Friday, December 16, 2011

I and Thou

My son’s oral history project took him to a local landmark; a druggist turned ice-cream parlor, to interview the current owner. Along with the marble counter and barstools stood a wooden turn-of-the-(last)-century phone booth. Teens had been in the past week and puzzled over this oddity: why would anyone close themselves in a little room to make a phone call?

Even before technology changed our definition of personal, a dramatic shift in mores had begun. Women stopped wearing gloves; post-JFK, men no longer donned hats; soon, more than just arms were bared. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” said prevailing wisdom. It was just a matter of time before TV replaced the psychiatrist’s couch, as people shared the deeply personal with millions of viewers.

Judaism has always had a different ethos. Many of the peak moments of our heroes’ lives occurred away from the public eye, between man and G-d: Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah; Jacob wrestling with the angel; Moses on Mount Sinai; Aaron in the Holy of Holies. No klieg lights, no press or paparazzi, just “I and Thou.”
The same is true of the Jewish marriage. It’s not shame that keeps us quiet on matters of the bedroom, but the understanding that holiness and blessing dwell most harmoniously where there is privacy.

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