Modesty Behind Closed Doors: What To Keep From Your Spouse

There are two concepts that have become the religious world’s pillars for a healthy marriage.
1. Be modest in how you approach the outside world.
2. Don’t ever keep anything from your spouse.

Well, I think both of these ideas are stupid. Ok, I take that back — they’re greatly misunderstood. Let me explain why both of these are shams — at least, in our on-the-surface understanding of these two topics.

Modesty: The Long-Skirted Misunderstood Gorilla In The Room
One of the definitions for the word “modesty” in the dictionary sums it up perfectly: “freedom from vanity.” I have seen some religious people who parade”modesty” to the point of it becoming this definition of vanity. When someone’s vibe says, “Look how modest I am,” that person might as well put on a mini-skirt and spike heels. This is false modesty because modesty isn’t putting something on, but rather taking something off – phony vanity. Now, I’m not knocking dressing appropriately, but it’s easy to spot someone who is wearing the “modesty costume one that, I might add, can become one of vanity. How can someone be covered up but reeking of immodesty? Because true modesty — true “freedom from vanity” — starts on the inside –and it has little-to-nothing to do with clothes. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Mental Modesty: Putting The Right Images In A Mental Photo Album
Based on past experiences, I’ve come to realize that there is something that I call the Mental Photo Album. Depending on the experiences you observe or allow to exist is what fill up other people’s Mental Photo Album of you. If you’re mean to them, their MPA will be filled with rude “images” of you when they call you to mind. If you’re sweet, they’ll have sweet “images” of you. So-on-and-so-forth.

I believe that this MPA has a limited number of “pages” you can fill. To test this, quickly think of a co-worker. What immediately came to mind? Was it how nice they are or how much you’re not looking forward to returning to work to put up with their nonsense? While you may be able to recall either good or bad, the prominent image will pop up to the forefront of your mind. In the case of spouses, the maintenance of their MPA is of utmost importance. This may mean you need to leave some things out in order to preserve the good images.

If someone were to install a camera in my house to watch my wife and me, many would think the footage was kind of weird. Why? Because even when it’s just the two of us at home and one of us goes into the bathroom, the door shuts. Not only that, but when I go use the toilet, you can start to hear music playing from inside. I also try my hardest to control any potentially rude bodily functions around her. Why? It’s not because we are prudes, but because there are certain “photos” (or sounds) that simply don’t need to take up space in the other person’s Mental Photo Album. When my wife takes a quick mental peek into her Mental Photo Album of my body, I don’t want that picture to be of me relieving myself in the bathroom. I want it to be a positive “photo” (which is also why I mostly drink light beer these days –ok, just kidding).

We didn’t develop this practice in order to thumb our noses at people, but rather for holiness in the home. I know that sounds SUPER weird right now because of the connotation of the word “holiness”, but I’m not really meaning in the religious sense as much as I mean it in the definition of the Hebrew word “kadosh” — set apart for a specific purpose. Our own modesty takes on the dictionary’s other definition of modesty: “a regard for decency” I strive to make my body “kadosh” in modesty for my wife.

(I’ll admit, this wasn’t the advice of a rabbi or any religious book, but inspired by a blog called “Single Dad Laughing” on a post entitled “16 Ways I Blew My Marriage” – this is way #10. “when she does think of your naked body, she’s not going to be thinking about it in a grunting/squatting position.” I just have to give credit where credit is due.)

So, to summarize on the two starting topics:
1. Being modest how you approach the outside world.
– No, be modest (aka: “free from vanity” even with yourself. By that definition of modesty, you can be just as immodest by obsessing over your appearance in a bathroom mirror as you are wearing scantily-clad clothing in a synagogue. Modesty starts from within.
2. Don’t ever keep anything from your spouse.
– There’s no reason why the first image in their Mental Photo Album of your body should be of you sitting on the toilet or the like. Just as you’ve set your spouse apart from everyone else in the world, also set yourself apart in your modesty for them.


Hallowed To Hollowed: Why The 10 Commandment Monument Should Come Down

For many of my friends, I’m that guy they ask about the Bible, God, religion, and spirituality in general. Being an observant Jew in Oklahoma – a place where many people of my generation are fairly burnt out on religion from certain people forcing their faith on them, I guess many ask me for feedback because I’m not trying to convince them of anything. I’m not trying to convert them to my religion and they probably find that makes me an unbiased source with no ulterior motive. Being that I’m that guy, I started receiving some questions about the State of Oklahoma’s back and forth disputes about having a monument depicting the Ten Commandments on the State Capitol.

My response? Take it down.

I know that seems like a strange response from a religious person, much less a Jewish person, but I feel that the display is simply unnecessary…and frankly, a bit offensive.

To explain why I want the Ten Commandments removed from the Oklahoma State Capitol, I probably need to explain the motivations of the proponents of such a display. I understand perfectly well that Christianity is the majority faith not only of Oklahoma, but of the United States in general. Many will argue that the very basis of our legal system is directly inspired by the Hebrew Bible. In order to maintain this link to our nation’s heritage, the motivation to display the Ten Commandments seems to make just as much sense as displaying the Magna Carta. The argument from proponents is that the Founding Fathers were mostly Christians and therefore founded our country’s legislation based on Judeo-Christian values. According to that logic, the Ten Commandments are a list of rules that both Jews and Christians can get behind. Seems reasonable enough, right?

From Hallowed To Hollowed

I could start off on a rant about how many of the most influential Founding Fathers were not only not religious, but were anti-religion ( “Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.” – Thomas Paine. “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson), but that’s not really the reason I don’t personally care to see the Ten Commandments on the Capitol lawn. The problem I have with displaying the Ten Commandments on government property does not stem from any qualms I have with the Ten Commandments themselves, but rather the opposite is true – these hallowed concepts are being reduced to a hollow symbol.

As Jews, our lives can be compared to that of professional organizers – spiritual organizers. Part of our observance has traditionally been to acknowledge God in the world where He normally goes unnoticed. Part of the way we do this is with b’rachot (“b’rah-khot”), or blessings. We don’t bless objects such as food, religious articles, or periods of time, but we bless God for His setting certain things of concepts aside for specific purposes. As Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen once said, “A b’racha is a protest against taking something for granted.” As the Shabbat (Sabbath) begins, we make a b’racha (“brah-kha” – singular version of b’rachot) to separate that day from the rest of the days. This is one way that we observe the 4th Commandments – “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The word for “holy” is “קדוש” which means literally to separate for a specific purpose. The same word is used in the b’racha we say to open the Shabbat, “Baruch atta Adonai, m’kadeish haShabbat” – “Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies (separates for a specific purpose) the Sabbath.” When the Shabbat has come to a close, we again sanctify it by blessing God in order to praise Him for separating it from the rest of the days of the week. “Baruch atta Adonai, hamav’dil bein kodesh l’chol” – “Blessed are You, Lord, who separates between the sacred and the secular.”

The majority of individuals who are in favor of the Ten Commandments monument being displayed could not, off the top of their heads, tell you the significance of why the 4th commandment should be displayed on government property. Why? Because to display this commandment on government property stands in opposition to the concept of “קדוש” – to separate for a specific purpose. These are not secular guidelines for living. Sure, half of them are great guidelines for how to interact with your fellow man (“Do not murder” , “Do not steal” , “Do not bear false witness”…) but the first half of them are specific instructions for a specific people on how to interact with their God. These are not to be subject to a cherry-picking which one’s are most convenient. To push these commandments on people who do not acknowledge this God is to make these commandments no longer “קדוש” – no longer, by definition, holy.

Most dangerously, the modern motivation for erecting such a monument on government property is not to promote the values corresponding to the 10 Commandments, but to hijack them for political sway. Many feel that religion and God are falling out of popularity so the obvious choice is to erect monuments to ensure this doesn’t happen. Erecting monuments as a means of preserving an ideal is more closely tied to the Egypt the Israelites fled than the ways of the God they ran to. God doesn’t look down on the monuments we make to Him with pleasure; the evidence being where He originally chose to dwell with us – a tent.

When a people attempt to make a secular government more holy pushing religion into it, it is not the government that becomes more holy but the religion that becomes more secular.

(Photo credit:JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World)

The Time I Couldn't Touch My Newly-Wed Wife

Disclaimer: This post makes references to questionable concepts, but I tried to keep it tasteful and purposeful. Don’t worry – it’s not that yucky. And yes, I got my wife’s permission first. 😉

As she entered the car after a long day’s work, I was so happy to see my wife. It seemed like a few days since I had seen her when it really had only been since that morning. Usually, she’d enter the car, give me a smile and a little kiss before asking me how my day went (she always beats me to the punch). This wasn’t the case that day.

As observant Jews, there is a length of time every month where my wife and I don’t make any physical contact. No kisses. No hugs. No hand-holding. Nothing. We even sleep in separate beds. The reasoning for this is a section of Torah that instructs Jewish couples not to make any physical contact for a week from the start of a woman’s menstrual cycle (Lev 15:19, Lev 18:19). Some sects of Judaism extend this to 2 weeks. At the end of whichever duration the Jewish couple observe, then the woman immerses according to her tradition and the couple can resume regular relations.

“I miss you.” “What are you talking about? I’m right here.”

Being that we were just married a little over a month ago, this experience was still pretty new to us and still takes some getting used to. I’ve been very used to just placing my hand on Shakhar’s hand in the car, giving her a hug around the waist while she’s cooking in the kitchen, getting a kiss as she walks by in the house – you know, normal married-people stuff. During this time, I had to catch myself several times instinctually reaching out to her, remembering, and then withdrawing just in the nick of time. These situations have to handled very delicately because by no means is the wife to be treated like she’s somehow “dirty” or unwanted. (If anything, not being able to touch her makes her even more wanted! But I’ll discuss that later…) Over the course of our “time apart,” though she was with me everyday, we did find ourselves saying, “I miss you.” This really meant, “I miss being able to touch you.” It just falls under the “there is a time and a place for everything” mentality of Judaism. Yes, even sex is immensely holy…as long as it’s at the right time.

The Upside of Not Being Able To Touch Your Spouse

After mentioning all of the “can’t do”s, you’re probably wondering the upside to this arrangement can possibly be. Oddly enough, this is one of the strongest times for Jewish couples in their marriages. Sounding weird yet? Let me explain in a way most of you can understand.

Do you remember your first date with the person you really care about — your spouse or just someone you fell for? How did you start off that first date? Did you lovingly hold them around the waist? Did you pull them in close to you? Did you cuddle? Did you even place your hand on their’s across the dinner table upon sitting down? No way! What kind of creepers-mcgee would do any of that? What did you have to do instead? You had to be sweet, charming, make them laugh. You had to be a lady or a perfect gentleman. Guys, you probably brought them flowers, opened the car door for them, made sure you weren’t wearing black shoes and a brown belt —WERE ON TIME — you know, things that make a good impression. Ladies, you probably spiffied yourself up, laughed at his jokes when they weren’t that funny, did your best to ignore his terrible breath – you know, courteous lady things. Most importantly, you had to listen and connect with them on a non-physical level. This process was laying down the building blocks of a great relationship with this person. Sadly, many couples forget that these building blocks need regular maintenance in order to preserve the foundation of this relationship – maintenance that goes beyond physical intimacy. Still, so many focus on the physical side of a relationship so much that they may not be able to stand to be with their partner anywhere besides the bedroom.

The Torah’s answer? Just like we take a Sabbath from work and commerce once a week, we also take a Sabbath from physical touch and learn to enjoy our partner is as though we were on a first date. Ask them their opinion of different things – current events, music, literature, art, sports (yep, even sports) and the bigger questions about life (“What kind of mother do you think you’ll be?”, “What foreign country do you want to visit most?”, “How do you experience God during difficult times?”). We learn to enjoy being with them also in perfect silence – maybe each reading a book. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone without touching or even speaking a single word. This time forces us to fix issues with words and actions rather than attempting to bury them in pillow talk.

Using No Intimacy To Propel True Intimacy

On this subject, I’ve heard countless renditions of this particular scenario: a slightly observant Jewish couple are having trouble in their marriage. It doesn’t seem like the spark is still there. They go to their rabbi for advice.

“Have you been keeping the laws of taharat ha-mishpachah (purity of the family/no-touchie-touchie)?”
“For the most part.”
“In what ways?”
“We’re not intimate during her time of the month.”
“That’s not what I meant. Everyone does that – it’s common sense. What I’m talking about a complete lack of touch.”
“What good is that?”
“While you can’t touch each other, you express your love in different ways. You do nice things for each other instead of to each other. You learn to enjoy each other’s company without simply hoping you’ve saved up enough brownie points to end up in the bedroom. You become companions instead of simply lovers. But in addition to all of these things, the potential for every touch becomes electric. You start to yearn for the other one while you’re still in the same room. Because you can’t, this increases your desire to. An accidental graze of the arm sends off a shockwave. When the time comes, you won’t be able to immerse fast enough. I promise, if you keep taharat ha-mishpachah, you’ll start to see a spark again.”

It’s a cliche, but I always remember hearing the somewhat crude/silly remarks of the older generation, “We haven’t made love like that since he got back from the war.” What the heck does that mean? It means a time period without being physical, like dragging your feet across a carpet, builds up the anticipation to be together. If you hold onto the door knob and drag your feet on the carpet, there’s no shock. If you drag your feet two steps and then touch the door knob, there’s a slight shock. If you drag your feet on the carpet for 45 minutes and then touch the door knob, the static shock will probably even sting a bit. Such is the power of taharat ha-mishpacha on an intimate relationship

I’m by no means an expert in this. I’m a newly-wed and have only kept this one time through. However, I will end this piece on this note and I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but on my way to go pick up Shakhar to take her to immerse, I did this: