I have been thinking about the following story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a).  The story is about a young Jewish man who went illlicitly to visit a prostitute, but as he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and can’t go through with the act.  He sat naked on the floor and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her; he said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin.  The woman asks the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studies.  This the man does and leaves.  Meanwhile the woman sells her property, gives a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asks his rabbi to convert her.  He is sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and oversees her conversion and she marries the man who came to her.

I should say that I have not seen the story in the original, only quoted in various places, particularly Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics in Essential Essays on Judaism.  I don’t have my copy in my flat, but from memory of what he says, the part of the story that has always struck me most strongly is the bit where the man and woman sit naked on the floor innocently, like children.  Rabbi Berkovits describes this in terms of Jewish religious existentialism, as an I-Thou encounter (cf. Martin Buber) where two people relate to each other from the depths of their internal worlds, really relating to each other as human beings and not as objects (which is how they had been behaving up until that point: he wanted her body, she wanted his money).  I have got quite interested in Jewish existentialism in recent years, but even before I was conscious of it, this part of the story spoke to me as a very touching encounter: the depersonalized sexual urge suddenly transmuted into something much more vulnerable, human and emotional, yet also in some ways more erotic than the purely physical.

I think that when I think about marriage, it is this that I have in mind, even if I am not consciously thinking of this story.  The moment of human connection, of sitting naked with someone (literally or figuratively) and being able to be accepted as myself with all my flaws and to accept my wife for herself, with all her flaws.  That to me is more powerful than mere sex without emotion.  I’m not really able to achieve that connection in a non-sexual way in real life, with friends or peers.  Rightly or wrongly, I do open myself up a bit in that way here and in my comments on Hevria and Geeks vs. Loneliness, but maybe it’s a mistake to try to do this too much or too publically.  But I do long for that intimacy and understanding and I wonder if I will ever find it, if I’m even capable of it.

4 thoughts on “Encountering in Love

  1. What a beautiful post…..you describe things so well. I’m very glad you open yourself up and write in this way; it’s insightful and thoughtful and also frequently helps me understand things I didn’t before(don’t forget, I may be 62 but in observance terms, I’m only just approaching 6) I think thst the thing thst strikes me most is the honesty- and I mean the honesty from the inside, that depth, clarity which is what helps me see the different views of things which weren’t bless to me. I’m lucky in having had thst connection you described, with my husband(part if the reason it hurts so much to be without him) and please trust me when I say that I suspect that will come your way too. It comes later in life to some – my husband was over forty when we married; had never been married before, and had not loved anyone in the way he loved me – the way you described above – before(I’ve never said thst before. So, you’ve made me open up too. That’s a good thing)and nor had I: I had the flings without emotion – and they were shallow, meaningless encounters. I’d also had a very long, very toxic relationship which was abusive in many ways – that was not an experience I would want anyone else to have; there was love of a very twisted and unhealthy kind, and it was not good. Hope I’ve not said too much……I really loved this post; I wish you’D gather them together into a book. I’d be first on the pre order list……


  2. I’m glad you liked the post.

    I do find it hard to believe that anyone could love me. Also, I want to have children, ideally at least three, so I don’t want to get married too late.

    As for a book… my Mum says the same thing, but I don’t think I could find a publisher. It’s just thoughts without any kind of direction. I’ve read some depression memoirs and they tend to have, if not a plot, then at least a direction of where it’s going.


  3. I don’t necessarily think a plot or direction has to exist…..in fact, for something like this, to me, better not to, as then it leaves it much more open to the reader to experience their own feelings from reading it. There’s a theme – your thoughts snd feelings, and that’s all there need be. You write about emotion so well, and there’s a definite place for that……the direction, well, no one knows the direction, in a sense, anyway, and by leaving that open to interpretation, it makes it that much more inclusive for readers. I’m sure there’d be a publisher. Your Mum sounds like a wise woman…..feel free to tell her your friend said that, and say hi from me, if you like ….;)

    And men can have children as long as they want to…..nothing wrong with an age gap, if that’s the way things work out; I’m living proof. We had 21 years age difference, and would be 37 years married, now, if my beloved was still with me……miss him so much…….


  4. I’m glad you like my writing. I’ll think about it, but I’m not sure for various reasons. At the moment I’m focused on my Doctor Who book anyway.

    Well, men can have children later (although they can have fertility issues from their forties on) and an age gap can be OK but (a) I don’t want to deliberately look for younger women because I think that’s creepy (different to if it just happens like that) and (b) I have a gut feeling that I couldn’t make a relationship with a younger person work, I’m too old in some ways. My ex was about ten years younger than me and that was pushing it and although it wasn’t why we broke up, I guess it’s soured me on the idea.


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