by Rivkah Blau
A writer of non-fiction for the general community has to know the topic well; a writer for the observant Jewish community has an additional requirement – to understand that Jewish law, halacha, informs our decisions and actions.
To write about such a sensitive topic as talking about intimacy with one’s children, we need a psychologist who has experience teaching children. For Jewish perspectives on genetic diseases we require a doctor who is up on the latest research in genetics. For both topics, the authors should know thehalacha, present primary Torah sources, and consult rabbis on difficult questions. Fortunately, Bernard Scharfstein at Ktav Publishing House found the appropriate authors at the moment we really need books on these two subjects.
Dr. Yocheved Debow is the perfect author for the first book, Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents. She has a BA in psychology and education and an MA in child clinical and school psychology from Hebrew University, and a Ph.D. from Bar Ilan, where her research was on sexuality and intimacy education in the Modern Orthodox community.
She worked with elementary school and high school students at yeshivot in the United States, and together with Dr. Anna Woloski-Wruble wrote a curriculum for Grades 3-8, “Life Values and Intimacy Education: Health Education for the Elementary School.” She enjoyed a thorough Torah education in her years at Michlalah, the Jerusalem Torah College for Women, and works with post-high school students as academic principal at Midreshet Emunah v’Omanut in Jerusalem.
Her awareness of what parents might find difficult points to a most important qualification: she and her husband are the parents of six children, several of them already teenagers. Her empathy for parents and children is remarkable.
Dr. Debow understands how uncomfortable it is to initiate a discussion about sexuality. She recognizes the impact of the majority culture and the need to “inoculate” our children. She anticipates what kids will ask and knows from teaching many classes “The Central Questions Our Children Are Asking.”
She provides sample conversations, not for parents to follow line by line but to serve as a template on which parents can build what they want to say. Between clear titles, a good index, and summaries at the end of each section, she makes it easy to find the information a reader wants. She thinks that educating about intimacy is the responsibility of both parents, and that it is necessary for sons as well as daughters.
The chapter on “Tzniut” is brilliant. Her chapters on “Body Image” and “Eating Disorders” should help prevent anorexia and bulimia. The chapter on “Sexual Harassment and Abuse” should be equally helpful in stopping this scourge in our community.
She is alive to the temptations one faces in a co-ed school, camp, or youth movement, and gives an honest, well-reasoned argument for being (in a term teenagers use for a boy not touching a girl and vice versa) shomer negi’ah.
Though she discusses difficult areas, the focus of her book is on enjoying a halachic life and a healthy Torah approach to pleasure. She ends her text on a high note with a memorable explanation of “kedoshim tehiyu,” you shall be holy (Vayikra 19.2).
This review originally appeared in the Jewish Press.