Why is Sex at the Core of Judaism?

 

Hold on! What an outrageous and ridiculous thing to say! The premise must be flawed. How does the Five Books of Moses make sex front and central?

Riddle me this, Batman: why is the first commandment given to Abraham his circumcision? Why is this a life-and-death commandment for our people – including Moses himself, whose life was endangered when he failed to circumcise his son?

The answer is that sex is, of course, really very important indeed. Focusing and channeling our sexual energies is somehow a prerequisite for channeling our spiritual energies. There is no such thing in the Torah (or in life) as “just sex.” Sex is either a Big Deal (for good or ill), or it has been cheapened, animalistically, to the point of removing the very value of a spiritual human existence.

The Torah describes and refers to deep links between idolatry and sexual immorality. This can be understood in both positive and negative ways.

Positively, there are countless references large and small: preparations for marital intimacy (the copper mirrors that were repurposed to be used for priestly washing) are the model for the preparations for the priestly service in the tabernacle. The High Priest is required to be married in order to possibly serve in his office. We are commanded to be circumcised before manhood, and regularly reminded that to connect with G-d we must similarly circumcise our hearts.  I’ll spare you an exhaustive list – but it is quite extensive (details available upon request!).

Negatively, the picture is even more dramatic. The punishments and consequences for adultery and idolatry are consistently paired. Indeed, the single biggest danger the Jewish people suffered in the wilderness was when the daughters of neighboring peoples entered the camp with the explicit goal of sexually corrupting Jewish men, and to do it as flagrantly and publicly as possible. Not surprisingly, at least some of the men are seduced. G-d reacts by almost destroying the entire nation in His jealousy and wrath.

There is an odd word that is used in the text to ties both circumcision and the sexually corrupted Jewish men together – and it also connects to the protection and love that comes in a relationship with G-d. That word is Tzur. It is a strange word, because it is usually translated as “flint” or “rock,” but tzur clearly has much more symbolic value in the text than as a raw material. Indeed, in its verb form, tzur is not a rock at all, but usually refers to a belligerent act.

The Torah’s vocabulary is quite small, so when there are multiple words, they do not mean the same thing as each other. There are other words in the text that also translate as “rock.”  The altar is made of ehven, just as Jacob dreams of angels on a ladder while resting his head on an ehven. Moses, on the other hand, strikes the selah instead of speaking to it. So what is a tzur?

The first time the word is used is in the dramatic and odd circumcision scene which I explain here. (Ex. 4:24). The text is simple enough: G-d threatens Moses’ life. In response, Tzippora, Moses’ wife, takes a tzur and cuts off the foreskin of her son. It is a transformational scene, separating husband and wife (in some ways, forever). And Tzippora’s action protects Moses. The tzur, which is the circumcision tool in this case, somehow provides some kind of inoculation against being destroyed by G-d.

All of this is odd, but it gets odder even as matters resolve: Consider that the father of the woman who had intercourse in the middle of the camp, the man who instructed his daughter to go and offer her body for the cause of destroying the Jewish people’s connection with G-d, was a man named “Tzur.”

This conclusion is simple enough: Tzur is both a sexually-symbolic enabler for divine protection (circumcision), as well as a sexual means to destroying our relationship with G-d (sexual immorality).

But it is also much, much more. The rock that Moses was commanded to strike, in full view of the people, was a tzur.

Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the flinty tzur. (Deut. 8:15)

The words the Torah uses tells us not that Moses struck the tzur, exactly, but that he struck into the tzur to find that liquid salvation. And out of the tzur gushed water, sustaining the nation, protecting them from thirst and death in the wilderness.

So tzur means some kind of divine protection or connection. Striking the tzur is not the only time Moses is somehow embedded in a tzur. When Moses asks to see G-d’s face, G-d’s response is that Moses would die if he saw the divine directly. Instead, Moses will be protected:

And the LORD said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the tzur. And, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the tzur and shield you with My hand until I have passed by.

The rock constrains Moses’ view, and simultaneously is a place of protection, a means of getting closer to G-d than at any other time without being destroyed.

We can think, perhaps, of tzur as a “home base” in a game of tag. When we are on base, we are afforded protection. We are in the relationship, and should cling to it. Moses’ speech late in Deuteronomy is full of references to tzur: “The Rock [tzur]! His deeds are perfect.”

But there are several other ways in which tzur is found in the Torah.

In many verses, tzur means “waging war” or “destroy.” (See examples in footnote). It is even used to describe when Aharon destroyed the intimate jewelry of the people in order to make the Golden Calf, harming both marriages (the men “ripped” the jewelry from their wives’ ears) and the peoples’ relationship with G-d at the same time. (Ex. 32:4)

On the other hand, tzur suggests embracing or renewing the relationship with the divine. For example, when we bring agricultural tithes: “You may convert them into money. Tzur the money into your hand, and take it with you to the place that the LORD your G-d has chosen.” (Deut. 14:25)  In the case of tithes, the word tzur reminds us of the value of connecting with G-d. Tithing is an investment, and it sustains the tzur protection that is first created with every circumcision.

This overall impression is one of something like a protective dome around the people and our relationship with G-d – a dome that is both built with sexual fidelity, and is equally threatened by sexual infidelity. Tzur is our home base, the ways in which we build our relationship with G-d, and, with His support, defeat our enemies.

The Moabite prophet Bilaam remarked, as he surveyed the people:

As I see them from the tops of the tzurs,
Gaze on them from the heights,
There is a people that dwells apart,
Not reckoned among the nations, (Num. 23:9)

The text does not say, as it might, that Bilaam sees the people from the top of a mountain. Instead it uses tzur. Bilaam is telling us that his view is outside of the bubble the people share with G-d, above and outside both the protections and rules of the Jewish relationship. He can see clearly, because he has the advantage of distance and separation.

Moses refers to G-d, several times, as tzur, translated as “The Rock.” We think we know what that means, because we have a certain understanding of what a rock is – a rock is solid and unchanging, a constant tether or anchor in an uncertain world, a refrain in a Simon and Garfunkel song. This has been a common understanding of what G-d is supposed to be for us. But this is not the Torah’s usage.

Instead, the relationship, the tzur in the Torah is inherently dynamic, living and reacting: G-d as Rock in this case is not an unchanging, unmoving, unfeeling thing, but is instead a connection and protection. We bond with G-d as we bond with our spouse: the ground surely will shift, but we seek to move together, and even transform together. This is in the final promises of the text of the Torah. Deut. 32 uses the word many times:

He fed him honey from the crag,
And oil from the flinty tzur

He forsook the God who made him
And spurned the tzur of his support….

You neglected the tzur that begot you,
Forgot the God who brought you forth….

How could one have routed a thousand,
Or two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their tzur had sold them,
The LORD had given them up?

For their tzur is not like our tzur…

He [G-d] will say: Where are their gods,
The tzur in whom they sought refuge…

Moses’ relationship with G-d (and the end of his “normal” relationship with his wife) happens with a tzur, the life-saving circumcision. In turn, Moses refers to G-d in this chapter, near the very end of his life, using that same word, referring to G-d as our protection, our refuge, while trying to illustrate that the other nations lack this kind of special relationship, a relationship built on exclusive monotheism, just as sacred and as thirsty for constant renewal as the bonds of marriage.

 

 

[An @iwe, @eliyahumasinter and @susanquinn collaboration!]

 

Examples not brought in the essay:

And the LORD said to me: Do not tzur the Moabites or provoke them to war.

You will then be close to the Ammonites; do not tzur them or start a fight with them.

If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, you shall tzur to it;

When in your war against a city you have to tzur it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the tzured city?

Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing tzur [siegeworks] against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.

 

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nifty.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The Bible is so full of sex and violence, you’d think more people would read it . . .

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Sex creates life.  Why else?

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    You have to say, iWe knows how to craft an eye-catching title!

    • #4
  5. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen
    @BrianClendinen

    It’s even more simple than that. Before Adam fell there were three commandments from God.

    Take care of the Garden. (Work with God on changing and expanding his creation).

    Don’t eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (follow Gods Commands)

    Be Fruitful and multiple. (Have lots and lots of Sex Babies). Yes I know it was not just humans but still that was the primary command. So since the act and plumbing has not changed since before Man sinned. Its something we are supposed to due. It had nothing to due with Sin/Evil God considers it Good because it exist before man did his first act of Evil.

    • #5
  6. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    iWe: Tzippora, Moses’ wife, takes a tzur and cuts off the foreskin of her son. It is a transformational scene, separating husband and wife (in some ways, forever). And Tzippora’s action protects Moses. The tzur, which is the circumcision tool in this case, somehow provides some kind of inoculation against being destroyed by G-d.

    That ain’t nothing.  In the cult of Cybele, priests castrated themselves using a rock.  They didn’t seem to use a sharp rock, either, but I suppose that isn’t really known for sure.

    Athena used a ball of wool to wipe Hephaestus’ ejaculate off of her thigh after he tried to rape her, and threw it on the ground, where Erichthonius was thus born.

    The Eleusinian mysteries were held so devoutly by adherents that the mysteries remain mysteries after the last initiate died.

    In Mesopotamia, there was a cult of alcohol and sex, where kings had ritual sex after drinking various types of beer.

    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The Eleusinian mysteries were held so devoutly by adherents that the mysteries remain mysteries after the last initiate died.

    I’m not dead yet!

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    If you aren’t interested in engaging constructively, then why do you even read my posts? There are plenty of other places on the internet where trolling is welcome. 

    • #8
  9. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    iWe (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    If you aren’t interested in engaging constructively, then why do you even read my posts? There are plenty of other places on the internet where trolling is welcome.

    I was quite constructive.

    If you don’t wish to have a discussion about a topic, why do you post?  Please explain why your commentary on magical rocks should be taken more seriously than taurobolism.

    This is not a Jewish religious forum.  If you wish to have unchallenged discussions on Judaism then you’re in the wrong place.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    Come on, @skyler. I’ve been around this bad habit of yours for a long time. The above comment is not constructive, but is intended to ridicule the premise of the post. At least be honest about it. The shame of it is that you’re a very smart guy and can address things intelligently, but you’re better than this kind of ridiculing.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Skyler (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    If you aren’t interested in engaging constructively, then why do you even read my posts? There are plenty of other places on the internet where trolling is welcome.

    I was quite constructive.

    If you don’t wish to have a discussion about a topic, why do you post? Please explain why your commentary on magical rocks should be taken more seriously than taurobolism.

    This is not a Jewish religious forum. If you wish to have unchallenged discussions on Judaism then you’re in the wrong place.

    Does your objection to posts you find off your chosen subject matter also apply to comments?

    Asking for a friend.

    • #11
  12. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Percival (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    If you aren’t interested in engaging constructively, then why do you even read my posts? There are plenty of other places on the internet where trolling is welcome.

    I was quite constructive.

    If you don’t wish to have a discussion about a topic, why do you post? Please explain why your commentary on magical rocks should be taken more seriously than taurobolism.

    This is not a Jewish religious forum. If you wish to have unchallenged discussions on Judaism then you’re in the wrong place.

    Does your objection to posts you find off your chosen subject matter also apply to comments?

    Asking for a friend.

    I don’t object to the post.  I’m just pointing out that Bronze Age myths don’t hold up very well nowadays and shouldn’t be taken very seriously. 

    • #12
  13. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    The above comment is not constructive, but is intended to ridicule the premise of the post.

    It is absolutely constructive because it absolutely ridicules the premise of the post.  I thought I made that point very clear.  Cutting off a foreskin to please a god is barbaric, silly, and people should giggle when it is mentioned. 

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I wonder if the reaction would be the same if we were discussing female genital mutilation instead of male genital mutilation. 

    • #14
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Someday the strained interpretation of texts of the Torah and the Bible will be forgotten, but I’ve no doubt that our descendants will be seeing devout meaning in an MS-DOS manual or some other, maybe less technical, document.

    If you aren’t interested in engaging constructively, then why do you even read my posts? There are plenty of other places on the internet where trolling is welcome.

    I was quite constructive.

    If you don’t wish to have a discussion about a topic, why do you post? Please explain why your commentary on magical rocks should be taken more seriously than taurobolism.

    This is not a Jewish religious forum. If you wish to have unchallenged discussions on Judaism then you’re in the wrong place.

    Does your objection to posts you find off your chosen subject matter also apply to comments?

    Asking for a friend.

    I don’t object to the post. I’m just pointing out that Bronze Age myths don’t hold up very well nowadays and shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):
     I’m just pointing out that Bronze Age myths don’t hold up very well nowadays and shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

    I disagree. Human nature has not changed. The Bible is about human nature: how some revel in it, and how some seek a higher way to live.

    • #16
  17. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I might look at it historically. There were thousands of Bronze Age peoples and cultures. But only one of them survived, with very surprising fidelity to the founding text, to the present day. That is one heck of an anomaly, don’t you think?

    More than that: Christianity and Islam both came from this same text. If this text is like all the others, then why was it so much more influential?

    • #17
  18. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Cutting off a foreskin to please a god is barbaric

    Where does the text say it is done to please a god?

    The Torah is not a pagan religion, where we make rain dances and sacrifice because the deity is hungry or angry. The purpose of my faith is to improve ourselves, and it allows for, and leads to, investing in other people as well as a relationship with G-d. This is why the Torah has timeless value.

    We know what the alternatives are: paganism with cannibalism and human sacrifice. Or godless governments that wield Great Leaps Forward and Guillotines and Gulags, killing hundreds of millions of people – because to them, there is no such thing as a soul.

    This is absolutely apropos to a political site. Our assumptions about the value of human life are critical to the decisions we make about governance and freedom.

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWe (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Cutting off a foreskin to please a god is barbaric

    Where does the text say it is done to please a god?

    The Torah is not a pagan religion, where we make rain dances and sacrifice because the deity is hungry or angry. The purpose of my faith is to improve ourselves, and it allows for, and leads to, investing in other people as well as a relationship with G-d. This is why the Torah has timeless value.

    We know what the alternatives are: paganism with cannibalism and human sacrifice. Or godless governments that wield Great Leaps Forward and Guillotines and Gulags, killing hundreds of millions of people – because to them, there is no such thing as a soul.

    This is absolutely apropos to a political site. Our assumptions about the value of human life are critical to the decisions we make about governance and freedom.

    Amen!

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    iWe: The text is simple enough: G-d threatens Moses’ life.

     

    iWe (View Comment):

    Where does the text say it is done to please a god?

     

     

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Skyler (View Comment):

    iWe: The text is simple enough: G-d threatens Moses’ life.

     

    iWe (View Comment):

    Where does the text say it is done to please a god?

     

     

    The text does not say G-d was pleased, or that Zipporah did it to please G-d. On the contrary, she is seriously angry, and essentially divorces Moses in this episode. Her husband bought into a job description to which she never signed on, and she was manifestly unwilling to go along with it. That was her choice.

    Does G-d kill? Yes. Does everyone die anyway? Yes. We have an opportunity to make our lives worth something more than ourselves. But that opportunity only exists for those who believe that such a thing is possible.   

    • #21
  22. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    iWe (View Comment):
    The Torah is not a pagan religion, where we make rain dances and sacrifice because the deity is hungry or angry

    It did start that way, for example keeping a god from murdering someone for not circumcising their child.  

    iWe (View Comment):
    The purpose of my faith is to improve ourselves, and it allows for, and leads to, investing in other people as well as a relationship with G-d. This is why the Torah has timeless value.

    I’m all for that.  Mutilating your child’s genitals to avoid god’s wrath?  Not so much.

    Why have abrahamic religions survived while others have faded away?  Time hasn’t run out yet.  They won’t survive forever.  Nothing does.

    • #22
  23. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Why have abrahamic religions survived while others have faded away?  Time hasn’t run out yet.  They won’t survive forever.  Nothing does.

    A statement of faith! From @Skyler!

    • #23
  24. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    As a circumcised man who has still somehow overcome this crippling surgery to go on to father 7 children, I have no idea why you think circumcision is mutilation.

    Do you have the same opinion on ear piercings, or tattoos, or cosmetic surgery?  

    • #24
  25. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    iWe (View Comment):
    Do you have the same opinion on ear piercings, or tattoos, or cosmetic surgery? 

    Actually, yes, except for cosmetic surgery for wounds and such.  I didn’t say the mutilation was debilitating, but it’s certainly odd.  

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    The above comment is not constructive, but is intended to ridicule the premise of the post.

    It is absolutely constructive because it absolutely ridicules the premise of the post. I thought I made that point very clear. Cutting off a foreskin to please a god is barbaric, silly, and people should giggle when it is mentioned.

    Supposing somebody were to do that (the part in bold) why should others obey your imperative?

    • #26