the true human beauty which lies beneath the surface of the physical self. more about Tzinut here.

True feminine beauty has little in common with the artificial image of beauty projected by American cosmetic firms, television screens and advertising industries. The notion that true beauty, allure or happiness is determined by the extent to which a girl approaches the ideal in a physical sense is so much deceptive nonsense. The ideal is an arbitrary and often cruel standard that causes much needless unhappiness for those who take it too seriously, and as a result become slaves to a stereotyped notion of beauty.

Real feminine beauty is a highly subjective, personal matter. It relates to the totality of the image and presence of an individual's personality. It is much more a reflection of poise, bearing, sensitivity, charm and values than of any specific physical feature.

Young women, no matter how physically attractive, remain unconvinced inwardly of their own real beauty until they begin to love and be loved. Many obviously beautiful girls have sincerely protested, "But I'm not pretty." This suggests two possible insights: first, that true beauty exists "in the eyes of the beholder" -- that beauty is largely a subjective highly personal phenomenon that gains true meaning in the context of marriage; second, that a truly beautiful person is one who loves and gives to another.

Both the conviction of beauty and mature love develop fully, deepen, and are nurtured only in the context of married life. Many women feel "beautiful" only after they have been so convinced by the devotion, actions and attitudes of their loving husbands. This will explain why women who do not fit the stereotype, and are not beautiful by Madison Avenue criteria, are loved, admired and regarded as being highly attractive and desirable by their husbands. In simple terms, a woman's inner feeling of desirability and beauty may be an outgrowth and reflection of her husband's love. By the same token, a devoted wife is by far a more satisfying manifestation of a man's masculinity than any number of casual conquests of which he may be able to boast.

In a sustained marital relationship, the external physical criteria of attractiveness are harmonized with the primary personality factors. In marriage, one soon discovers that deeds and attitudes are far more important than artificial standards of mere physical beauty. A wife's priorities and problems must become the husband's priorities and problems -- and vice versa. There must be mutual dedication to common goals and to each other's well being. Lacking these ingredients, all the physical attractions in the world will not sustain a relationship, or provide long-run happiness for either party.

 

by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper
 from "Love, Dating, and Marriage." OU/NCSY, New York, 1984

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