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Thoughts on Intimacy: A Response to Keeping the Faith

Thoughts on Intimacy: A Response to Keeping the Faith

By Rabbi Susan Harris

Keeping the Faith is a fun movie, but it is not an important movie. Although the relationship between a rabbi and a non-Jewish woman is bound to draw attention, to me that angle is a trite distraction.

Two people fall in love. It happens. Star crossed lovers--a tragic ending. Brave and determined lovers surmount insurmountable odds--an inspiring ending. Whatever. The real challenge is the ground rules of the relationship itself. What are they?

Gratuitous sex with the explicit understanding that it be emotionally limited, self contained and never mature. And also that it be clandestine because if it were discovered there would be unacceptable consequences, which is exactly a reason either not to go there in the first place or to consider very seriously and soberly the corrosive effect of secrecy.

I like gratuitous sex as much as the next rabbi but... The major moral stumbling block is not ultimately that one half of the equation isn't Jewish, it's that the relationship was pretty delusional from the start, so even if it was only "recreational," it never ascended to honest. The only commitment was to avoid entanglement and friction, which is, of course, impossibly doomed.

Integrity, self awareness, spiritual curiosity and the potential for growth are conspicuously absent. Although all that is missing, the relationship is by no means wooden. These two lovers are ambivalent and anxious, but not, I'm relieved to report, in a Woody Allen kind of a way. What they have a hard time realizing is that they are lovers.

That being said they are clueless and helpless about either how to keep love in check or how to transform it into something ready for prime time, something a la kiddushin (holiness that is part of the marriage ceremony) or something dramatic and chaste like parting still in love but understanding their irreconcilable differences. The priest managed it right. He was prepared to be gutsy and noble. But then again, he "lost."

So for me the sticking point is less one of religious affiliation and more of the understanding of the commitment on which intimacy is based. These two (or three counting the priest) (or four, counting the mom) don't get "it" until it's almost too late. But by then the script poops out to merely a suggestion of a too, too tidy resolution.

Hebrew for "sanctification," Jewish marriage is often referred to as Kiddushin, as one partner (traditionally, the bride) becomes "sanctified" (dedicated) to the other partner (traditionally, the groom). Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Rabbi Susan Harris

Rabbi Susan Harris is a pulpit-free rabbi living in the Boston area. She teaches Jewish Perspectives on Medical Ethics, runs the occasional marathon and serves on the board of several Jewish organizations committed to creating a vibrant and pluralistic Jewish community.

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