Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Genius of Judaism: Balancing Pleasure

[a Sabbath table.]

Scientists have discovered a section of the brain which causes intense feelings of pleasure when stimulated, electrically or chemically. Wouldn’t it be great if, whenever we wanted to, we could stimulate that area of the brain and feel intense pleasure, beyond anything normally experienced?

We can. Methamphetamine is a chemical which very powerfully stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. If someone were right now to give you an intravenous injection of about 500 milligrams of methamphetamine dissolved in water you would probably be in a state of euphoria for about the next twelve hours.

So why don’t we all go out, buy a big box of meth and live happily ever after? All our problems would be solved!

The reason is because pleasure is very dangerous. People who actually do go out and buy a big box of meth or similar chemicals end up so absorbed by their euphoria (or “high”) that they forget about everything else – eating, hygiene, working, family responsibilities, everything. They quickly become homeless thieves, beggars and prostitutes before finally dying. (This is why, by the way, you cannot buy meth legally in the United States.)

The same is true of anything which gives us pleasure, whether it may be food, gambling, video games, sex, even exercise. We can become obsessed with anything giving us pleasure and neglect important spiritual, physical, emotional, social and financial needs. Pleasure can be very dangerous. Supposedly, a Puritan is someone who is deathly afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun. They may have had a point.

So perhaps we need to nip all pleasure in the bud and become ascetics. We must go off to a monastery and avoid all pleasure.

Of course, this extreme could make life boring and depressing plus we would not have children. There must be a better middle path.

I think that the Torah shows us that path. We drink alcoholic beverages, but at home, with friends, in moderation. We have sex, but only with our spouses and only with mutual consent and there are certain periods of abstinence. We have a holiday each week – the Sabbath and many other holidays throughout the year, but we work hard too.

I think this is another example of the genius of Judaism – balance and moderation in life, so that we function to our greatest potential. Of course, what else would we expect from a self-help book written by our Creator Himself?


OSM said...

More touchy-feely claptrap.

Al pi halacha, a man can have several wives and no periods of abstinence is necessary, assuming they don't all get their periods at once.

Drug use is assur due to venishmartem es nafshoseichem, not kadosh atzmecha bemutar lach.

But, hey, that's cool, JP. Convince yourself that Torah invented self-restraint and that all nonreligious people are out humping everything they see. Just don't ever get outside your daled amos, you might have a breakdown.

jewish philosopher said...

"a man can have several wives"

The rabbis teach "increasing wives increases witchcraft" and "all your actions should be for spiritual reason". There are no devout Jewish Hugh Hefners. In fact, the number of polygamists can probably be counted on your fingers. Basically, only the Biblical kings practiced it.

"Torah invented self-restraint"

I didn't say that. I said the Torah teaches balance.

"all nonreligious people are out humping everything they see"

I didn't say that either, but it sounds like you feel guilty about something. Care to share anything?

OSM said...

Ever heard of sefardim with multiple wives? Are they biblical kings, then? Warlocks maybe? Learn a little about those cultures before embarrassing yourself with your lack of knowledge.

What am I feeling guilty about? Reading your blog and imagining that this is how all frum Jews think. I must atone by self-flagellation.

jewish philosopher said...

I wrote "We have sex, but only with our spouses and only with mutual consent and there are certain periods of abstinence."

Sefardim don't do that? And how many today have more than one wife? How many ever did?

"Reading your blog"

Who is forcing you to?

SJ said...

read my blog.

jewish philosopher said...

SJ, you don’t know what the word asceticism means: a life-style characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures (especially sexual activity and consumption of alcohol) often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals.

In contrast, Judaism mandates sex and alcohol, perhaps the only religion to do so.

Anonymous said...

Clearly Judaism is not a good choice for sex addicts or alcoholics, as it would encourage those people to indulge in their own vices.

jewish philosopher said...

I think that after a period of abstinence sex addicts can have sex again. Regarding alcohol, if someone has a health problem with alcohol he would be exempt from those requirements. Usually grape juice can be substituted for wine. A similar question arises for Christian regarding communion wine.

Anonymous said...

umm, in regards to the whole polygamy only being practiced by kings:
Up until the time of Rabbeinu Gershom (I think tis something like c. 1100 CE - not totally sure though) polygamy was totally allowed and practiced. And the thing about "increase in wives increases witchcraft" I believe only applied to more than 3 wives (again, gotta check my sources - but I'm pretty sure that that is what it is referring to)

jewish philosopher said...

Polygamy was permitted to anyone, however I don't believe it was very widely practiced.

Anonymous said...

Every once in a while I browse the jewish blog-scene and saw a link to this post, read through the comments and ended up here.

Here's the thing:

As a very frum woman with several years of research under her belt, as well as grad and post-grad degrees in history, etc., I know the answer to the question of how widely practiced polygamy was. Actually, you don't need a degree to clarify the issue: ask a Rav.
I don't think you'll like the answer.

jewish philosopher said...

I'm curious. What percentage of Jewish men have had how many wives?

Anonymous said...

Good question - there is no real way to accurately calculate percentages. What I think you will find interesting is that polygamy wasn't just socially acceptable, it was the norm, up until the time of Rabbeinu Gershom assering it. There were many factors that led to it's decline - spread of christianity, eonomics, etc.- but basically it was as jewish as keeping shabbos and kosher to have more than one wife. Of course, the wealthier the man, the more wives, etc.

This is an instance of a commenter, an anonymous commenter, agreeing with you. It shows how the rabbanim acted in the best interests of the community, to "live with the times" .

postscript: Before you ask, yes, there were those who objected. Loudly and with seemingly valid arguments. Notice that we still practice monogamy.

jewish philosopher said...

To the best of my knowledge, polygamy has always been a rarity among Jews.

Anonymous said...

Today, yes. Then, no.

jewish philosopher said...

Sources, please?