If I were to post every college paper post I’ve read even the past month on the issue of rape culture, I’d crash my server. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic, which makes sense given its far reaching implications. Rape culture is framing the entire concept of what relationships are on college campuses, and ultimately becomes the concept that young adults will have about relationships for their entire lives. Essentially, the modern relationship is defined purely in terms of sex. Consensual sex is there, there’s a relationship. If not, you’re just friends. This is what affirmative consent is all about: a mutual shared relationship of values and goals, and being able to read the other person, is not enough, because none of these soft connections are the ‘real relationship’. In order to have this ‘real relationship’, you must reaffirm it every single time, since the emotional and cognitive understanding of the other person simply isn’t sufficient, and without it you are forcing another person not just into an unwanted act, but an unwanted relationship.
Perhaps another paradigm is in order, a paradigm that is based on something other than physicality. That would be the paradigm of Yitzhak and Rivka. The marriage of Yitzhak and Rivka was arranged, and yet it’s the one story in the Torah that really deals with the concept of courtship. Yitzhak is spiritually preparing himself for marriage. Rivka puts on a veil before meeting him for the first time, quickly establishing boundaries in the relationship. They get married, he brings her into his house, and then he loves her, and he is comforted for the loss of his mother. Why? Because Yitzhak saw that Rivka had the same shared values as his family, and that the miracles that went away when his mother passed away reappeared when Rivka came in. Intimacy was certainly part of their relationship; they are described in the next parsha (Rashi on Gn. 26:8) as ‘joking’ with each other, which is a euphemism for intimacy. Still, it’s not mentioned at the beginning of their life together because it’s not the foundational concept.
How then could I call this a ‘new’ paradigm? The Torah is 3,300 years old. This is what is generally called the ‘traditional view’ of marriage. Not so. The Torah actually mentions what the original definition of marriage was, and it is much closer to the ‘modern’ definition. This is found in Dt. 24:1: If a man should take a woman, and consummates the relationship, and she doesn’t find favor in his eyes….he should write her a bill of divorce…”. See how the Torah defines it: a relationship based purely on sex will end up having major problems. It very much reminds me of Meatloaf’s* ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ where the guy does everything to convince the girl to sleep with him, including promising to marry her, only to “pray for the end of time so he can end his time with her.” The ‘new paradigm’ is the relationship paradigm: build the relationship on shared goals and values, and push physicality off until it’s a true relationship builder, as part of marriage, rather than all of the other various things it can be outside of that context.
*This should not in any way be seen as an endorsement of Meatloaf’s music. Such a thing will not be coming from this College Rabbi.