Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on how necessary it is, especially today, that parents take an active role in teaching their children the Torah’s view on sexuality and modesty. It is important that the first images that fill their minds in regards to these concepts be appropriate ones.
We have discussed how pervasive the secular culture is and how much it has affected our children and how we can no longer afford to be naive about the existence of sexual predators in our midst. We reminded you that if children do not possess clear knowledge and an age-appropriate understanding of the parts of their body and how they can be used or misused, they would not be able to protect themselves from those who seek to abuse them.
There is a school of thought that exposing children and adolescents to sexual ideas will arouse in them a yetzer hara. We referenced a halachic ruling from the Ezer Mekodesh (Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 23:3) that makes it clear it is permitted for even a young man to study the sections of the Torah that relate to sexuality. Since there are dozens of halachos that are impossible to understand without knowledge of the mechanics of human sexual intercourse and reproduction, in truth, one can justifiably argue that teaching a child about sex is part and parcel of the commandment to teach Torah. After all, how can one possibly teach the laws of family purity, the laws of sexual immorality and the laws of marriage without also teaching about sexual matters?
Before we chart out a possible halachic approach to sex education, let us first rule out what is most certainly mistaken and misguided. First and foremost, it is absolutely forbidden to falsify or distort Torah. So, if we accept the obvious point that many halachos are dependent upon a correct understanding of sexuality, it is certainly incorrect to ever change or misrepresent the laws for the purposes of protecting “innocent young minds.” The Gemara is clear that one should never lie to a child, even about halachic matters of expedience, or as the child grows older he will learn to lie (Succah 46b.) Furthermore, the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kama, 4, Piska 9) indicates that one should even martyr himself rather than agree to misrepresent a Torah fact!
So, when teaching for example, the mishna in Kiddushin (1:1) about the three methods which complete the marriage bond, with one being sexual intercourse, it may be acceptable to say, “I will teach you two out of the three methods.” But it is certainly not acceptable to substitute sexual intercourse with some made up method. In other words, “The stork brought you” is unacceptable, but an answer such as “I will tell you when you are older” is acceptable. In one case a lie and distortion of the Torah is being committed, while in the other, the child is informed that he is not being told everything.
We are aware of a true story (told by a veteran principal) that aptly illustrates this point.
As we all know, part of Yom Kippur observance requires five abstentions or afflictions (Yoma 73b). They are: (1) Eating and drinking; (2) Washing/bathing; (3) Anointing or smoothing oil on one’s skin; (4) Wearing leather shoes; (5) Sexual intercourse.
The astute reader will note that it actually appears as if there are six abstentions: Eating, drinking, washing/bathing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and sexual intercourse. However, the Gemara counts eating and drinking as part of one category, that is, the intake of food.
The principal was observing a teacher relaying this information to her students and noticed that she described the five abstentions as follows:
(1) Eating; (2) Drinking; (3) Washing/bathing; (4) Anointing or smoothing oil on one’s skin; (5) Wearing leather shoes.
Obviously, the teacher wanted to preserve the concept of “five abstentions” but at the same time, wanted to avoid mentioning sexual intercourse. So the teacher cleverly expanded “eating and drinking” into two separate categories. Unfortunately, this is in direct contradiction to the mishna’s clear enumeration of eating and drinking as one abstention! Even though this distortion is perhaps better than the educationally abhorrent (but unfortunately well-used) practice of mistranslating tashmish hamittah as “making the bed”, it still is committing Torah forgery. The principal confronted the teacher about this distortion of the Torah, but the teacher was resolute in her stance that it would be inappropriate to teach children about sex. The principal explained, “I am not requiring you to teach all five abstentions. Rather tell them there are five abstentions but we will study four of them. Just please do not mislabel them from their original definitions in the mishna.” The principal was young and idealistic, and the teacher was a veteran and set in her ways. The whole matter turned into an unpleasant confrontation and power struggle.
This story would simply be a good enough illustration, if not for the tragic, yet comic post-script to this story. Twenty years later, this principal happened to be observing another class, and once again, saw a young teacher teaching the censored and distorted version of the five afflictions. The principal attempted to correct the young teacher, “Aha…you are trying to teach the children about the five abstentions without mentioning sexual intercourse, so you cleverly turned eating and drinking into two separate categories. That is an interesting approach, but aren’t you concerned that they may never learn it correctly?” To which the young teacher responded, “Sex? What do you mean? Aren’t these the five abstentions?” Clearly, the young lady had no idea that sexual intercourse was one of the five abstentions. In this principal’s own lengthy career he was able to witness both the distortion, and the pathetic product of that very distortion — a mature woman, a teacher of Torah no less, ignorant of a basic Jewish law!
(To be continued)Rabbi Simcha Feuerman