Title: From Boys to Men
Dr. Shloimie Zimmerman
From Boys to Men is a well-written guide for talking about puberty, sexuality, and physically coming of age with religious Jewish boys. Notwithstanding its (accidental?) homage to early 90s R&B groups, Dr. Shloimie Zimmerman has crafted a very useful and important book about a topic nearly everyone feels uncomfortable broaching. This work weaves together Torah sources, current psychological research, and developmental theory into an easily accessible read.
The first, and arguably most important, praise that can be offered is that this book exists. While this may seem like a pretty low bar, generally speaking, discussions about sexuality are quite taboo in the frum community. A topic reserved exclusively for private conversations, bashful phrasing, and chasan and kallah classes. That Zimmerman has written such a book, specifically geared toward educating adolescent boys, is inspiring. These types of conversations NEED to take place, especially in the internet age, and Zimmerman is deserving of praise for undertaking such a fraught theme.
From Boys to Men is divided into two parts: “conversation points for parents and children” and “information for parents to help their children navigate puberty.” Part One is the much shorter and arguably more important section of the book. It is here that Zimmerman lays out the talking points for discussions about marital intimacy, physical development, sexual drive, health, and safety. The scripts that Zimmerman has written are informative, direct, and age-appropriate. One of the biggest challenges about sexual education in the frum community is how queasy parents and educators are with words like sex, the proper names for male and female body parts, and other explicit terms. (To be fair these types of parent-child conversations are uncomfortable for most people in the secular world as well.) It is refreshing to see Zimmerman advise the use of this direct language with Jewish boys. It is extremely important to communicate our willingness to have uncomfortable conversations with our children, especially if we want them to feel comfortable coming to us, their parents and educators, with their uncomfortable concerns. In constructing these open talking points, Zimmerman helps drive this message home.
In fact, Zimmerman does this so well in the “Conversation Points” sections of the book that his use of vague vocabulary and “Lashon Nekiah” in Part Two (sections written primarily for parents and educators) comes off as clunky and unnecessarily confusing. This is the biggest critique I have of this book. A critique that I hope will not overshadow an overwhelmingly positive review. Much of the book that is directed toward adults is written using lashon nekiah and other esoteric phrases such as “one’s essence,” chasivus and dimyon, inyanei kedusha, and many oblique references to “these matters” or “these struggles.” While we all know what Zimmerman is referring to, it feels like he is embarrassed to speak directly to us, the adult readers, about these important, intimate topics. I wish he would have modeled the same level of directness with his readers that he asks his readers to model for their children. Granted this may be the more comfortable language choice for his target audience, but if our frum adolescents can handle it, so can frum adults. To be fair, I do not know whether this was a deliberate choice on Zimmerman’s part or the result of pressure from his editors. Pressures that I have similarly felt from this newspaper in response to my own diction in this review.
Phraseology aside, Part Two of From Boys to Men is full of useful information mainly geared toward adults with several sections of important information for teens clearly labeled within. These topics range from developmental education, helping identify and avoid shame, interventions, healthy and religiously appropriate sexuality, and help identifying when normal sexual drives can turn into unhealthy habits where professional help is needed. These sections are bite-sized and can be read together and returned to for reference as needed. Finally, Zimmerman has included a useful appendix for identifying and avoiding sexual abuse. While this is not the primary purpose of the book, its inclusion is necessary and appreciated.
In summary, Dr. Shloimie Zimmerman’s From Boys to Men is a well articulated and important read. It tackles the taboo subject of puberty and adolescent sexuality in the frum community and does so in an open and balanced fashion. This is a useful book that does a stellar job at inviting parents and educators to not only engage in conversations with their sons, but consider these topics themselves. I highly recommend this book.