A chosen commitment

Rabbi Avremi Yarmush, 27, did not touch his girlfriend of nearly 10 years until their wedding day. She is the only woman he has ever touched that he is not directly related to, he says.

Yarmush, who leads Western’s Chabad student organization, says he follows the traditional Jewish law “Shomer Negiah,” which prohibits him from touching members of the opposite sex who are not in his immediate family.

Shomer Negiah was created by rabbis as a way to protect the unity, purity and strength of each Jewish family, Yarmush says. He and his wife are tightly bonded because of their fidelity and because she is the only woman he has ever known sensually, he says.

“Since I have these rules, it is going to stay that way,” Yarmush says. “It is a bond that is past, present and future that is extremely strong.”

Shomer Negiah is one of many religious boundaries observed by students and faculty at Western who subscribe to a variety of beliefs. Some have adopted a vegetarian diet and others refrain from drinking coffee, tea or alcohol. Some people donate a certain amount of their earnings or volunteer most of their free time to help others. Organized religion provides guidelines for its members that range from actions to lifestyles.

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An undefined language

A white plastic crucifix submerged in yellow liquid appears to glow through the 1987 photograph by artist Andres Serrano.

Known as “Piss Christ,” Western art professor Garth Amundson says the shock-value photograph caused a scandal among religious communities as well as artists.
“When you looked at it, it really was just a cross submerged in a yellow fluid; you didn’t know the didactic, and you could get kind of lost in the beauty of it,” Amundson says.

Didactic art is intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment. Upon reading the caption of “Piss Christ,” the definition turns to challenge social norms, Christianity and organized religion, Amundson says.

Western Gallery director and art professor Sarah Clark-Langager says art changes so continuously that it is difficult to qualify. Art can be described as a visual way of writing, she says.

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