Sex, the Spirit, Leadership, and the Dangers of Abuse

By Rabbi Arthur Waskowx

Two events in Jewish life raise serious questions about the relationships among sexuality,  spirituality, and religious leadership -- questions of what it means to sharply separate sex from the Spirit,  and of what it means to confuse them without any boundaries.

One of these events is a letter that went in October 1997 from the dean of the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary to its students, and the other is the uncovering and publication by Lilith magazine of some deeply disturbing reports describing abusive behavior of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, alav hashalom, z'l, toward some women.

The danger that religious and spiritual leadership may slop over into sexual harassment and abuse seems to cut across all the boundaries of different religions and different forms of religious expression within each tradition.  In Jewish life, for example, whether we look at the most halakhically bound or the most free-spirit leadership, we find some who draw on the deep energies of Spirit and the honor due teachers of Torah, but cannot distinguish those energies and honor from an invitation to become sexual harassers and abusers.

There are great dangers in totally sundering spirituality and spiritual leadership from sexual energy, and there are great dangers in treating the two as if they were simply and totally identical. The sacred dance is to treat the two as intimately related but not identical.

For many of us -- not only in our own era and society, but for example among the Rabbis of the Talmud too --  the energies of Spirit and of sexuality are in truth intertwined, and need to flow together for either to be rich and full.

Look at the Song of Songs, which is clearly erotic and has been seen by many generations, using many different frameworks,  as deeply spiritual. Look at the Rabbis who said that Torah study was like delicious love-making with a Partner whose sexual attractiveness never lessened. 

I would not want to lose this intertwining. Indeed, I think that even in the aspects I have just named, some vitality was drained from Judaism when the rabbis utterly separated the Song of Songs from its erotic roots - forbidding it to be sung in wine-halls at the same moment they approved its canonization as a voicing of the Holy Spirit and a book of the Bible. And I think the Rabbis also drained some life-juice from Judaism, as they themselves ruefully acknowledged, when they treated Torah-study as so  erotically fulfilling that they would forget to go home to make love to their wives.

Just recently,  the Dean of the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary has warned its unmarried rabbinical students: "Living together, which is the derech eretz of so many today, is unacceptable for one seeking the rabbinate. . . . I want to make it clear that it is my opinion that a rabbinical student 'living together' before marriage, even with a future spouse, should not continue in the Rabbinical School." This may or may not be a direct threat to dismiss any unmarried student who does live with someone -- i.e., is publicly known to be in a sexual relationship. Either way, I think it leads to deep spiritual and ethical problems.

For I worry that it is trying to treat Spirit as if it had no intertwine with sexuality, and thus is once again squeezing the life-juice out of Judaism.  It was one thing to assume that sexual relationships came only with marriage when people married in their teens. It is another when our lives are so complex and our identities so fluid that many people who are in rabbinical school are wise not yet to marry -- but also ought not  be forced to be celibate. The notion of  forcing such students into either long and complex lies about their sexual lives or into an undesired celibacy means training future rabbis to be either liars or sexually warped, narrowed, dwellers in Mitzraiim -- the "Narrow Straits."

Some might argue that the Dean's letter is not aimed at the sexual ethics of Jews in general but at rabbinical students alone. This is not factually correct; the letter makes clear that the Dean is concerned about rabbinical students precisely because their behavior will affect the behavior of all Jews, and it is the behavior of all Jews he hopes to shape so that all sexual relationships are kept within marriage. For me the focus on those who will become role models does not ease the problem, but may make it worse. Who wants "role models" who have learned to choose between lying and drying up?

Indeed, some believe that one way of creating sexually uncontrollable people is to dam up their sexual energies when they are young and should be learning how to channel them in decent, loving ways. Do the demands of celibacy in some Christian denominations have any share in shaping priests who abuse children or parishioners? Do  Hassidic yeshivas that forbid the bochers to masturbate, on pain of long fasts and punishment have any responsibility when some of them never learn how to make loving love, and become abusers when they grow older?

Taking all these issues into account, we need to explore down-to-earth, practical steps toward shaping and celebrating sacred sexual relationships other than marriage.

 Is there any way to affirm and celebrate non-marital sexual relationships, and to establish  ethical and liturgical standards for them, without violating halakha -- and indeed by drawing on some positive strands of Jewish tradition?

From biblical tradition on, there has been a category for legitimate non-marital sexual relationships that could be initiated and ended by either party without elaborate legalities. It was frowned on by most but not all guardians of rabbinic tradition. It was called "pilegesh," usually translated "concubine," though it meant something more open, free, and egalitarian than "concubine" connotes in English.

 I refer people to the recently published volume by Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Sacred Secrets: The Sanctity of Sex in Jewish Law and Lore (Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ).  In it is an Appendix (pp. 101-142) with the complete text of an 18th-century Tshuvah (Responsum) of Rabbi Yaakov (Jacob) of Emden to a shylah (question) concerning the pilegesh relationship. In it Rabbi Yaakov writes:

"[A single woman living with a man] ought to feel no more ashamed of immersing herself in a communal mikveh at the proper times than her married sisters.

"Those who prefer the pilagshut relationship may certainly do so. . . . For perhaps the woman wishes to be able to leave immediately without any divorce proceedings in the event she is mistreated, or perhaps either party is unprepared for the burdensome responsibilities of marital obligations. . ."

Winkler shows that Ramban (Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides) in the 13th century and a host of other authorities also ruled that legitimate sexual relationships are not limited to marriage.

It is true that some authorities, including Rambam (Maimonides) did rule in favor of such limits, but many did not.

What are the uses of the pilegesh relationship? It can give equality and self-determination to those women and men who use it. Either person can end the relationship simply by leaving. It is true that it does not automatically include the "protections" for women that apply in Jewish marriages, but please note that the very notion of such "protections" assumes that women are not only economically and politically but also legally and spiritually disempowered, and need special protections.  These protections are an act of grace from the real ruler of a marriage -- the husband -- to a subordinate woman.

But in our society,  women are legally equal, and often and increasingly economically and politically equal --  and most of us want it that way. And our society is so complex that most people defer marriage for many years, even decades, after puberty  --  and most of us want it that way. So the value of the protective noblesse oblige that the old path offered women must be weighed against the limits on women's and men's freedom and emotional health and growth that are involved in prohibiting sexual relationships between unmarried people, on the one hand, and the limits on women's freedom and growth involved in traditional Jewish marriage (e.g. the agunah problem) on the other hand.

To put it sharply --- do we really wish to forbid all sexual relationships between unmarried people -- to insist on celibacy for an enormous proportion of Jews in their 20s and 30s, and for divorced Jews? If not, why not draw on the pilegesh relationship to establish a sacred grounding for sexual relationships that are not marriages, and create patterns of honesty, health, contraception, intimacy, and holiness for such relationships?

For us to draw on the pilegesh tradition in this way does not require us to take it exactly as those before us saw it, or as others might apply it today.  For example, some Orthodox rabbis seem to be using it today  to help men who have  become separated from their wives but are refusing to give their wives a gettt, or Jewish divorce. If there is no gett, neither spouse can marry again.  But the pilegesh practice lets the men find sexual partners and so reduce the pressure on themselves to finish the divorce process. The "women in chains" who result from this process cannot make a pilegesh relationship -- for under Jewish law they would become adulterers, although their estranged husbands do not. So in these cases pilegesh is used to disadvantage women even more.

But in communities that either do not require a gett or recognize that either spouse can initiate a gett, and that would also see pilegesh as a relationship that either women or men could initiate and either could end,  pilegesh could increase the free choices available to women and become a way of celebrating sexual relationships that the parties are not willing to describe as permanent -- especially relationships not aimed at birthing or rearing children.

And the initial pilegesh agreement could specify what to do in cases where a woman partner became pregnant, and how to establish as much equal responsibility  as possible between the pregnant and non-pregnant partner. 

If we both celebrate sexuality and do not believe that "anything goes" in sexual relationships, then we are obligated to create ethical, spiritual, and celebratory patterns for what does and doesn't go in several different forms of sexual relationship.  That is because most joyfulness is enhanced by communal celebration, and most ethical behavior requires not only individual intention but also communal commitment, embodied and crystallized in moments of intense communal ceremony. This would mean that we begin filling the pilegesh category with some ethical, ceremonial, and spiritual content -- all quite different from the traditional patterns for marriage, but also able to convey ethical and spiritual dimensions of a different kind of sexual relationship.

And if the word "pilegesh," or its conventional translation into "concubine," threatens to poison the idea, then let us honor the seichel of those of our forebears who held this pathway open, and let us simply name it something else. (For example, Israelis call the partners in an unmarried couple a "ben zug" or "bat zug.")

In my book Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life I draw on these alternative strands of traditional Rabbinic law about which Rabbi Winkler has reminded us, to develop some new approaches to a sacred Jewish sexual ethic for our generation.  I had access to Rabbi Winkler's research before his new book appeared, and want to urge people to read it. I think he has done deep and great service to the possibility of a Judaism that can speak to our generations.

We have been addressing the danger of severing sexuality from spirituality, and the possibility of celebrating this sacred intertwining when it is best manifested in relationships other than marriage.  On the other hand, we must also address the dangers of treating  spiritual and sexual energy as if they were simply and exactly the same, so that spiritual leadership might be taken as a warrant for sexual acting-out -- and in that light we may explore ways of celebrating this sacred intertwining while minimizing the chances of abuse.

The danger -- and the need for correctives -- became most poignantly clear to many of us when Lilith magazine published an investigative account of a series of molestations of adolescent girls by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  Reb Shlomo has been for many Jews of a wide variety of backgrounds an extraordinary treasure. His songs, his stories, his generosity in money and spirit have opened up not only Judaism but a sense of spiritual growth to tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

For me, Reb Shlomo was an important door-opener into my own Jewish life. When I was profoundly discouraged by bitter attacks from some Jewish institutions on The Freedom Seder  and others of my early efforts toward an ethically and politically renewed and revivified Judaism, Reb Shlomo welcomed me as a chaver on his own journey into the wilderness. He leaped and danced and sang at a Freedom Seder  "against the Pharaohs of Wall Street." He came to sing at a Tu B'Shvat celebration of "Trees for Vietnam." He invited me to say one of the sheva brochas at his wedding when I still knew too little Hebrew to do that celebratory task. He sat with me for a television interview of "Hassidim Old and New" when the Lubavitcher Hassidim (his old comrades) refused to be televised sitting at the same table with either one of us -- him a "renegade," me a "revolutionary."   In a major break from the Hassidic past, he treated the women and men who came to learn from him as spiritual equals -- even ultimately ordaining as rabbis a few women, as well as men.

His love for Jews knew no bounds.  So much so that he could not believe that Jews could be oppressing Palestinians,  let alone criticize the oppression. As my own sense of an ethical and spiritual Judaism came to include the need for a profoundly different relationship between the two families of Abraham, and as his views crystallized into strong support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, it became much harder for me to work with him.

And as my own sense of self-confidence grew in pursuing my own path toward the "new paradigm" of Judaism alongside the work of  Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and of a growing community of Jewish feminists, my need for Reb Shlomo's reassurances vanished.  My admiration of his loving neshama remained, but I more and more felt that he was no longer pursuing the deepest implications of Jewish renewal; that he was still too committed to the old Hassidism to go forward in creating a new one.

And then I, and my friends,  began to hear rumors, a story here and there, more and more of them, about unsettling behavior toward some of the women whom he was teaching.  An unexpected touch here, an inappropriate late-night phone call there. No stories that I would quite call "horrifying," but stories troubling enough to make ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal decide not to invite Reb Shlomo to teach at our gatherings, When we heard that he and his staff were upset at this absence, we decided to offer to meet with him face-to-face to say what was troubling us, and hear his response.

But before we could go forward with such a meeting, he died.

And then, after several years of grieving memory and even, among some people, growing adulation, stories surfaced that were indeed horrifying.  Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, herself a "rebbe" as well as a feminist and a creator of Jewish renewal, brought some of the stories from secret separate undergrounds into a public view: stories of physical molestation of young adolescent girls, though not of what would be legally defined as rape. An investigative reporter for Lilith  found corroboration. Although some people refused to believe the stories, and although it is a serious problem that Reb Shlomo cannot himself respond to them, nevertheless it seems to me that Lilith  did a responsible job of checking on them.

How to square these stories with the Shlomo whom I had loved and admired? With the Shlomo whose love of Jews had known no bounds?

Oh. "Whose love of Jews had known no bounds." No boundaries.

From this clue -- no bounds, no boundaries -- I began to try to think through what went wrong with Shlomo alongside what was so wonderful about him, and why some who had loved him refused to believe what by now seemed well-attested stories, and -- above all, since Shlomo-in-the-flesh could no longer change his behavior -- what all that meant we should be thinking and doing in the future.

For the "unbounded/ unboundaried" metaphor echoed for me some of the teachings of Kabbalah and Hassidism, especially the ways in which Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi had transformed those thought-patterns toward a new Judaism.  The ways in which he had reconfigured the Sphirot, long understood as emanations and manifestations of God, as a framework for human psychology as well. Truly the tzelem elohim -- the Image of God -- implanted in the human psyche.

What was the echo that I heard? It was the teaching of the sphirah Chesed  -- usually understood as "loving-kindness," but in Kabbalah also understood as overflowing, unbounded, unboundaried energy.

For me, then the question was and is, how to draw on this echo, this insight, this "click," to celebrate the sacred intertwining of sexuality and Spirit -- neither sundering one from the other nor confounding their truths into a boundaryless mess.

How can we encourage this artful dance? We might learn to shape and encourage a balanced embodiment of the Sphirot as the basic character pattern of a spiritual leader, since one character-pattern or another can prevent, or ease, or disguise a leaning toward sexual exploitation of spiritual strength.

Kabbalah warns that the different Sphirot can become distorted and destructive. We are most used to manipulation and abuse that can flow from an overbearing overdose of the sphirah of Gevurah, Power and Strictness,  Of course Gevurah can inspire and teach. It may communicate clarity and focus to those whose feelings, minds, and spirits are scattered and dispersed. Yet there is danger in a teacher overmastered by Gevurah run amok: one who teaches through raging fear and anger. 

And a teacher overmastered by Gevurah may turn students into submissive servants of his sexual will (far more rarely, hers).

We are less likely to notice the dangers of  Gevurah's  partner Chesed, precisely because we are warmed by loving-kindness. But --  A spiritual leader may pour unceasing love into the world. May pour out unboundaried his money, his time, his attention, his love.  For many of the community around them, this feels wonderful. It releases new hope, energy, freedom.

But it may also threaten and endanger. Even Chesed can run amok. A Chesed-freak  may come late everywhere because he has promised  to attend too many people. He may  leave himself and his family penniless because he gave their money to everyone else. He may give to everyone the signals of a special love, and so make ordinary the special love he owes to some beloveds. And he may use Chesed to overwhelm the self-hood of those who love and follow him, and abuse them sexually.

Indeed, this misuse of Loving-kindness may lead to even deeper scars than naked Gevurah-dik coercion. For it leaves behind in its victims not only confusion between Spirit and Sexuality, but confusion between love and manipulation.  That may make the regrowth of a healthy sexuality, a healthy spirituality, and a healthy sense of self more difficult.

When we learn that a revered, creative, and beloved teacher has let Chesed run away with him, and so has hurt and damaged other people, what can we do?  First of all, what do we do about the fruits of Chesed that are indeed wonderful -- in Reb Shlomo's case, his music and his stories? Some, particularly those directly hurt, may find it emotionally impossible to keep drawing on them.  I hope, however, that most of us will keep growing and delighting in these gifts that did flow through Reb Shlomo from a ecstatic dancing God. We do not reject the gifts that flowed through an Abraham who was willing to kill or let die one wife and two sons; we do not reject the gifts that flowed through an earlier Shlomo who was a tyrannical king.

Certainly whoever among us have turned love and admiration  of Reb Shlomo into adulation and idolatry need to learn to make their own boundaries, their own Gevurah.  And we need to teach the teachers who might fall into this danger of Chesed-run-amok, challenging and guiding them, insisting and demanding that they  achieve a healthier balance.

 To name one version of sexual abuse an outgrowth of the perversion of Lovingkindness does not excuse the behavior. Like a diagnosis, it distinguishes this particular disease from others that may also become manifest as sexual abuse. Dealing with Chesed-run-amok is different from dealing with Gevurah-run-amok.

Chesed needs to be balanced by Gevurah's Rigorous Boundary-making, and the two must reach not just toward balance but toward the synthesis of Tipheret or Rachamim, the sphirah of focused compassion -- traditionally connected with the heart-space. 

Why there? The heart is a tough enclosing muscle that pours life-energy into the bloodstream. If the muscle were to go soft and sloppy, or be perforated by holes, it could no longer squeeze the blood into the arteries. If the blood were to harden and become Rigid, it could not flow where it is needed.  In the same way,  Rechem -- the womb -- is a tough enclosed space that pours a new life into the world.

Chesed alone, Gevurah alone, bear special dangers. Even so, each of them remains part of the truth, the need, and the value of  God and human beings. Perhaps the character orientation most likely to encourage a teacher's ability to pour out spiritual, intellectual, and emotional warmth without turning that into sexual manipulation is a character centered on Tipheret/ Rachamim.

Finally, we must deal with the danger that  a teacher's "shaping-power"  may turn into domination.  When either Chesed or Gevurah gets channeled into the notion that a teacher owns this power  -- is not, one might say, one of God's "temporary tenants" of this loving or awesome property but is its Owner -- then the submissiveness this invites, creates, and enforces becomes idolatry.  The teacher who invites this idolatry is an idol-maker -- far more responsible for it than the student who may thus be tricked into idol worship.

There are two ways to prevent this kind of idolatry, this transmutation of spiritual energy into abusive behavior. One way is to limit the power-holder's actions. The other way is to empower the one who feels weak. Both are necessary. 

One of the most powerful practices for both reminding the powerful of their limits and empowering those who begin by thinking they are powerless is one I have seen Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi carry out many times. 

On Erev Shabbat or Erev Yomtov, he might begin what looks at first like a classic Chassidic "Tisch" or "table":

The Rebbe sits in a special chair, and for hour after hour teaches Torah to the assembled multitude, who sing and sway and chant with great intensity.  Consumers, all of them, of his great wisdom. 

So Reb Zalman would sit in a special chair at the head of the dinner table, and teach Torah -- but only for 20 or 30 minutes. Then he would stand, say "Everyone move one seat to the left" -- and he would move. He would nod to the member of the chevra who now sat in the Rebbe's Chair, saying: "Now you are the Rebbe. Look deep inside yourself for the Rebbe-spark. When you have found it, teach us. And all us others -- we must create a field of Rebbetude, an opening and beckoning to affirm that you too can draw on Rebbehood."

It worked! Over and over, people would find the most unexpected wisdom inside them, and would teach it.

The real point of this powerful but momentary practice was to embody its teaching in all the other  moments of our lives.  To be a "rebbe" is to live in the vertical as well as horizontal dimension -- to draw not only on the strength of friends, community, but also on the strength that is both deep within and high above. No one is a rebbe all the time, and everyone should be a rebbe some of the time.

This is not at all the same as simply saying that all of us are Rebbes, stamm -- even just part of the time. All of us are potential "part-time" Rebbes -- if we choose to reflect on our highest, deepest selves. And that means we are less likely to surrender our souls and bodies to someone else. A true Rebbe, it seems to me, is one who encourages everyone to find this inner spark and nurse it into flame. But we have all bumped into people who act as if they are the flame, while others are but dead kindling-wood.

To say that any one of us is empty of the Spark is to deny God's presence in the world. To arrogate the Spark to one's own self alone is to make  an idol of one's ego.  Reb Zalman's practice teaches another path -- and I believe that if we were to develop a number of similar  ways to walk it, there would be far less danger of spiritual/ sexual abuse.

More institutionally, what this means is that we must explicitly say to teachers, davvening leaders, healers -- that they not use the power of their position to overawe their congregants or students into entering sexual relationships.  That they not -- like one congregational rabbi -- turn the spiritual and emotional comfort due the shattered mourner of a just-dead spouse into sexual seduction. That they not turn the excitement of profound Torah or deep davvening into the incitement of sexual need.

And that we also counsel congregants, students, clients to strengthen the aspect of their Self that is one flame of God; that they not try to gain confidence by subjugating their own sense of self to someone else; that they choose a sexual relationship out of strength, not weakness.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal chose five years ago to make this clear through an ethical code that prohibits any teacher or other spiritual leader from using that position during a class or a Kallah or similar event to initiate a sexual relationship with a student or learner. Even more important, ALEPH made sure that this ethical code was publicly announced to and discussed by all teachers, leaders, and other participants -- so the discussion taught a deeper lesson, one that could last beyond the immediate situation into the longer future.

In this way we can embody the hope that  two people have in truth a deep connection with a holy root -- for if so, it will last long enough to be pursued when the two stand much more nearly on a firm and equal footing. And we can also embody the wisdom that true spiritual leaders and true spiritual learners can approach each other not bound in a knot of manipulation with obeisance, but with mutual respect.

Indeed, if we intend to require our teachers to refrain from sexual abuse, then we must also encourage the balanced expression of a sexuality that is ethically, spiritually rooted. We must seek new ways of making sure that our teachers find others of the same depth and intensity to become their partners.

This would be sexuality filled with Kavod: the kind of honor that radiates from each partner because it is God's radiance within.

To summarize:

Clarifying the dance of sexuality and Spirit without sundering them;

Giving content to old and little-used aspects of halakha and/ or shaping new aspects of halakha so as to give down-to-earth shape, ethics, liturgical focus, and spiritual meaning to more than one form of sacred sexual relationship;

Encouraging in spiritual leaders (and in us all) the balance between Chesed and Gevurah and even more their synthesis in Tipheret/ Rachamin;

Empowering students and congregants while limiting the power of leaders;

---- These are the four steps we need to take if our teachers and our students are to fulfill God's vision for us all in soul, mind, heart, and body.

Finally, I want to examine self-reflectively the method and the underlying theory with which I have approached these questions.

Clearly, my process began with a real-life question: How am I, how are other Jews, to respond to specific events like the Dean's letter to rabbinical students and Lilith's  article on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach?  My own response was to draw on, renew, and transform aspects of Jewish tradition that I believe have been "minority voices" -- to some extent subversive voices -- in the tradition: the strands of pilegesh sexuality, the rebbe model of direct access to God, and the Kabbalistic pattern of the Sphirot.

I recognize that these strands, even though they challenged many aspects of "official" Judaism, had themselves been corrupted by the atmosphere of male domination in which they, like almost all recorded human thought before the last century, emerged. Corrupted -- but I believe not wholly ruined. So I understand that these strands cannot be woven unchanged into the fabric of a new Judaism, but need to be reworked in the light of new Torah values that I believe are unfoldings of the Will of God.

What are these new values?

To understand them and to understand how deeply they affect sexual ethics most intensely and the whole of Judaism as well, I want to make explicit what I think have been the underlying "rules" of Biblical and Rabbinic Jewish sexual ethics:

    1. Legitimate sexual relationships involve a dominant male and a subordinate female.

    2. Legitimate sexual relationships have the procreation and rearing of children as their very strong  (not absolutely total) intention and justification.

    3. Sexuality is also intended to be a joyful and pleasurable celebration of God.

I believe that the evolving God whose Name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh ("I Will Be Who I Will be") has abrogated and replaced the first of these rules with a rule that --

Legitimate sexual relationships seek to be expressed through as much equality as possible in power, responsibility, and rights of the partners who are covenanting (who may be male, or female, or male and female).

And I believe that this evolving God has reversed the second and third "rules" so that the main purpose of sexuality is the joyful and pleasurable celebration of God, while procreation and rearing of children is an important but not overarching intention and goal of sexual relationships.  Though I have not focused on it here, I believe that the Song of Songs is our best guide from the ancient tradition to how sexuality could express the joyful and pleasurable celebration of God.

These profound changes have been mediated through the emergence of Modernity as a partial expression of the God Who unfolds through human history without abandoning the previous wisdom of the previous spiral of Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.  Our evolving God calls on us to join in this spiral of growth, never abandoning the past but never getting stuck in it: instead, doing midrash on the received wisdom of Torah in order to respond to the great life-cycles of the human race and of Planet Earth.

In particular, for reasons that I explore in much more detail in Down-to-Earth Judaism and Godwrestling -- Round 2, I believe that the evolving God calls us now not to continue multiplying humankind but -- because the earth is already "full"  -- to limit our procreation; and calls us to make sure that women and men contribute equally to the reshaping of Judaism, human civilization, and the community of all life.  I believe that God calls us to these new mitzvot because we have come to a new place in our collective life-cycle, as individuals enter into new mitzvot when they come to crucial turning-points in their own individual life-cycles.

In  that great life-cycle, ever spiraling toward greater self-awareness, greater self-reflectiveness,  we both live through the spiral turnings and reflect upon them. Out of that, for me, comes the effort to renew and transform the meaning of pilegesh, of rebbetude, and of the Sphirot in such a way as to reshape and renew the holiness of sexual relationships.

* Rabbi Waskow is the editor of New Menorah, director of the Shalom Center, a Pathfinder of ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal,  and the author of many works of spiritual renewal, including  Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life  and Godwrestling -- Round 2