Penn Hillel’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex Shabbat’ Is An Unusually Frank and Open Approach to the Topic

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Let’s talk about sex, rebbe.

The at-times taboo topic of sex will be the focus of Shabbat at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel on Feb. 26.
The Jewish Renaissance Project (JRP), a Penn Hillel initiative, will host its third annual “Let’s Talk About Sex Shabbat,” where hundreds of students will engage in discussions about the Torah and hooking up, followed by a large party.
“I think that our goal as JRP staff is to encourage students to have the chutzpah to ask and respond to difficult questions,” said Rabbi Joshua Bolton, the senior educator at Penn Hillel. “This is a sensitive and potentially very powerful opportunity to consider some really important questions about what it means to be a young person on a college campus in the 21st century.”
JRP is made up of about 40 students who get together weekly for gatherings dedicated to Jewish learning. They also hold activities on- and off-campus. For “Let’s Talk About Sex Shabbat,” the JRP staff distributed questions and texts to help facilitate discussions about everything from dealing with sex in the Torah to nakedness, drunken hook-ups and the proposition that Jews don’t merely seek orgasms, but are on a quest for the transcendent experience of being with another person.
The rabbi told the Exponent there are no right or wrong answers when participating in this particular exercise.
“This is about Hillel’s mission to foster the Jewish growth and also human growth,” Bolton said. “There are questions that we are exploring through Jewish perspectives and Jewish angles. I don’t presume that the texts have answers for everyone.”
Penn students Julia Sokoloff and her roommate Katie Schlager are members of JRP and are hosting friends for Sex Shabbat. Sokoloff, 20, a sophomore, spoke to the Exponent about the upcoming program.
She recalled how she has talked with several Jewish and non-Jewish friends about intermarriage, when to date someone in or out of your religion and hooking up with someone that is or isn’t Jewish. In order to have an informed and vibrant conversation, the girls conducted a survey titled “What Women Are Wine-ing About” with 15 of their girlfriends. The survey focused on questions about intimacy, dating and marriage.
The questions included:
  • Which religions do you identify with?
  • Do you find it important that a person you make out with, date or have sex with be the same religion as you?
  • At what stage in a relationship does religion become an important factor to consider in a significant other?
  • How important is it to your parents and grandparents that you date and marry someone of the same religion?
They discussed the results with their female friends on Shabbat on Feb. 12; they did the same thing with their male friends the following week.
“When they come to Penn, people’s parents are stressing to find a nice Jewish boy,” Sokoloff said. “Jewish people really want to marry someone Jewish. The first thing my mother asks is: ‘Is he Jewish?’ ”
She has noticed Jews and Catholics typically want to marry within their religion, while other Christians are indifferent.
“I’m looking forward to see how this generation really differs from this past generation,” she said.
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