Jay Michaelson
Hasidism and Homoeroticism, p.3

In Mea Shearim, the oldest haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem, the pre-sabbath mikva has been expanded to a wild extreme. I visited a complex with a traditional schvitz (steam room) combined with three mikvas (warm, hot, and scalding) and group showers. Old men, young men, adolescents, and boys filled the complex, with far more personal body contact than I saw even in the Turkish bathhouses of Europe. In the schvitz, it was not unusual for a man to bend over, hand the man behind him the traditional platza branches, and ask him to whip him with it - or, as an alternative, to hand the man a soapy rag and ask for a massage.

I have no interest in S&M, and so have only seen it practiced a few times - most recently, in fact, at the GSC summit. There was, as far as I could see, little phenomenological difference between what I saw there and what I saw at the Mea Shearim schvitz. Again, no "sex." But the whipping sound, followed by passionate sighs from the man being whipped. The occasional grunts of "harder." The smells, the naked men.

Were any of the men in Mea Shearim aroused? Not that I could see. There were a few obviously gay men there, men whose eyes roved downwards when they looked at you. One man came into my shower stream (there were plenty of other shower heads available) and started up a conversation with me, frequently and obviously looking down at my crotch several times. Actually, we had a hilarious miscommunication. He asked me, in Hebrew, if I was nasui, a word I couldn't quite remember, but knew sounded similar to "experienced." I asked him to repeat himself, and he made the universal gesture for sex - a forefinger entering a ring made by the other hand's thumb and forefinger. I was at a loss for words, until I remembered that nasui meant married, and the sign he was making was that of a wedding ring going onto a finger.

Presumably, when I answered that I wasn't married, he knew he'd figured me out, since there are few reasons why a thirty-something man wouldn't be married.

As with Lag B'Omer, the eroticism of the Mea Shearim shvitz/mikva was undeniable - these were not just naked men, they were naked men with other naked men, working with the bodies of naked men -- and yet it was so thoroughly embedded into the culture there that there was nothing unusual about it. I didn't see anyone look particularly awkward or embarrassed, and I never saw anyone touching someone else outside of the appropriate ways. There were no erections and only a few leers. But this was among the queerest places I had ever visited.

3.      Homoeroticism does not cure homophobia

There's a common, self-satisfied claim in the gay community that everyone is queer to some degree, and that "straight" people (again, not heterosexual, but straight) are just not in touch with their queer sides, and if they were, we wouldn't have so much homophobia in the world. This claim is somewhat absurd, but it also has some merit to it. Clearly, all of us have heterosexual and homosexual attractions. The question is what we do about it.

[1]       [2]       3       [4]       [5]       [next->]
Image: Andy Alpern

July 2004

Jews, Goddesses
and the Zohar
Jill Hammer

Hasidism and Homoeroticism
Jay Michaelson

Lag B'Omer:
Sound & Image

Andy Alpern and
Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit

Ari Belenkiy

One Ring Zero
Paul Fischer

Josh's Jury Duty
Josh Ring

Our 480 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
Spring/Summer 2004 issue now on sale!

About Zeek

Mailing List

Contact Us


Tech Support



From previous issues:

Becoming Jewish-ish
Jeff Leavell

Elephant Memory
Jay Michaelson

Niles Goldstein