By Ellen Baskin Being Jewish in America means different things to different people in different places.
Jewishness is often felt as an identification with an ethnic and cultural group as much as with a religious faith.
For more observant Jews, foregoing foreskin is just one of many rules and customs that govern how and when a couple can canoodle.
But before we get that dreidel rolling, it’s important to note that Orthodox Judaism covers a wide spectrum of sects; from the ultra-conservative (Hasidism) to the more secular (Modern Orthodoxy).
Then add to the mix the difference between growing up Jewish in a big city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and being raised in a small town.
Urbanites can take for granted the 24/7 availability of Jewish food, theater, educational and cultural organizations and houses of worship.
Orthodox are prohibited from having sex or touching when the woman is on her period.
But what I explained to him was that it’s not uncommon for stricter Orthodox men and women not to touch, sit next to, or even look directly at members of the opposite sex who are not his or her spouse or family.
On the flip side, many Modern Orthodox women let their Jewish locks flow in all their glory.
“Hair is not inherently promiscuous or private,” explained one of my Orthodox sources, “but it becomes something that is a symbol of privacy.” Basically, covering your hair is a way to let people know you’re off the market.
Orthodoxy, like Christians, Muslims, and other Judaic sects, dictates abstinence before the covenant of marriage... “This was a lot easier to do when people got married at 18,” acknowledged one of the Modern Orthodox women I spoke to.
And while premarital sex is not condoned, “the sexual relationship between a married couple is very important in Judaism and is considered a mitzvah,” or good deed, she said; and that sex should enable “a couple to relate better and have a full loving experience.” Many of the practices around sex relate back to the principle of modesty, which is big in Orthodoxy.