Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marriage Made In Heaven by Nathan Drazin

I took Marriage Made in Heaven by Nathan Drazin (aka the book Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff cited) out of the library and read it. Alas, Gottesman only has the English version as opposed to the one containing the Steipler's letter. No matter; I shall find a different way to get ahold of that. But as for the book itself- it's very beautiful. I am surprised that a book printed in 1958 is so much clearer in its language, tone, and advice than the literature made available today for the Orthodox Jewish soon-to-be-married contingent. Drazin's thesis is that the sexual relationship cannot be over-stressed when it comes to marriage. He writes:
    I began to wonder. What was happening here? Why had these people been so much in love with one another before and how did their love turn into hatred so quickly after the wedding? What did they learn of one another after marriage that they had not known before? Some of these couples had known each other for a year or more before marriage. They knew each other's life histories and backgrounds as well as one could know these things. It then occurred to me that there was one element in marriage, absent prior to wedlock, that may have played havoc with them. Of course, I was thinking of intimate sexual relations.

    Is this idea correct? Would this suggestion be immediately conceded by people in trouble? I soon had an opportunity to learn the truth. Of the many married people who came to me for help, I remember one couple especially for their numerous arguments and complaints. I listened to them most patiently and sympathetically. I could easily sense that the many little things about which they argued so intensely were not their real problem. To test out my preconceived idea, I said to the in a tone of assumed confidence, 'Friends, you are both mistaken. Your trouble is not the things you argue about. Your problem, I am certain, is sexual maladjustment.' Did they believe me? No! They could see no connection whatsoever between the complaints they had and their marital relationship. My words, moreover, had set off a very hostile reaction. They expressed their disgust with me in my presence. 'We thought we came to a rabbi, a holy man,' they said, 'and here you speak to us about such an unholy and filthy thing as sex!'

    Is sex unholy or filthy? Of course I knew that only in the minds of seriously maladjusted or perverted people could it conceivably be so. But how could I show these people their error? How, indeed, could I be of real help to them?

    [...]

    Today, when I see a marriage heading for the rocks, I do not blame the husband nor do I blame the wife. The real culprit, I believe, is ignorance. Such people are, alas, ignorant of how to solve their marital problems.

    -pages 15-16
I admire the author's courage in tackling this issue on such frank, clear and non-judgmental terms. He brings up every conceivable circumstance and offers his point of view on it. While you might not always agree, his intentions are very pure. He even explains at the end of the work:
    The author also expects to be criticized, perhaps criticized severely, by some of his own colleagues in the rabbinical profession. He is aware that his oral discourses on marriage and sex have not received universal approval and commendation from those colleagues. The point of view of these religious critics is perhaps best stated as follows: It is all right for a rabbi to discuss and to advocate the observance of the Jewish family laws of purity. These are divine Biblical commandments, and anyone who endeavors to get people to observe them is surely to be commended. However, the rabbi's task is to end at that. It is not the duty of a rabbi, nor is it in good taste for him, to become a marriage counselor and to discuss the intimate relations of men and women or publicly to present the Jewish point of view in regard to birth control. My answer to these learned and well-meaning colleagues is that they seemingly live in a different age and that unfortunately they are completely unaware of the great misery, misfortune and wretchedness that prevails in so many homes and families in their own congregations. If they knew even a small part of the terrible misery so many men and women endure, or knew the ravaging scars they bear on their hearts, these rabbis would of course not speak this way. They would remember the teaching of our ancient sages included in our daily morning service: 'These are the things of which a man enjoys the fruits in this world, while the stock remains for him for the world to come: namely...deeds of loving kindness...and making peace between man and his fellow.' Surely this volume comes to fulfill the high ideals of 'deeds of loving kindness' and of 'making peace between man and his fellow.' In fact, it tends in a certain way to do more: to set up such ideal, harmonious relations between husband and wife as will obviate the necessity of ever 'making peace' between them.

    -pages 141-142
As an aside, I was amused by how perfectly this idea fits with one advanced in (the totally secular) To Let by John Galsworthy:
    "Jon, I want to explain to you if I can--and it's very hard--how it is
    that an unhappy marriage such as this can so easily come about. You
    will of course say: 'If she didn't really love him how could she ever
    have married him?' You would be quite right if it were not for one or
    two rather terrible considerations. From this initial mistake of hers
    all the subsequent trouble, sorrow, and tragedy have come, and so I
    must make it clear to you if I can. You see, Jon, in those days and
    even to this day--indeed, I don't see, for all the talk of
    enlightenment, how it can well be otherwise--most girls are married
    ignorant of the sexual side of life. Even if they know what it means
    they have not EXPERIENCED it. That's the crux. It is this actual lack
    of experience, whatever verbal knowledge they have, which makes all the
    difference and all the trouble. In a vast number of marriages--and your
    mother's was one--girls are not and CANNOT be certain whether they love
    the man they marry or not; they do not know until after that act of
    union which makes the reality of marriage. Now, in many, perhaps in
    most doubtful cases, this act cements and strengthens the attachment,
    but in other cases, and your mother's was one, it is a revelation of
    mistake, a destruction of such attraction as there was. There is
    nothing more tragic in a woman's life than such a revelation, growing
    daily, nightly clearer. Coarse-grained and unthinking people are apt to
    laugh at such a mistake, and say 'what a fuss about nothing!' Narrow
    and self-righteous people, only capable of judging the lives of others
    by their own, are apt to condemn those who make this tragic error, to
    condemn them for life to the dungeons they have made for themselves.
    You know the expression: 'She has made her bed, she must lie on it!' It
    is a hard-mouthed saying, quite unworthy of a gentleman or lady in the
    best sense of those words; and I can use no stronger condemnation. I
    have not been what is called a moral man, but I wish to use no words to
    you, my dear, which will make you think lightly of ties or contracts
    into which you enter. Heaven forbid! But with the experience of a life
    behind me I do say that those who condemn the victims of these tragic
    mistakes, condemn them and hold out no hands to help them, are inhuman
    or rather they would be if they had the understanding to know what they
    are doing. But they haven't! Let them go! They are as much anathema to
    me as I, no doubt, am to them. I have had to say all this, because I am
    going to put you into a position to judge your mother, and you are very
    young, without experience of what life is. To go on with the story.
    After three years of effort to subdue her shrinking--I was going to say
    her loathing and it's not too strong a word, for shrinking soon becomes
    loathing under such circumstances--three years of what to a sensitive,
    beauty-loving nature like your mother's, Jon, was torment, she met a
    young man who fell in love with her. He was the architect of this very
    house that we live in now, he was building it for her and Fleur's
    father to live in, a new prison to hold her, in place of the one she
    inhabited with him in London. Perhaps that fact played some part in
    what came of it. But in any case she, too, fell in love with him. I
    know it's not necessary to explain to you that one does not precisely
    choose with whom one will fall in love. It comes. Very well! It came. I
    can imagine--though she never said much to me about it--the struggle
    that then took place in her, because, Jon, she was brought up strictly
    and was not light in her ideas--not at all. However, this was an
    overwhelming feeling, and it came to pass that they loved in deed as
    well as in thought. Then came a fearful tragedy. I must tell you of it
    because if I don't you will never understand the real situation that
    you have now to face. The man whom she had married--Soames Forsyte, the
    father of Fleur--one night, at the height of her passion for this young
    man, forcibly reasserted his rights over her. The next day she met her
    lover and told him of it. Whether he committed suicide or whether he
    was accidentally run over in his distraction, we never knew; but so it
    was. Think of your mother as she was that evening when she heard of his
    death. I happened to see her. Your grand-father sent me to help her if
    I could. I only just saw her, before the door was shut against me by
    her husband. But I have never forgotten her face, I can see it now. I
    was not in love with her then, nor for twelve years after, but I have
    never forgotten.
Of course, I don't think Drazin would agree with the statement that one does not know if one loves until after the sexual act but it is certain he would understand Irene's unhappiness in the marriage and its cause. It is somewhat sad that his book, penned more than fifty years ago, is more instructive, honest and clear (even if his case studies and personal experiences might be questioned) than books my engaged friends more frequently read, which are generally comprised of a lot of fluff. Then again, I can't imagine the book published for the observant Jew today that would include the following scene in such a non-judgmental way:
    The time set for their marriage was coming closer and closer. The young lady, looking forward to marriage with eager anticipation, felt that she should show her love to the young man, and on certain occasions when they were alone, got close to him, sat on his lap and kissed him. This display of affection brought on a sudden feeling of loathing and disgust in the young man who would then shove her away and tell her not to do it. Then the man brought up the question of whether or not they should be married at all. It was a rather peculiar situation and I began to inquire into his sex history. I learned that he had had sexual relations before he was engaged, although rather infrequently. He would experience loathing at contact with the prostitute and feel dirty. He would go home and take a bath or a shower. The feeling of loathing would persist for several days thereafter, until gradually it would wear off, but for weeks he would not go close to a woman. Then when the sexual urge again overcame him, the experience would repeat itself. On the average, this would occur every two months.

    This information led me to deduce that, because of his experiences with loose women, this man had learned to associate the feeling of loathing and filth and bad odors with the sex act itself and with womankind in general. This reaction was carried over to his own fine clean young bride when she got intimately close to him. I felt the young man did require some talking to and correct information about sexual relations. [Etc]

    -pages 111-112
Now, what book published today do you know of that could deal with a situation like that so respectfully and clearly, the rabbi simply desiring to ensure that the couple could get married and wishing to help them as opposed to giving them a mussar talk about shomer negiah and suchlike? Note that Drazin, with perfect honestly, speaks of the woman and calls her a "fine clean young bride." Now, it's not made clear whether this particular couple was observant or not, but if you look at the preface of the book Drazin states that in writing the book he has in mind "principally his co-religionists" although he is "not unaware of the fact that the book may be of interest and value to all people, irrespective of creed and colour" (10). What's lovely about Drazin is that the focus of the book is to help his fellow Jews, irrespective of the level of their religiosity, and to make sexuality helpful to them as a tool toward a happy marriage. Would that the honesty he so purely employs was still commonly practiced!

6 comments:

whispering said...

A recent trend in Kallah classes among the more modern, feminist crowd is that the teachers discuss sex, not just taharat hamishpacha

Gavi said...

The most honest bok I have seen:

Eliyashiv Kenuel's "Ish Ve'Isha: shechina sheruya beineihem"

There is an entire section that deals with sex, including a pretty graphic "how-to" chapter. It recently came out in English translation, but I don't know who is publishing the translation.

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Any competent pastoral counsellor, when counselling a married couple coming in for therapy, will ask how the physical relationship is going. Often, this can reveal things about the relationship dynamic that are very important for the health of the marriage as a whole.

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Today, we have absorbed much of the Christian attitude towards "sex as sin" to our great detriment - and this attitude is completely foreign to Judaism. I think I posted a comment a while ago linking to a shiur by Rav Binyamin Yudin discussing this...

Chana said...

whispering,
That I knew- but not everyone is a modern feminist.

Gavi,
That's exactly the one Dr. David Ribner recommended. Hurrah for agreement.

yosef said...

The English version of R. Knohl's sefer is "The Marriage Covenant", and it is available here:

http://levinejudaica.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=8242&osCsid=4debb3cf0d0a25d98ecac74794724755

The part about sex is for sensitivity reasons included in a separate pamphlet sold with the book.

Mike S said...

In what context did R. Rakkeffet cite this?

Paula said...

This is getting pretty arcane when I cannot figure out whether artificial birth control (vs. Natural Family Planning) is condoned by most of you posting here.