I thought that this article deserved its own blog post, and not just a pithy tweet.
As a human interest story, and drawing attention to the struggles and balancing acts that (even) Hasidic people experience on a daily basis — even to the point of leading double lives — I thought the article did a fine job.
But I did want to raise two points about it:
First, as I shared in my tweet, “sinning,” breaking taboos, or living double lives, are not at all the exclusive province of atheists or agnostics. Many who believe in G-d with all of their heart and soul, nevertheless live in the same world of temptation and desire. When that desire or temptation becomes stronger than their commitment not to sin, they give in to it. And because we are human, it happens all of the time.
The article makes a big point of the fact that Monica and James “are outwardly religious, but no longer believe in their faith.” It characterizes their experience as a sort of “coming out”; their swinging is not merely an indulgence — it is a brave stand against the “strong hold” that religious dogma has on our thoughts. But for their family, who remain in the clutches of antiquated faith, Monica and James would have headed for the hills of hedonistic bliss. However, they have risked their relationship with their family in this courageous “tell all” to “inspire other Hasidic couples who also have doubts about God and their marriage.” Who knew that sexual indulgence could be so heroic?
I am actually grateful that they have shared their story, and I agree that by speaking about their own experience, other Hasidic couples who engage in the same kind of taboo-breaking — or couples who even fantasize about it — feel less alone. And I assume that when he hopes “other Hasidic couples will do the same,” he means that they too will share their story — not that he is necessary seeking to inspire other couples to doubt G-d or to break taboos.
But I think that, for the many couples/individuals out there who don’t doubt G-d, who believe in the Torah, and who love their faith; yet who nevertheless struggle with very real, powerful, and diverse sexual drives — they too should not feel alone.
My second point is the unfortunate title of the article: “This Hasidic couple’s kinky open marriage could get them ‘shunned forever’.” When I first read it, I almost passed on reading the article itself. Did I want to read about another couple or person who was punished by (what is, admittedly) an unforgiving culture when it comes to sexuality?
I read it nonetheless, and was pleased to find that it was about Monica and James’ lifestyle, and not about their punishment; that it was their own interview, and not their social obituary. It was a wonderful human interest piece, and I was truly relieved that they have not been outed, exposed, or subjected to the social condemnation of their community.
However, the title of the article suggests that it was the author’s intent to shame the Hasidic community from embracing — and potentially enforcing — standards that might be fundamentally at odds with Monica and James’ lifestyle choices.
But wouldn’t that be the case with any subculture that passionately defends a particular set of values? What do you imagine the reaction would be if a prominent member a far left organization was found to have voted for Donald Trump, and that he pickets abortion clinics in his spare time? Or what would happen if a prominent member of a far right organization was discovered to be a doctor at Planned Parenthood who voted twice for Barack Obama? Would either of those “outings” be pleasant? Unlikely.
People are passionate about their values; and they associate with other people who are passionate about the same values. If one of those people turns out to secretly have the very opposite values, mightn’t that be seen as a betrayal?
Is it unique that a community that revolves entirely around the Torah and its commandments as G-d’s living word would have a strong negative reaction to someone who pretends to share those values, but flouts them in secret?
Now, as anybody who has read any of my writings knows, I believe that society’s disproportionate condemnation of sexual transgressions is itself a thing to be condemned; and that we should all get out of the business of judging others simply because we sin differently. For those sexually adventurous couples who do believe in G-d, they shouldn’t have to choose between G-d and the Torah in which they believe, and the community to which they enthusiastically belong, on the one hand, and their humanity — with all of its imperfections and flaws — on the other. If fraud, slander, theft and tax evasion doesn’t get you shunned from the community, why should sexual exploration?
But let’s not kid ourselves — this, too, is in no way unique to the Hasidic community. How many public figures regularly engage in the worst kinds of thievery, only to be brought down by a sexual indiscretion? Society is obsessed with sex; and condemns whatever sex it can’t have or sell. Hasidic communities are simply so insular, and the Hasidic world so small, that being shunned by one’s Hasidic community has more of a personal impact than being shunned by one’s secular neighborhood.
The story isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about the predictable reaction that a Hasidic community might have to a departure from permitted sexual conduct. It should be about Monica and James’ humanity, and the lengths to which we all go to balance faith, family, and sexuality.
Image Credit: http://www.guygomel.com/hadarat-nashim11/8.jpg