This controversy illustrates something I love about Orthodox Judaism — it makes more of life significant.
Most communities would not become aghast at a story about pre-marital sex, but in Orthodox Judaism it is a shanda.
Those Jews who take Orthodox Judaism seriously do not approve of pre-marital sex. Orthodox Judaism has standards and such behavior is outside of those standards.
By contrast with conservative Christians, however, Orthodox Jews do not regard sexual sins as the most serious sins. Pre-marital sex is no greater a sin than breaking the Sabbath or eating non-kosher food.
So Orthodox Judaism in this controversy both keeps its standards and keeps perspective.
I believe I know who wrote this story but I’m turning over a new leaf and I’m not outing her.
It all started with a provocative, anonymous essay about premarital sex published by an online student newspaper on Monday, the kind of first-person tell-all that would probably pass without much mention at the average secular university.
A young woman narrates how she goes to a hotel, peels off her conservative clothes, slips on lace and sprays her “newly liberated skin with a noticeable amount of floral perfume.” Her lover comes to the room; they have a tryst. The next morning, she regrets what she has done.
But this essay was different, because it was written by an Orthodox woman and posted by a publication at Stern College for Women — part of Yeshiva University of Manhattan — where the writer says she is a student.
As an Orthodox Jewish institution that teaches both Jewish and secular subjects, the university attracts many religious students who consider premarital sex — not just the act but even talking openly about it — well beyond the acceptable bounds of modesty. But it also enrolls students willing to push those limits.
The result was a week-long firestorm on campus that has highlighted the tension between Yeshiva University’s secular and religious identities in a place where sex is still considered a deeply private matter. After the essay was published, conservative students mobilized and complained to Stern College’s student council about the publication, The YU Beacon, produced jointly by students at Stern and at Yeshiva College, the university’s undergraduate school for men.