Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Skulener Rebbe: Need for sex education

Someone sent this to me recently. I have not be able to verify its authenticity. However the views regarding the need for sex education expressed here are similar to what I have heard from Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita. Anyone who can provide more information regarding its authenticity and context should please contact me. Also any other discussions of this topic would be appreciated.

Skulener Rebbe Speaks Out


  1. I'm not sure what is so surprising here that it warranted a post.

  2. You have a very strange definition of sex education. The author here seems to advocate teaching how everything is assur, pritzus, etc, without making a single mention of the positive role of sexuality in Judaism.

  3. Chaim said...

    You have a very strange definition of sex education. The author here seems to advocate teaching how everything is assur, pritzus, etc, without making a single mention of the positive role of sexuality in Judaism.
    I didn't say comprehensive education. It is part of sex education.

  4. What I find especially odd is the notion that no one is aware of the severity of these issurim. From my experiences (in the non-chassidic yeshiva world) everyone is very much aware of it.

  5. I just published a book entitled “Talking to children about intimacy: A guide for Orthodox Jewish parents”. It has haskamos from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, Rav Hershel Schachter, and Rav Mordechai Willig. It guides parents on how to talk to their children about these issues from a positive Torah perspective. Links and excerpts are available on

  6. I just read the article, and this Rabbi is not just talking about masturbation. It's talking about sexual permissiveness in general, and also specifically hints at the problem of homosexual encounters between teacher and student.

    "I am aware of a yeshivah where it was necessary to send away a melamed because he himself...defiled many pupils with this awesome contamination" - p. 2, para. 3.

    Also, he repeatedly refers to sins that are yehoreg ve'al yaavor. See p. 2, first and last paragraphs.

    He also repeatedly refers to the "enemy" promoting their contamination publicly and having organized to fight for evil in unity. p. 1, para. 3; P. 4, para. 3; page 5, para. 3.

    The secular world is publicly, and in a united fashion, promoting easy sex and homosexuality. They may be promoting masturbation by implication, but that's certainly not their main issue. My guess is that this rabbi decided to discuss maturbation in particular because it was the "safest" topic, in this context, to discuss openly.

    Also, the general proposal that yeshivas should have an organized seder in mussar to gird their students against sins done in private is, I think, a very good idea.

  7. Since the punishments are so severe, perhaps it's better to shorten Yeshiva time in favor of youthful marriage.

  8. Is this book sold in stores?

  9. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 16, 2009 at 11:13 PM

    Problem is that in Haredi and Hasidic circles kids are never taught exactly what the explicit sex acts are that are forbidden by the Torah. They may then innocently do the sex acts out of "fun" or "curiosity" and in effect be violating some of the Torah's most serious prohibtions only to find out at some point later in life that what they have done or participated in is really forbidden by the Torah.

    The problem is serious because Haredi and Hasidic families have large families, with wide age range, and they spend a lot of time alone or unsupervised or even when they go to school, day camps or sleep away camps, they will be with other children and they will not have a clue that sex outside of marriage is forbidden by the Torah or anal or oral sex are immoral activities. But since none of this has been described to them they don't have a clue and they may become victims of their own ignorance.

    It's a fine line, because telling them too much creates a problem and can be abused, but they should be taught something to avoid falling into larger pitfalls and traps, unlike the total blanket of silence that prevails.

    Ther Torah itself and its commentaries provide plenty of opportunities for slipping in small amounts of information at a time. Many teachers are too nervous to do this. Maybe this is where the successful kiruv rabbis and rebbetzins could help out because they know how to teach this subject and get results!

  10. 1) As far as the book referenced by Sara Diament, it sounds like a vital and overdue book to fill a void, not that in needs my haskamah !

    Here are also references to articles which touch on the same subject(Bracha Goetz and R. Simcha and Chaya Feureman of the Jewish Press, and parts from YU's Tzelem brochure).

    From the page of Tzelem:

    "The Orthodox Forum proved to everyone who sat in the room that we can talk about the most intimate issues without an air of inappropriateness—when done lishma, with the right intentions and in the right settings, tzniyut can be maintained. This also reflects a deeper sense of what tzniyut means—tzniyut is not being euphemistic with chatanim and kallot, tzniyut is not leaving our youth in ignorance and left to pick up sexual knowledge from the street, tzniyut is not pretending that problems in the realm of sexuality do not exist in our community."

    "Modern Orthodox youth who attend yeshiva day schools and high schools, are living within the modern world and are exposed to television and the media’s perspective on sexuality. Often there is no Jewish response, from within yeshivot, to provide a Jewish approach to sexuality and relationships, and children are left with the impression that Judaism has either nothing to say about the subject, or, that it only has negative things to say. Additionally, even in the absence of a highly sexualized modern culture, the total void of any systematic education which addresses such a fundamental part of personal development within a Jewish context is problematic. Children and teenagers in yeshiva day schools require more information, guidance, direct conversation and opportunities to ask questions about issues of intimacy and Judaism that are so often on their minds"

  11. 2) I saw what I believe is the identical phampalet, in Hebrew, from the Skulener Rebbe zt'l in a Beis Midrash in Boro Park with respected haskamos, mainly targeting, what I think is the more insular chassidshe yeshivos(though there was a haskamah from a litvish source). The phamplet was originally written around the 1970's; it had a disclaimer in English that one who needs personal guidance in these matters should speak to a "compassionate Talmid Chacham".

    The crux of the difference between the mussar approach, or what one would call a Torah approach of "Sexual Education", from a psychological perspective, is to what extent one explicitly values the mere *existence* of sexual feelings and emotions as part of a person's innate makeup(including prior to marriage).

    As an example, which although is individualistic and personal, is no doubt common and usual, I came to appreciate the value of kedusha and tzniyus, to some extent, when single, not after years in yeshiva but on the subway !

    Once, when on the NYC subway in the summer, while trying to mind my own business(reading, learning, whatever) amidst the normal atmosphere, I reflected on a philosophical conflict and dilemma. On the one hand, basic psychology tells us that we should not "reject" and disown a part of ourselves, even if we seek to regulate it. Just as one shouldn't deny that anger is apart of one's self, but rather regulate it, the same regarding other emotions.

    Before continuing with my business at hand, I reconciled the philosophical conflict in my mind, by thinking to myself:

    "Baruch Hashem, I am human, and a person who is capable of deep feelings in many senses". No one in yeshivah, at least as I recall, told me anything like that in the slightest !

    In the mussar approach, as it seems to me, it is almost as if the feeling don't exist! Maybe nothing is said *explicitly* in yeshivos to that effect, but by focusing only issurim, the *subconscious* effect might be to completely deny the very *existence* of emotions, and disown a part of one's self. That is impossible, v'harayah, assuming there is the phenomenon of homosexual feelings, however small and faint, amongst yeshivah bachurim, this shows that to an extent, one can't change one's innate makeup in this sense.

  12. 3) I wish to emphasize that I am not criticizing, in the slightest, the Skulener Rebbe's zt'l phamphlet.

    As an aside, I have the highest and greatest respect for the authors of books on related subjects, even if for better or for worse, I choose to follow other approaches in conveying those concepts.

    I strongly believe that one must give Talmidie Chacahmim the benefit of the doubt, and, no doubt, they might be open to the concerns I bring up, and have a way of dealing with them.

    Also, there are obviously differences between public and private education, and individual differences as well.

    Nothwithstanding the above, my point is that mussar is not the same as "Torah sexual education" from an emotional perspective, and the crux of the issue is how to simultaeously convey a desire for kedushah, versus not rejecting the mere *existence* of a part of one's self.

  13. Shadesof posted: "Modern Orthodox youth who attend yeshiva day schools and high schools, are living within the modern world and are exposed to television and the media’s perspective on sexuality. Often there is no Jewish response, from within yeshivot, to provide a Jewish approach to sexuality and relationships..."

    This argument is based on that MO expose themselves to foreign (secular) perverted culture, and thus need a Jewish response. I propose, the better approach is to prevent or remove this foreign cancer (culture) from within our midst.

  14. I agree that that sentence seems to be referring to the more "Modern Orthodox" approach of relating to culture. I also suspect that it's the more modern schools who will have sexual education in yeshivos(which is still a pilot program, according to the Tzelem website).

    However the other aspects and issues raised by Tzelem might be relevant universally.

    The following story from R. AH Fried's essay in Hakirah, linked below, has an idea relevant to all:

    "Then there are those things that you cannot fence out. There is a cute little story I heard in the chassidishe shtiebel in which I grew up. It’s a simple story but it carries much truth.
    It seems there was this parush (ascetic) who decided that he would bring his newborn son up to be a perfect tzaddik. Thus, immediately after the child’s bris, he isolated him in a
    room and allowed only his mother to care for him. No other females were to come close to him.

    When the child turned three and had his first haircut, new rules were made. Henceforth no female, including his mother, would be allowed to enter the child’s room. Only his father and a rebbe would enter so as to teach him Torah. This regimenof pure Torah learning was carried on for 15 years. Even for his bar mitzvah, only a select group of ten men were allowed in to see him, to hear his drashah and to wish him
    mazal tov.

    When our young man turned 18, it became necessary to look for a shidduch. But before this could be done, he would go visit the rav of the town to obtain semichah, rabbinical ordination. There was really no choice. He had to leave his protected premises and go see the rav. So, the father accompanied his son to the rav’s house. As hashgachah would have it, on the way, they passed a group of young ladies. “Tatte, father, what are those?” the young man asked. “Katchkes [geese],” his father replied, and they continued on their way. A few minutes later, the young man spoke up again, “Tatte?” he asked. “Yes?” replied his father. “Buy me a katchke,” said the son.

    We need to recognize that some things simply cannot be fenced out. Some things are inherently us. To do so, we would have to fence ourselves out of where we are—a logical impossibility. Yet some attempt this. "

  15. Another link on abuse and sexual education is as follows:

    "Norman Blumenthal, a psychologist affiliated with Chai Lifeline and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center, declined to comment on specific cases, but said: “I think we have to sit down with rabbis and educators and work this issue into the curriculum. We have to teach children to protect themselves. The corollary to that is that we also need to teach our children how to deal with their sexual urges and how to address them because we’re not really addressing that. We need to start talking to them about a Torah perspective on sexual urges and expressions.”

  16. Currently, my book is only available to order on-line through the publisher. There's a link from my website.

  17. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 17, 2009 at 5:22 AM

    Upon closer scrutiny, this supposed product of the Skulener Rebbe seems to be more in line with the kind of stuff that comes out of the house of Breslov and their constant drumming on about "Rav Nachman's tikkun" with their obsession about the evils of masturbation.

    It's all very well to preach against these things, but that does not amount to what is commonly referred to as "sex education" which in common Western educational parlance means the educating of the young about the mechanics and risks of sexual activity.

    In an Orthodox setting that would mean somehow describing the workings of the sexual act, and that the only allowed goal of it is when it's during marriage so that any kind of pre-marital or extra-marital sex, either with a female or males is absolutely forbidden at all times, something that children approaching puberty and early teens often have no clue about in Haredi and Hasidic society and in turn some of them get caught in, or even get used to, performing these acts out of sheer ignorance of its serious prohibitions in the Torah.

    To illustrate, just as frum children are taught about dressing correctly and not acting "goyish" outwardly and not eating treif foods, they should be taught that just like there are specific ways of dressing and not dressing, and just like there are foods that are kosher and can be eaten and others that cannot be put into the mouth under any circumstances, likeways there are acts of arayos and sex that cannot be done even when adults are not looking and not even when other adults or teenagers or friends may try to trick them into doing it.

    But it seems that the establishments of the yeshivas and their leadership are still living in the past and use methods (or non-methods, like silence) that were maybe applicable 200 years ago in Eastern Europe, but simply do not work in the 21st century in open societies.

    Again, please check if this is not just a document from Breslov that somone has forged using the Skulener Rebbe's name.

  18. "Again, please check if this is not just a document from Breslov that somone has forged using the Skulener Rebbe's name."

    One can check the Hebrew pamphlet I mentioned which has haskamos from three contemporary rabbonim.

    The English version, I first saw here ,sounds a little suspicious. I have never seen the term "sexuality" and other similar terms used in these types of publications. Someone may have translated it himself, unauthorized.

    "But it seems that the establishments of the yeshivas and their leadership are still living in the past and use methods (or non-methods, like silence)"

    This is a sensitive matter; there is no question that yeshivos are well-meaning and have thought this issue through.

    The questions is whether yeshivos are capable of publicly transmitting the message of viewing one's self in some sort of positive manner, for merely being a basar v'dam, as I tried to indicate above. That is the difference between mussar and sexual-education.

    To do that publicly might A) make people uncomfortable, B) be an issue of tzniyus, C)take away from appropriate guilt. So all yeshivos can do is offer mussar, hopefully in an encouraging way. But as above, mussar is not a substitute for personal development in this area, IMO.

    As far as a private conversation with a rebbe, it depends on the relationship. What bachur in his right mind would discuss such personal thoughts with a rebbe he sees every day ?

    Binah Magazine, in a thoughtful article on the topic, mentioned that it's the parents' job to discuss these matters, but noted that some girls may be close to mothers and shy, and would need a mentor instead.

    So we are back to a full circle: yeshivos, especially from a male perspective can't publicly discuss a positive view of the topic, so it's the parent's job, but they may be too shy. Hence the need for the book mentioned above, to give parents guidance.

  19. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 18, 2009 at 6:38 AM

    Shadesof states that "So all yeshivos can do is offer mussar" -- but it's not true. The Yeshivas could try teaching the pesukim, passages, meforshim and chazals that are very open and explict about sex in the Torah, Tanach, Talmud and Midrashim. Who has decided to censo these things? Does one need to fear the emes of the Torah itself?

    Teaching Sefer Breishis (Genesis) would be a perfect place to start and Rashi does not hide anything as he connects the pesukim to the relevant Chazals and Midrashim.

    Here are some examples of what could and should be taught and not left over for when people are already innured to and dulled by life and have maybe even done too much sinning to care, and then it's left to the very wise and the esoteric scholars to see the depth and meaning of these character shaping and epochal events.

    Here are a fe examples, there are thousands more all over the Torah, Tanach, Talmud, Midrashim and Chazals:

    Rashi is very explicit that Chava (Eve) was raped by the Nachash (serpent), and that she did not just merely "eat" from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and there are plenty of Chazals that deal with the eventt and its consequences. It could be used as sex lesson and how girls must guard themselves from predators to avoid rape that can result form allowing oneself to be influenced by a stranegr. This passage would be an opening to teach about the female anatomy, how it must be proteceted, the importance of being a besula (virgin) in Jewish Law -- the Torah speaks about this plenty explicitly -- and how males can misuse their yetzer hara (sexual impulse). The lesson can be taught to boys that they are forbidden to act like the Nachash.

    It does not end there. There is the case of the rape of Dina and how that came about. She also trusted a stranger and he raped her. She became pregnant and the the baby was given up for adoption eventually to become Joseph's wife. Boys and or girls could be taught sexual lessons using these episodes as springboards.

    There are so many sexual events in the Torah. There is the case of the Imahot, Sarah, Rivka and Rochel being barren and childless for so long that could be used as an introduction to explaining the teaching and working of female reproduction, that perhaps a few hundred years ago were "great secrets" to the world, but now it's open information with so much graphic explanation through the Internet, TV. movies or magazines and books available, all-pervasive mediums that flood the world and did not exist a mere few years ago and that most kids today seem to be able to access even if marginally -- that is why the rabbis are screaming about the Internet, cell phones, IPods etc.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg of what could be used as source material. So teaching "mussar" instead is a lame excuse and a cop-out for the need to get a grip on reality and teach real world life lessons in the context of a strong Torah environment by Torah-true educators.

  20. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 18, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    To Shadesof continued: If kallah and choson teachers can do it, and by then too many frum kids have been exposed to the wrong kind of stuff and have gained false impressions and may even have sinned, so can many others.

    You know, for years the frum establishment in America resisted teaching about the Holocaust as a seperate subject to yeshiva kids in high schools, but lately they have been waking up and there are some Jonny-come lately programs and ideas. But it's a case of too little too late. The Holocaust was something that was part of people's grandparents' lives. It has been taught by the media and there are millions of books, movies and magazines about it. The frum teachers look stupid trying to teach a subject whose time has come and gone. The kids are into modern things. They want to know about the latest trends (yes, even Haredi and Hasidic ones, don't fool yourself) and the Sexual Revolution is raging hot and heavy all over. It's the last great "revolution" of modern times left standing, and one of the ways to deal with it is to show and teach that the Torah has lots of what to say about it and can be used as a source book to guide the frum world from an early age in how to behave and how to deal with it through kowledge and not through having fits and throwing guilt trips, in the guise of "mussar" and hope that it will effect the kids. It won't. They want real information and real guidance or else they will just go exploring on their own and get into stuff that would make your Mama's and Grandpa's hair stand on end.

  21. Leave it for the Gedolim to decide these things, rather than offering your own 2 cents.

  22. "They want to know about the latest trends (yes, even Haredi and Hasidic ones, don't fool yourself) ..."

    I'm not fooled :)

    Though of course there are differences in people within communities, and it doesn't mean insularity does not have success, though that's a different topic.


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