A kosher beach is, of course, one where men and women are separated. All major coastal cities in Israel have cordoned-off kosher beaches that men and women have access to at different times. For us in Beit Shemesh, the closest kosher beach is in Ashdod, just 45 minutes away by car.
However, we have a problem with kosher beaches as I have three daughters and I can’t go with them during the men’s hours, and certainly not during the women’s hours. My wife doesn’t like the beach, while me and the kids love it! What are we to do? We go to the unofficial kosher family beach, which is usually right next to the official kosher beach.
Here religious families are under their own umbrellas and the women wear swimsuits that meet the Jewish requirements for modesty, i.e. with sleeves up to the elbows, leggings and a skirt.
So today we are going to the beach in Ashdod for the first time this year, and this time it is especially exciting because our two big girlies (7 and 5 years old) have been taking swimming lessons. Unlike in Germany, many schools in Israel do not offer swimming lessons. So here in Beit Shemesh some rich people offer swimming lessons in their private pools. “Swimming” might be an exaggerated term for what they’re doing, because Sarah and Racheli don’t swim for long. They are first learning not to be afraid of the water. You submerge your head, make bubbles, practice swimming movements, but all while standing.
So now Sarah and Racheli can finally try out their “swimming skills” in the sea.
Since the children only have school and kindergarten until 12 noon on Friday, it’s a great day to go out, even if it later leads to more stress in our preparations for Shabbat. When we come back, the kids need a shower and the apartment needs to be cleaned of all the sand we are going to bring in.
In our weekly Torah portion, we learn why the Jews are so obsessed with separating men and women:
“While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.“
The God of Israel does not like it at all, as can also be seen in many other places in the Bible, when people let their sexual instincts run free. A moral life means, above all, the control of one’s instincts and urges, and the sex urge is the strongest and most dangerous of all. Not only has it destroyed marriages and families, but also brought down empires. This is also one reason why the mark of the covenant between the people of Israel and God is in a sensitive place for men that is related to this instinct.
Jews try to bring this drive under control as much as possible, but not to deny it. You marry early, separate men and women at large gatherings, and place many other fences around this part of life. On the other hand, it is steered in the desired direction and the rabbis of the Talmud discuss the question of how often, when and how one should do it, because one should do it (with one’s spouse).
Enough of the serious talk. Here’s a little joke before we head off to Ashdod:
A grandma and grandpa came to visit their children.
One evening grandpa found a bottle of Viagra in his son’s medicine cabinet and asked for one of the pills.
His son said, “I don’t think you should take one, dad. They are very strong and very expensive.”
“How expensive?” asked grandpa. “10 dollars per pill,” replied the son.
“I don’t care,” said grandpa, “I would still like to try one, and before we go tomorrow morning, I’ll put the money under my pillow.”
The next morning, after his parents left, the son found 110 dollars under the pillow.
He called his father and said, “I told you that each pill costs 10 dollars, not 110 dollars.”
“I know,” said grandpa. “The hundred is from grandma!”