Sisterhood Blog

'Halachically Yours' Provides Sex Ed for the Orthodox

By Megan Sass

  • Print
  • Share Share

Getty Images // An Orthodox bride and groom in Jerusalem*

HalachicallyYours.org is a web site opening the lines of communication about sexuality and intimacy in married relationships in the Orthodox community. I spoke with Sarah Epstein, who has been a sex educator for four years, about her project and why sex ed is still taboo among religious Jews.

Megan Sass: What are the topics you are making sure to touch on?

Sarah Epstein: We create a framework in which people can discuss the notion of what’s halachic and what’s not, but we are very careful to encourage people to talk to their own halachic authority. We talk about foreplay, we talk about communicating with your partner, what you like, what you don’t like, learning about your partner’s body, and understanding that intimacy is an emotional thing as much as it is a physical thing.

What is the biggest challenge in this arena of sexual therapy?

The whole idea is that there’s a need of a community, but the reason there’s a need is because people aren’t talking about it or people aren’t comfortable with it. Breaking those barriers down and making people comfortable enough to embrace the education can be a challenge. It’s pretty taboo still.

Why do you think that it is still a taboo in this community?

It is generally only talked about within [very specific] boundaries. You don’t talk about sex until you are married and it’s relevant to you. The problem is there’s a huge gap in knowledge. You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math; you try not to send kids in school without some sort of social skills. You’re kind of throwing halacha observant adults into a really intense situation without guiding them in any way. If you’ve never been naked in front of someone, it’s a very vulnerable experience. The assumption is you’re an adult and therefore you know these things, but no one has ever taught you.

I guess no one wants to talk about the fact that no one wants to talk about it.

Do men and women react differently to your programming?

Yes, but I feel like part of that difference in reaction has to do with sort of a weirdness around a man acknowledging to a woman that a sex curriculum is good. It’s a little weirder to be asking about it, maybe, if you’re an orthodox rabbi. I think we’ve gotten more support and more openness from women that we’ve spoken to. It might be because we’re women, or it might be because women talk about this stuff with other women. I foresee the challenge of reaching men more than I fear the challenge of reaching out to women.

Tell me a little bit about the charity and cause aspect of Halachically Yours

The featured cause is Bat Melech, which is the only domestic violence shelter in Israel geared toward religious women and their children. It’s the other side of the coin; we are trying to positively impact relationships, and support a cause that helps women get out of bad relationships. They deal with legal issues, legal barriers in Israel with the rabbinate, in terms of getting women out of marriages when the rabbinate wants you to maintain shalom bayit (peace in the house); rabbis who are telling women that “Divorce doesn’t look good to the community.”

They have trouble getting funding from other sources. The government says, “Oh, we give enough money to ultra-Orthodox communities.” Like, “This is your problem in your community, and you need to deal with it.” They have a group of American women who are giving them x-amount of dollars to open this shelter with the stipulation that they couldn’t publicize their cause, because you don’t want to air your dirty laundry. So [Bet Melech] decided they couldn’t do that any more.

It’s such an important way to contribute to the community. And [some people] don’t want to talk about it, and I love talking about things that other people don’t want to talk about. This is important and we can’t ignore it just because it upsets some people.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: halacha, Jewish, Halachically Yours, sex, sexuality

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.