NCSY Issues A Call For Sexual Abstinence Among Jewish Teens—negiah.org
Deeply disturbed by an environment in which teenagers, including Jewish teens, are increasingly engaged in sexual experimentation, NCSY, the youth program of the Orthodox Union, today announced negiah.org, an abstinence program to convince teenagers that sexual activity before marriage should be avoided in the interests of their physical, emotional and religious well-being.
The website-based program, to be found at www.negiah.org or www.ou.org/abstinence, uses graphic and frank language to convey the risks faced by young men and women engaging in sexual experimentation. It is, according to Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, and Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, NCSY Director of Programs who prepared the text, the first abstinence website geared specifically to Jewish teens.
Negiah means “touching.” It is used as the title of the program because of the Hebrew term shomer negiah, “observing the laws regarding touching,” the Orthodox teaching that except for immediate family members, affectionate physical contact is forbidden until an individual marries.
“We are dealing with an area in which personal well-being, societal concerns and the Torah’s position all coincide,” declared Rabbi Burg. Rabbi Abramowitz, who did many months of research prior to writing the text, believes that sexual activity among teens is harmful in four ways: “physical dangers; mental and emotional hazards; the way it impacts on one’s life; and the way it impacts on one’s soul.”
“Engaging in sexual activity before one is truly ready – or ‘giving it away’ too freely – can have REAL emotional consequences,” the website says. “Some of these may pass; others can even affect your marriage years later.” These dangers include: stress; guilt; a loss of self-respect; a sense of betrayal; anger; depression; stunting of personal growth, and regret.
Noted Authorities Approve Program:
In explaining his approval of the program and of the terminology it employs, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a clinical psychologist as well as a rabbi, said: “NCSY works with teenagers where they are. Its advisors know the culture of the Jewish adolescent population firsthand, because of the climate of trust and openness that they inspire. I think it is fair to say that they know what is really happening among our teens at least as well, if not better, than many parents, rabbis and educators.”
Rabbi Weinreb continued, “Our NCSY leadership has become painfully aware of the prevalence of sexual experimentation among Jewish teens. It has become convinced that the only effective response to this troubling state of affairs is a comprehensive educational program in the modality (i.e., the Internet) and language to which our teens best relate. Thus, NCSY has developed this program, aimed to urge sexual abstinence among our children.”
Candid Talk to Teens:
Referring to the language in which the website is written, Rabbi Weinreb declared, “I am personally convinced that the problem justifies the program which is before you, in all of its candor and explicit detail.”
The website, Rabbi Weinreb explained, includes reasons to refrain from sexual experimentation; scientific descriptions of the risks to health involved; the psychological consequences; and what Rabbi Weinreb termed “the negative effects upon schooling, career, and social relationships; and the religious and spiritual hazards of such behavior.”
He emphasized, “I endorse this effort because it is necessary, and I am proud that NCSY, an Orthodox Jewish organization, has chosen to be among the pioneers in developing such programs.” He praised Rabbi Burg “for courageously supporting this program,” and Rabbi Abramowitz, “for developing the entire presentation with his characteristic thoroughness, creativity and sensitivity.”
Another seal of approval for the program was provided by Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva (Talmudic Dean) at Yeshiva University, and posek (halachic consultant) for OU Kosher. Rabbi Schachter reviewed the material and praised it for being impactful and appropriate. He noted that the language was straightforward for the sake of the teens for whom it is intended, but not so graphic as to render it too unsuitable for observant teens to read.
Still further approval has been given by medical and mental health professionals, including David Pelcovitz, Ph.D. and David Hurwitz, M.D. Dr. Pelcovitz is an author and a nationally-recognized authority on parenting, adolescent development, and other child-related issues and serves as Professor of Education and Psychology at Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education. Dr. Hurwitz, a graduate of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, with a background of 25 years in private pediatric practice. He is also a former NCSY National President.
Jewish Law of Abstinence:
In the website text, Rabbi Abramowitz declares, “Simply put, abstinence means to refrain from sexual activity.” He explains that halacha, Jewish law, “does not permit any intimate or affectionate contact between men and women who are not married to one another.”
The website acknowledges that in our sex-drenched culture, “deciding to abstain can be easier said than done. It may be hard, but you will find that abstinence can be far more rewarding than you imagine. Abstinence doesn’t just happen by itself, and just saying ‘no’ isn’t much of a strategy. You have to think about it, plan a course of action, and stick to it.” The program then provides strategies for success.
A problem in preaching abstinence is that teens’ judgments are not yet mature. Teens have “an adult body with adult hormones, but they are still maturing,” which makes abstinence even tougher, the website says.
The website explores the various aspects of achieving “real commitment” and of avoiding the dangers of sexual experimentation. Key sections include such topics as pregnancy, STDs (including those that can be transmitted orally), the correlation between sexual activity and suicide rates, and more. There are a number of surprising facts and statistics to be found. For example, according to the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, 49 percent of girls in grades six through nine reported that they considered it acceptable for a man to force a woman to engage in sexual intercourse if they have been dating for at least six months.
Joseph -- A Biblical Role Model:
Because negiah.org is the first abstinence website created specifically for Jewish teens, it contains some unique material. This includes the story of Joseph (the Biblical role model for abstinence); a discussion of the Jewish concept of family purity; and a lesson on “Real Love” from Pirkei Avot (the “Ethics of the Fathers”), which Rabbi Abramowitz calls “perhaps the most important D’var Torah (Torah lesson) a teen could ever hear.”
“Real love puts the other person’s needs first. If anyone ever says, ‘If you love me, you’d do X, Y and Z,’ walk away, because they don’t really love you. Someone who truly loves you would not ask you to do something you thought was wrong.”
Evaluating the abstinence program, Rabbi Burg, the NCSY National Director, declares: “Sexual experimentation is a real problem among teens. I’m proud that NCSY is the first organization to address this issue specifically as it pertains to Jewish teenagers.”