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Do I have to break up with my girlfriend in order to become more Torah observant?

by Rabbi Baruch Emanuel Erdstein

  

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As many of us in this generation are becoming inspired to reconnect to our Jewish roots, the guidelines and commandments of the Torah aren’t always so easy to immediately incorporate into our daily lives. At the same time, much of a Torah lifestyle, as dictated by the Sages, is not fully understood or appreciated from a distance, i.e. just by reading about it; a person actually needs to experience the rhythms and flavor of a life experienced in accordance with Divine principles in order to gain the clarity and blessings provided by the Torah.

With intimate relationships these issues become all the more sensitive. On the one hand, we may want to strengthen our observance of the commandments, like prayer, eating Kosher, keeping the holidays, giving charity – even the guidelines regarding modesty and “Family Purity” – but are wary of alienating a person we might deeply care about—especially a potential life-partner. On the other hand, abstaining from physical intimacy and even daily casual contact until marriage (i.e. not living together even if not intimately), are general principles of a life of holiness in Jewish tradition.

A commitment to G-d and the Torah means being on the path, always growing. A person who takes upon himself more than he/she can really handle (now be brutally honest) runs the risk of crashing hard. We must come to know ourselves and the environment in which we’ve placed ourselves to recognize which new aspects of Judaism we are ready to take on and are really presently sustainable. 
Regarding your partner’s feelings, don’t forget: “[The Torah’s] paths are paths of peace.” This message is twofold: 1) whatever we do in our efforts to get closer to G-d must be thought out carefully; we don’t want to cause unnecessary pain or hurt another. However, 2) by observing the Torah’s commandment properly, we find an inner clarity – especially regarding issues surrounding sexuality and relationships.

Whatever we do in our efforts to get closer to G-d must be thought out carefully; we don’t want to cause unnecessary pain or hurt another
If you have a healthy relationship built upon respect and trust, reserving physical intimacy for your partner in marriage shouldn’t be such a problem – indicating that you may really be meant for each other, in the framework of a life-long commitment; and if not, you may find that the distance strengthens you to realize that your time and energy is better spent otherwise (or pursuing a more meaningful relationship with much greater potential). So many people waste years involved in unfruitful relationships, due to the lack the clarity caused by their lack of restraint and focus, unable to separate.

For this reason every one of us, especially those living in a primarily secular environment, needs additional support from the greater Torah-observant community. Whether online, or connected to a local synagogue or rabbi/friend, each of us can become strengthened – and gain valuable perspective – regarding such important issues as interpersonal relationships.

So don’t be afraid of taking your girlfriend to a Torah class or including her in your Shabbat plans. Both of you can only gain by pursuing your Jewish roots and your search for truth. If she respects you, she should understand and value your interests, especially one as profound as your heritage. If dealt with in a sensitive and truthful manner, both you and she will gain the necessary clarity to pursue your interest in Judaism and, perhaps, your relationship—hopefully soon within a Torah-observant context.


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COMMENTS

great article

Posted by: bp on Oct 29, 2006

I thought this was a really sensitive and well-thought out article on a very tricky subject. It is very easy easy to fall into extreme stances on this subject: "I shouldn't change my life at all, it will hurt my parter" or "I need to change my life NOW in order to follow Torah, it doesn't matter who I hurt." I thought the section on the "paths of peace" was inspiring. Thank you for this article.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Repentance
Holidays » Yom Kippur » Repentance

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.