Okay, so first of all, if you’ve landed here from a Google blog search or a WordPress tag, you need to know that I’m not Jewish. This is actually a Christian blog, and up until about an hour ago I’d never heard the word Yichud before. Since then, I’ve been reading various internet articles, and while I’m not an expert, let me say to any Jewish readers who land here, I’m impressed with the concept.
The word and I crossed paths in a stage show review published Thursday in The Toronto Star. Longtime theatre critic Richard Ouzounian was reviewing a play bearing this word as its title, in an article titled Wedding Crashers. The husband and wife in Yichud are, in real life, also husband and wife. She grew up in Judiasm, while he converted from Roman Catholicism.
So what is Yichud? Let’s start with Wikipedia which quickly alerts us to two different definitions around which the play Yichud revolves:
…the impermissibility of seclusion of a man and a woman a private area. Such seclusion is prohibited when the man and woman are not married to each other in order to prevent the two from being tempted or having the opportunity to commit adulterous or promiscuous acts. The laws of yichud are typically followed by Orthodox Jews. Some Orthodox authorities view these laws as so strict that they may not be broken even when a life is in danger.
Okay; got that one? Then you’re ready to move on to meaning number two:
…a ritual during a Jewish wedding in which the newly married couple spends a period of time secluded in a room by themselves.
But it’s the first definition I want to return to. The prohibition finds its roots in the story of David and Tamar, as spelled out here on the website JewishMag.Com. (II Sam. 13: 1-29) The restrictions — which extend to parents and siblings — are spelled out in detail by Rabbi Howard Jachter.
[Sidebar: To my Christian readers — There is a Jewish internet world*, besides the Christian internet world. You should check it out sometime. Of course I realize this is going to come as a bit of a shock to some who didn’t realize there was a Christian internet world beyond the Calvinist internet world.]
Everybody back? I want to return now to comments that were made by Aaron Willis, the Catholic-turned-Jewish actor in the Yichud review, and his wife Julie Tepperman:
“There are so many levels of seclusion, within religion, within family, within ourselves,” says Tepperman. “I came to realize that all the laws of Judaism keep us safe. The Torah is like a blueprint for life.”
Willis adds his perspective. “My experience with Judaism is that one of the most beautiful things about it is that you experience it by doing, rather than intellectualizing. There are 613 mitzvot or commandments and every one is capable of making your life fuller and deeper.”
What strikes me there is the complete trust that — without putting too many words in their mouths — God’s rules have our best interest at heart. It reminded me of another scripture verse that may be more familiar to my regular readers:
Trust in the Lord with everything you’ve got, and don’t depend on your own rationalizing. Put Him first in every decision and He will illuminate the pathway for your journey. Prov. 3: 5,6 (my paraphrase)
When it comes to definition number two…
…What Tepperman discovered was that “many people consider the time spent there more sacred that the wedding itself…”
The play itself “revolves around an arranged marriage, where this is the first time the couple have been alone together. Originally developed by Convergence Theatre, the production transforms the entire theatre into an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue.” [Toronto Star stage play summary, Feb. 4] And yes, the various websites on the subject indicate that some couples do, in fact, do it in the Yichud room, while a greater majority would indicate no, couples do not, in fact do it in the Yichud room.
Christians believe that with the coming of Christ, we moved from a period of law into what is called the “age of grace.” However, we also believe that God is the same: In the past, in the present and in the future to come. (Hebrews 13:8 speaks specifically about Jesus, but the expansion from this to the very nature of God Himself is implicit, such that the verse is often misquoted with God as the subject.)
Do we as Christians have the same trust that God is looking out for us, as Julie indicates in her appraisal of the commands? Psalm 119 — the long Psalm — also testifies to a love of the law, with almost each of its 176 stanzas praising law, commandments, ordinances, statutes, etc.
Finally, the take-away from this for Christian parents with preteens and teens is huge. Or even non-religious parents who are trying to maintain some kind of moral or ethical standard in the home. Go back to the Rabbi Jachter link above, and show your children the rules that some teenagers live with, even in sex-saturated 2010. I’ll bet the rent that it makes whatever rules you’ve got in place at your house seem tame by comparison.
Remind them that God doesn’t view our choices as simply good or bad, but that in his view, our good choices can be overshadowed by the possibility of better choices, and that those in turn, are nothing when compared with best choices. God is looking out for our best.
Do we delight in his law to the same extent as Psalm 119 does?
*I tried to find an updated version of these 2006 awards for best Jewish blogs, but even though many of them may no longer exist, I’m posting the link anyway, because I want you to see the categories that they assign to various Jewish bloggers.