Religion, Social Norms and a Virgin in Our Midst

6 11 2010

Yair and I both grew up in the Jewish religious community, me perhaps a bit more sheltered than him.  In my social circle, it was the norm for guys and girls who were not close relatives not to even high-five or hug in accordance with religious law and tradition governing physical interactions between the sexes.  Almost none of my friends even considered having sex before marriage and – in a way – I viewed society as a dichotomy between “the Jewish world” and “the secular world”, with the secular world synonymous with MTV and sexual licentiousness.

While I have since developed a more nuanced understanding of different cultures and value systems, many of our current friends are not very religiously inclined and are – how shall I put this – fairly wanton and open in their lifestyles.  Which is why it surprised me last week when a friend from the dance studio in his early 20s mentioned that not only is he a virgin who is waiting until marriage, but he also wouldn’t be physical in any way with someone with whom he is not in a serious relationship.  He is perhaps the only devout Catholic that I know, as opposed to the “Well, I used to be Catholic but lapsed…” stereotype.

My immediate reaction (inside my head) was “Are you serious?!  What a prude!”  But I realized that if someone from the Orthodox Jewish community said this, then it would make perfect sense and I wouldn’t question the statement.  If it was a girl from any background, then it would seem reasonable and be expected as well.  But to come from a socially-normal, attractive and heck of a dancer guy in his 20s was surprising to say the least.  I guess somewhere in my subconscious that world view of religious Jewish community vs. the rest of the world and social expectations of men vs. women was still somewhat in place.

After the initial shock of the statement wore off, I started identifying more with what he said as I grew up on those values.  How nice it must be to be friends with someone and know that they value you and respect the friendship as only that and not more.  What a nice contrast to the rest of society where lines are blurry, feelings are so often hurt and morality is subjective.  I think that I’ll always feel a soft spot for the societal norms and values with which I was raised but – even if they don’t 100% resonate with me now – it was still refreshing to befriend someone who holds them so dear.

posted by ayo

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