I don't know what it is about me and rabbis. Even though I'm what most of them would call a "shameless harlot," we usually get along great. There was my intense mentor-student connection with Rabbi Ivan Caine who taught me to read the Bible in ancient Hebrew. Then there was my flirtatious relationship with Har Zion Synagogue Rabbi Gerald Wolpe and his four strapping sons. Both Rabbis Caine and Wolpe presided at my wedding to Max (a Catholic who converted to Judaism "because you only have to confess once a year"). And now here's Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an ex-Lubavitcher Rabbi who's written a book with the clever title Kosher Sex.
I like all these rabbis because they've all been very smart, of course; that's to be expected. But they've also all been very sexy, in a chicken soupy sort of way. Also, I like them because I could talk about the Bible with them, which I enjoy almost as much as talking about sex. And talking about sex in the Bible, well, that's my kind of hot talk. And it's hottest with a rabbi. I'm sure if I were Catholic, I'd have had a few significant priests in my life.
The first boy with whom I had sex is now a Lubavitcher Rabbi. Ricky and I met at Camp Ramah, a summer Eden for spoiled young suburban Jews in the Poconos. We were rehearsing "The Sound of Music" in Hebrew. I played a nun. He played a butler (foreshadowing Max!) We fell in love while we were waiting to go on. We kissed in the moonlight, then proceeded to spend every minute we could together. Together, we spent a weekend with the Lubavitchers, a sect of very orthodox New York Jews, which Ricky loved and I hated because he got to dance with the guys in the synagogue and I had to sit upstairs behind a glass partition with a bunch of sedentary ladies in wigs and headscarves.
Eventually, Ricky and I had sex in his parents' bed in their apartment in Miami Beach. It was great. I didn't have an orgasm, but then, I didn't know from orgasms. All I knew was that he felt good to me, better and more real than anything thus far in my shallow, yearning, suburban existence. We were in love. Then his parents found out about us having sex. One of their friends had seen us go into a clinic to get birth control, and when we got home, they were waiting for us, frowns on their faces. His father took Ricky into the bedroom and had a talk about being a man and using condoms. His mother hustled me into the kitchen, called me a "cheap whore" (she'd rather Ricky have sex with a pricey call-girl?), and told me that if she ever caught me near her son, she'd tell my mother and my rabbi and my guidance counselor at school what a "cheap whore" I was. Ricky and I stopped speaking to each other. We were just too young and scared to buck this system. I was an A student bound for Yale. I couldn't bear to be known as a whore, regardless of price. I spent the next year studying hard and being anorexic, going down in weight to 72 pounds. When I went to Israel that summer, Ricky had a new girlfriend. Her name was Gail Susan Block, and she didn't call herself Gail. When I visited Ricky a few years later, I'd just graduated from Yale and had thrown myself into Commedia D'elle Arte and a series of artsy gentile boyfriends. Ricky was going to law school. My weight was finally fairly normal. He looked like he'd gained about 80 pounds. I haven't seen him since. I hear about him from my friend Sharon though, since he's the director of the school her children go to. He's also a super-frum Lubavitcher rabbi, the father of four, and still a lawyer, as well. I sincerely hope he's as happy with his life as I am with mine. I remember that he's quite brilliant. I guess he still is. I wonder how he looks back on his "first love." I think it's kind of nice that my "first" was his "first." Though I'm glad I didn't marry him, or any of the other guys (or gals) I had sex with, until I met my soulmate, my Prince Max.
But wait, isn't this supposed to a book review? And here I am writing about the first guy I had sex with who's now a Lubavitcher Rabbi. Lubavitchers strike me as terribly insulated, claustrophobically strict, but also quite sensuous people. I must admit that I've been fascinated by them for years, attracted and repelled at the same time. And now here's this book with the catchy title, Kosher Sex, written by a sexy, ballsy young ex-Lubavitcher Rabbi. It's enough to make me want to cook up a batch of hot latkes.
So, Kosher Sex is not about how to slather your spouse in chicken fat--not exactly. It's not about how to keep your meat sex toys separate from your milke sex toys--not necessarily. It is about how and why to have hot marital sex. It's very easy reading for the Talmudically challenged, presenting the traditional Jewish view of sex in marriage in modern, open, entertaining prose.
Traditional Judaism has always approved of lust in marriage. Unlike some other religions I won't name at this time that maintain you should never feel lust-even for your husband or wife, Jews are supposed to shtup their spouses regularly and lustily. So the concept of "Kosher Sex" isn't new. But as a title for a book, it's brilliant.
The book begins with a passage from Genesis:
"Therefore shall a man leave his father & leave his mother. He shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh."
This is the essence of Kosher Sex. I call it "Oneness through Shtupping." Oneness is the great Jewish ideal. Sh'ma Yisroel Ahdonai Eloheno Ahdonai Echod. Hear, O Israel, the Lord, Our God, the Lord is ONE.
I agree with the premise of Kosher Sex, that "marriage is a statement of deep-seated love for humanity, whereby we love companionship more than we love perfection." This, I believe, is one of the keys to keeping love and even lust alive over the years. Accept our imperfections. I often say, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere in life or love without being a devout imperfectionist.
I also like the way Kosher Sex supposedly combines fire and water, lust and companionship. It's a nice ideal. As Rabbi Boteach points out, the Bible has no word for sex apart from "knowledge." If knowledge is the word for sex in the Bible, does that mean that the Tree of Knowledge is really the Tree of Sex?
The Rabbi writes "a fulfilling sex life is essential to a healthy marriage and prudishness has no place between two committed adults." and even goes so far as to say that "prudishness in marriage is a sin." This is unbelievably cool coming from an Orthodox rabbi. But of course, Rabbi Boteach is no Dr. Ruth. And he gets little too anti-corporeal for me when he writes "the real, underlying reason we seek sex is not physical pleasure, but emotional intimacy. We do not seek mere orgasms, but, rather, the incredible proximity of another warm human being." Why not both??? Why not orgasms and intimacy? Isn't sex for both physical pleasure and emotional closeness? If it's only intimacy you're after, why have sex, why not just hug, look into each other's eyes and have deep, meaningful conversation?
There's even more to sex than physical pleasure and emotional intimacy. Power, for instance. As the Rabbi himself only half-jokingly says in his acknowledgments, he is writing about sex as part of his "sincere search for celebrity and recognition." (p.xii) Celebrity doesn't have much to do with physical pleasure or emotional intimacy, but it has everything to do with power. Is sex for power kosher? Ask King Solomon with his 1000 wives that helped him to establish peaceful, diplomatic ties with all the countries they were from.
Besides, just as Rabbi Boteach himself writes, "Ultimately, it is the body that supersedes the soul in Judaism." (p.49) So, then why not have sex for the sake of physical pleasure, as long as it's not hurting anyone? What is so wrong with that? What is so evil about masturbation? Masturbation is, of course, purely for physical pleasure, though cases can be made (and have) for it enhancing personal qualities like self-esteem and self-knowledge.
Rabbi Shmuley doesn't have anything good to say about self-pleasuring. I think he's purposefully turning a blind eye here. I can't imagine that the brilliant, compassionate, sensuous Rabbi Shmuley Boteach really can't see any value in masturbation. I think he just doesn't quite know how to make it kosher.
Let's leave aside the spilling of seed for a moment, and address the subject of female masturbation. Many women have their first orgasm through masturbation, only then can they learn to have orgasms with their partners. But Rabbi Shmuley denigrates, downright despises masturbation. It's an unrealistic, unnecessarily harsh position. Obviously, the Rabbi and I are on opposite ends of the vibrator on this one.
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