Understanding Jewish Attitudes toward Lust

In a recent online video discussion, a prominent conservative commentator asserted that Judaism, while strictly forbidding adultery, takes a lenient position on lust more generally; he then went on to assert that pornography can serve a benign purpose. Rafi Eis suggests such a misunderstanding of traditional views on sexuality rests on a “simplistic” view of the distinction between thought and action:

Human beings are not mere robots. We are sentient. Actions can influence thoughts and thoughts can spur us toward actions. The Hebrew Bible therefore demands that we exert discipline over both. We must not commit adultery and we must not lust. We must not murder and we must not “hate our brother in our heart” (Leviticus 19:17). Thoughts and actions are central to the human condition and are subject to Jewish law. The main distinction between them is that only actions are punishable in a human court of justice.

Furthermore, intentionally viewing pornography is not a thought crime, it is an action.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes marriage as the “single most humanizing institution in history.” It is the place where spouses channel their brute sexual desire into love, dedication, and procreation. . . . Pornography destroys that covenantal commitment and feeds existing dissatisfaction with fantasies about what could or should have been. Ultimately, it ruins marriage. Purity of mind, in contrast, increases dedication and builds marriage.

The Talmud recounts an incident where a man lusted for a specific woman to the point where doctors recommended satisfying his desire as a cure, lest he die. But the sages refused to allow any activity between them that could give him erotic pleasure.

Read more at First Things

More about: Judaism, Sexual ethics

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus