The University of Rhode Island’s Hillel Center launched the first installment of its radical discussions on risqué subjects within the Jewish faith last Thursday night.

Entitled “Taboo Talks,” the discussion was the first in a three-part informative discussion series to start a dialog on how the books of worship influence and view certain behaviors. The first installment, “Sex in the Text,” created an open conversation on different passages from the Torah that contain sexual themes and the ways in which they can be interpreted and learned from.

Jessica Lowenthal, the Rabbinic intern for URI, hosted the talk on Feb. 25. She began the evening by asking everyone to share a story about a time in their lives where they have experienced an awkward date, Freudian slip or unintentional innuendo that left them a little embarrassed. After the icebreaker, Lowenthal introduced the focus for the evening: sex scenes in scripture. Everyone in attendance then participated in a close reading and analysis of two particular passages that Lowenthal found to contain content that proved to be both insightful and controversial.

The first passage observed was Genesis 34, more commonly known as the “Rape of Dinah.” In this passage of scripture, Shechem, a Hivite Prince, presumably rapes Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah.

Afterward, Shechem falls in love with Dinah and seeks her hand in marriage. But having learned of the rape, Jacob is unsettled by the news. Jacob maintains his composure until his sons arrive and in the end, and two of Dinah’s brothers slaughter the Hivites as an act of vengeance for their sister’s virginity.

After reading, Lowenthal opened the floor to conversation on what a woman’s virginity meant during this time period and how a woman’s only option after being raped would be to marry her rapist because of how consecrated virginity was.  

The second passage observed was Genesis 38, which focuses on the custom of Levirate Marriage—a type of marriage in which the brother of the deceased is obligated to marry his brother’s widow and sire a male heir in the name of the brother.

Lowenthal focused on this passage the most, further explaining how without her virginity, a woman did not have any value and would have to be passed to her husband’s brother in the event of his death in order to protect and provide for her.

The informational discussion captured examples of controversial subject material within the Torah, and proved to be a key introduction to the “Taboo Talks” series that will further explore interesting issues, requirements around sex and marriage and relevant material that is often left out of Hebrew School teachings.  

The next talk in the series will be “Booze and Jews” on Thursday, March 3, at 5:30 p.m. in the Hillel Center on Fraternity Circle, followed by “Dating Outside the Tribe—a Discussion on Interfaith Dating” sometime in the upcoming weeks. “Taboo Talks” are Lowenthal’s first major event of this semester, and she welcomes anyone who is interested to attend.