Ancient tradition in the modern day
Published: Thursday, January 16, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 16, 2014 23:01
The Texas A&M Hillel Jewish Student Center will play host Friday evening — and for many Friday evenings to come — to Ruth Tsuria, communication graduate student, who will be leading a weekly lecture series titled “Love and Sex in Judaism.” The series will follow the first couples and first relationships throughout the Jewish scriptures to tease apart how these ancient texts apply to the modern world.
“We wanted to have a course that would expose our students to the rich history of Jewish texts,” said Matt Rosenberg, rabbi of the Texas A&M Hillel Jewish Student Center. “Judaism is a religion based on study, and about learning and figuring things out for oneself. The word ‘Israel’ means ‘to argue with God’. We are a people that actively struggle with the text. For us, it is that delving and struggling that makes Judaism so meaningful.”
When the idea for the course first came to him and Tsuria, Rosenberg said they wanted to craft an enjoyable introduction to the Jewish scriptures for people who might not be familiar with these complex texts. In the search for a topic that would be both relevant and interesting to the community, Rosenberg said love and sex seemed to be the perfect fit.
“We think it will be eye-opening for our students to see that Judaism sees sex and love quite differently than what they’ve been exposed to in Western media,” Rosenberg said. “We don’t have the concept of original sin — love and sexual pleasure are very important in the Jewish tradition. We don’t think our students have been exposed to this level of study as adults. It’s certainly not something you’d learn about in Sunday school.”
Rosenberg said his intent is for college students to be able to delve into these mature topics along with someone who is not only an expert on the text, but has a passion for it as well.
That expert, Tsuria, finished her bachelor’s degree in religious studies with a focus in Jewish philosophy, and completed three years of midrasha, or higher education, in Jerusalem.
“I grew up religious and broke away from that, but as I broke away from Judaism, the one thing that stayed with me was the study of texts,” Tsuria said. “My excitement and my passion for such study has always been with me.”
She said she is particularly excited for the course because she feels deep relationships are formed when people study together. Tsuria’s fiancé, Nick Marshall, whom she will soon marry in Israel, has been her own study partner during her preparation for the class.
“I actually first met Ruth as a study buddy, where we wanted to study Jewish mysticism together,” Marshall said. “There was one night in particular we stayed up until four o’clock in the morning debating texts, studying ancient perspectives on the things that really matter in life, the things that are timeless and eternal, that still drive the universe, on a metaphysical level and a social level as well.”
Marshall and Tsuria shared stories together of rabbis and their stories in the Talmud and explained just how easily commentary on relationships can be found even in the record of the Jewish law.
“People act their lives out according to these texts,” Marshall said. “That’s pretty powerful stuff, to tap into the rulebook of life, in its various manifestations.”
Rosenberg said even if there are only two students who are dedicated to learning every week, the class would continue, and Tsuria said she agreed wholeheartedly.
“We think of sexuality as something that shouldn’t be dealt with in religious contexts and I would like to challenge that,” Tsuria said. “We have religious texts that tell us pretty specifically what we should do and that does not make those texts less holy.”
Tsuria said she hopes she can aid students in using current lenses to look at the texts and ask themselves how they understood them in the context of what is known now about sex and love.
“People coming should expect a lot of excitement, and a lot of love from me,” Tsuria said. “We’ll deal with very basic texts at this level, so people don’t need to have any prior knowledge, only come with an open mind, willing to hear and willing to participate. I can give you a teaser — that the first appearance of love is not what you think it is.”
The class is free for students and will begin Friday, recurring every Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Hillel on George Bush Drive.