Sex, Love, and the Family
The Jewish tradition has placed a heavy emphasis on family life, which practically meant marrying young people off as efficiently as possible. In a religious understanding, marriage of the young did not merely make it easier for the community to regulate sexual propriety; it served to elevate sexual relationships to holiness and gave each husband and wife the chance to answer God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”
But this approach to relationships runs directly counter to modern Western ideals of romance and desire as expressions of individuality and personal fulfillment. On the questions of sex, love, and the family, the Jewish way and the mores of the modern West meet in an actual clash of civilizations. And while this tension has challenged many modern Jews, it has also produced some of the greatest literature of the modern era– because nothing makes for a great story like insoluble conflict and tragedy!
In this student seminar, led by acclaimed novelist and scholar Dara Horn, we will read works from Yiddish and Hebrew literature which examine that clash of civilizations– usually by inflicting it on two young people who, alas, don’t know any better. As we accompany these 20th century 20-somethings on their fraught journeys into adulthood, we will ask if there is such a thing as a private individual. What makes us who we are? How much can a person be independent of his or her parents– and by extension, how is the future connected to the past? Can desire be sacred? Should it be? What is the connection between desire and creativity? Sholem Aleichem, S.Y. Agnon, and other giants of modern Jewish literature will be our guides as we explore the moral meaning of the Jewish family as it entered a less traditional and more individualistic world.
Ms. Horn discussed some of these ideas and shared her unique insights on the human condition through the eyes of an author, in this session as part of last year’s Tikvah Summer Fellowship: