Two weeks ago I sat on the rug at the Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Rochester and watched Dar being turned into a monk: his head shaved, his clothes set aside for orange robes. At the corner of the room a huge TV screen hung next to large golden statues of the Buddha. A computer, printer, and large stacks of printing paper sat on shelves. One of the monks checked his iphone, sent a quick text. Incense burned, filling the room with its sweet scent. Dar knelt in the middle of the row with his brother, brother in law, nephew and a cousin. The monks chanted the guttural sounds of Sanskrit, instructing the five new monks when to bow down and touch their foreheads to the floor.
Safe home earlier this week, I sat over coffee with a friend and found myself expounding yet again how difficult not touching Dar for twenty-something hours had been for me. I handed a spoon to my friend to demonstrate how I resorted to tricks in order to feel that Dar and I are at least touching the same object. My friend laughed and returned the spoon. “In orthodox Judaism,” she commented, “you couldn’t do that.”
I’ve always known that orthodox Jews do not touch women other than their wives, and that they do not touch their wives around the time of menstruation. But touching the same object? How can that be a sin? My friend had grown up in an orthodox family, however, and her authority seemed indisputable. A quick internet check revealed much more about the prohibition of touch: Orthodox men and women indeed cannot touch or handle the same object. Nor can they eat from the same plate, serve each other food, or sleep together. I don’t think I could survive that. I believe in Gretchen Rubin’s “hug more, kiss more, touch more” rule of happiness, and in my relationship with Dar (and with my family and friends) I religiously follow it.
The spoon was all his sister’s idea. At luncheon on the second day of the funeral weekend, we waited for the eight monks (the three real monks and the five monks for a day) to finish eating first, as required by tradition. From where I sat at our table I could not see Dar and vehemently complained about the injustice. “You can have him hold one side of a spoon while you hold the other,” Mouly slyly suggested.
I was tired and irrationally mad at Dar. I was angry with him for agreeing to be a monk, for feeling bound by those rules, for leaving me by myself at night and sleeping at the temple, and for looking so incredibly cute in his bald head and monk’s robes. As he came by our table, I thrust the spoon at him, and he instinctively took hold of the other side. We were both holding the same spoon. And according to the Jewish law, there was touch.
And let me tell you, it was not enough.