Religious women hold trailblazing conference on family sexuality

150 participants, mostly wives of rabbis affiliated with Tzohar group, discuss the intersection of Jewish life and sex education

Debra writes for the JTA, and is a former features writer for The Times of Israel.

Tzohar women at the 'Guf Rishon' conference, January 2015. (photo credit: courtesy image)
Tzohar women at the 'Guf Rishon' conference, January 2015. (photo credit: courtesy image)

Some 150 religious Jewish women, most of them wives of rabbis affiliated with the Tzohar organization, gathered this week in Holon to talk about sexuality.

The event, entitled “Guf Rishon” (First Person) was the first of its kind in Israel. Spearheaded not by the rabbis of Tzohar – which seeks to promote Jewish identity from a religious Zionism standpoint – but their wives, the gathering allowed these Orthodox women to discuss their own sexuality and that of their families in a public, supportive atmosphere.

“Sexuality is a topic that we should begin to address starting from a very young age. We need to make sure it is treated as a legitimate issue and educate our children accordingly,” said Tzofia Hirschfeld, who moderated the event. “We were pleased to find the openness of the participants, their willingness to talk about it and their acknowledgment of its importance.”

Speakers included school administrators, couple’s counselors and wives of prominent Israeli rabbis. Topics on the roster included why there is so much reticence toward sexuality within the religious community; how is sexual impulse and its physical manifestations addressed within the religious world; and the potential threats facing children who grow up without proper sex education.

The women also talked about where the responsibility for sex education lies – with parents, schools, or both, as well as the differing views of sexuality in men and women, and the perception within the religious world that women are asexual or without sexual drives.

After the panel discussions, the women were treated to a dance performance about teenage sexuality, and then a Q&A session with the dancers themselves.

“Religious society sees sexuality as an issue to dress modestly, as a very intimate and private topic … The purpose of the conference was to create change within the religious community to make sure that religious girls have proper sex education,” Hirschfeld said. “The change is already beginning, and we are delighted – we want to encourage it to grow.”

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