Farewell to Jewish Sexual Ethics

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Farewell to Jewish Sexual Ethics

Rebecca Massel ’21

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For the past three decades, Rabbi Lookstein has taught Jewish Sexual Ethics, a class specially designed for Ramaz sophomores during their teenage mental and physical development. This class focused on Judaism’s view of sexuality, prompting the students to explore their bodies and sexuality within the confines of halacha as they quickly turn from children into young adults. This course paused in the middle of last year, when Rabbi Lookstein decided to step down from teaching the class. Thus, neither half of the Class of 2021 nor the Class of 2022 have had the opportunity to take a course in sexual ethics from a Jewish perspective. 

 

In past years, Rabbi Lookstein came to Ramaz for six to eight weeks and taught in place of one quarter of sophomore Hebrew classes. He discussed the Torah’s views on issues such as abortion, the LGBT Movement, taharat hamishpacha (Jewish laws of family purity), and Jewish divorce. The homework consisted of readings from newspaper articles or theological essays. Seniors noted that in the past, Rabbi Lookstein class did not insist on strict halacha, but was rather a discussion based on the Torah’s view of sexuality. Ten years ago, in a New York Times article about his class, Rabbi Lookstein stated, “This is one of the most favorite things I do in the world…. I love the interaction with students — and being able to open their eyes to the way in which Judaism approaches the basic facts of life.”

 

Students thought this class was enlightening and raised important discussion questions. Jack Fisher ’22 said, “This class shed light on how the Torah viewed sexuality. It was really interesting to hear about these issues not only from a regular sex-ed perspective.” Elizabeth Newman-Corré ’22 said that she found it powerful when Rabbi Lookstein discussed the continuity of the Jewish people. “It is crazy to think that our children are continuing the Jewish people, especially with the increasing issue of assimilation in society,” she said. 

 

According to Ms. Krupka, Rabbi Lookstein unfortunately decided that teaching this class would no longer work for his schedule. One student commented that she often received emails or Schoology posts from Rabbi Lookstein informing the students of their free period at the time when class was supposed to start, letting them know that he would have to miss the class for his many other responsibilities.

 

The Ramaz administration is planning to modify the Jewish Sexual Ethics class and to continue it for juniors starting this year. An issue with the previous scheduling was that Jewish Sexual Ethics was during the Hebrew slot, which meant that during those six to eight weeks, students were not learning Ivrit. Ms. Krupka commented on this, “We always felt terrible that we were taking a subject that doesn’t even meet that often in the rotation and just canceling it.”

 

The administrators consider teaching students about sexual ethics in Judaism very important. Ms. Krupka said, “I think there are a million messages we get in this world about body, sexuality, relationships, gender. How do those things interact with our relationships now? How will they interact with our relationships going forward? The school feels that it is necessary for the class to be taught in tandem with the junior sex education health class.” In addition, it is important to teach this critical view of the Torah before senior year, when students are busy preparing for college and graduating. 

 

This year, the school will be integrating Jewish Sexual Ethics with the JLT classes. Many of the details still need to be decided, including when in the year the topic will be taught and whether it will be taught by the JLT teachers or by another teacher. Ms. Krupka will likely teach a few sections because she has taught a mini-course on love and intimacy to seniors for the past few years.

 

Although Rabbi Lookstein will not be teaching the class, his years of experience and guidance will continue to be passed down to future generations.  Rabbi Lookstein shared his curriculum with the current JLT teachers, and they are building on it. Rabbi Lookstein learned much of his curriculum from being a community leader for many years. Instead of teaching from the perspective of a community leader, Ms. Krupka may go into more details regarding taharat hamishpacha. Rabbi Schimmel may bring his philosophical perspective into the curriculum. Each teacher will add his or her own flavor to the class.

 

Overall, Rabbi Lookstein’s class will be greatly missed at Ramaz. Newman-Corré ’20 said, “I think that it is so important to hear about this serious topic from someone with such stature as Rabbi Lookstein, and his class brought out some very important questions and discussions.”

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