Last week, The Jerusalem Post ran a story on my daughter Chana, who recently opened the world’s first Kosher Sex store. The first one is in Tel Aviv. She trusts there will be many other actual stores to complement the online sites of Kosher.Sex and SensualRevolution.com, from which the store stems.
The store was opened to coincide with the new 20th anniversary edition of Kosher Sex, the book I published in 1999 that at the time was extremely controversial but has, two decades after its original appearance, gone mainstream.
“I wanted to open a store that is more of a boutique; that promotes sensuality and intimacy between couples in a framework of Jewish values,” my daughter Chana told reporter Hannah Brown, who then asked her whether her father approves of the Tel Aviv and online store.
My daughter answered that I gave the store “my blessing.” I was not aware of the story or its content until it appeared and now that I have read it, I feel I must comment.
Sex is utterly broken in our time. It’s essential that we bring the Jewish values that comprise “Kosher Sex” to the millennial generation. I salute Chana’s efforts to bring the core ideas of intimacy and “commitment electrified” – her tag-line – to her generation. And, as it turns out, they might be the ones that most need these values.
When I wrote Kosher Sex 20 years ago, sex was being torn apart by two flawed conservative and liberal extremes, seen either as procreational or recreational. The Right waged war on contraception and abortion while the Left sacked monogamy and marriage. While different, these conceptions of sexuality were equally unromantic. Whether for adventuring or family building, both made sex less an electrifying thing to experience and more a burdensome thing to do.
I decided I would publish a manual for couples to use sex for intimacy. In it, I would use the Jewish laws of family purity – mikveh and nidda – as a launching point for describing what a truly erotic relationship based on desire and lust would look like.
THE BOOK’S publication was greeted with an avalanche of interest from the secular community and a tsunami of condemnation from the more religious. I came under ferocious attack. Why did I risk my standing as a religious leader to write it? Because having served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years, I was amazed at how broken sex was among young people, let alone married couples where it was becoming non-existent. What gave me unique insight into sex was that I was counseling two totally different groups of people. On the one hand, there were the students who were not married and were having recreational sex. On the other, there were married couples who wanted a passionate life that could connect them but whose marriages were often completely platonic and bereft of physical and emotional intimacy. In this sampling, I saw that sex was either being abused, misused and leading to pain rather than pleasure, or for married couples, was something they watched others doing on the TVs in their bedrooms.
Then there was the fact that as a child of divorce, I had long pondered the all-important question of how to keep a husband and wife happy under the same roof for the duration of their lives. In counseling marriages, I quickly discovered that if things don’t work well in the bedroom, they won’t work well in the living room either.
It goes without saying that I was shocked, surprised and ultimately gratified that a book that I thought might sell a few hundred copies at best – and only in the Jewish community – became an international best-seller that was translated into 17 languages. Seeing that the book was a sensation in the Czech Republic or Ireland or translated into Chinese and Thai was especially gratifying.
Some in the rabbinate argued that I was degrading the profession by writing a scandalous book. I fought back respectfully but determinedly, insisting that our job as rabbis was to address all matters of life and all concerns of relationships. Where should people go if they want to learn more about sex and intimacy, I asked? To Hugh Hefner and Playboy or the rabbis and the Talmud? I was especially edified in seeing so many non-Jews gravitating to my message, because I had always believed that of all the blessings that Judaism bestowed upon the world, its healthy attitude towards sexuality – which was largely unknown – was one of the greatest of all.
For many millennials though, sex has become something far worse. Sex, for so many young people today, has become something painful.
More and more, young people see sex as a matter of attracting as many people as possible. The idea is to leverage the feeling of being desired by the opposite sex – and the “hotter” those men or women are, the more special you feel – as a vehicle to boost self-esteem. Sadly, the road to self-loathing is paved by sought-attention, and sooner or later, all millennials discover that getting hit on doesn’t actually make them all that happy, after all. To the extent that these charades – which decide not only wardrobes, but careers – lead to any sex, it’s usually the type that leaves people feeling detached, vulnerable, used and even betrayed.
Devoid of love, security and closeness, sex will eventually leave us cuddling an emotional porcupine.
WITH KOSHER SEX, the book, I sought to leverage the vast wisdom of Judaism on sexuality. Kosher Sex, the store, translates those ideas into something eminently practical and practicable. In the book I drew from the Torah to solve the Right-Left confusion surrounding sex’s purpose. According to Jewish values, sex is not about having fun or having children. Sex, God taught us, is about the infinite process of unification we call intimacy.
About this, the book of Genesis was explicit: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother. He shall cling unto his wife. And they shall become one flesh.” God does not say, “He shall cling to his wife, and his wife to her baby.” Nor does the Creator say, “He shall cling to his wife and have a wild and good time.” The point is clear: God wants one man and one woman to bind together, becoming bone of one bone, flesh of one flesh.
Kosher Sex is the motion that brings forth emotion.
That intimacy-enhancing teachings and products would figure into this equation should not be controversial. Unlike casual relationships, which include a sort of “refresh” button, committed relationships are forced to stand the test of time; and, time turns anything into a habit. And, while important, habits aren’t hot.
Products that rescue marriages from the morgue are absolutely kosher, seeing that they allow husbands and wives to connect through the medium of passion and pleasure. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but better that than a frozen Frappuccino.
The real enemy of marriage is not marital aids, but pornography, adultery and platonic marriage. The real threat to monogamy is not stores that seek to stoke the fires of passion, but husbands and wives whose foremost yearning is watching a new series on Netflix.
One out of three marriages in the US today are entirely sexless. About one out of two husbands cheat. About one out of three wives do the same. And about a quarter of all American men have a pornography addiction, defined as looking at images that degrade women for about an hour today.
Kosher Sex is the remedy to all these evils.
With passion re-engaged, sex becomes a unifying act of love-creation – one that, through the Jewish way of life-bonding, accomplishes God’s ultimate goal of uniting two into one.
“There’s great wisdom in Judaism about sex and relationships,” my daughter told Brown, “about how they can be meaningful.”
Well said Chana. I love the emphasis on the unsurpassed wisdom of the Torah on sex.
Your father would be proud.
The writer has just published the 20th anniversary edition of Kosher Sex. His books on relationships have won the “National Fatherhood Award” and he served as Oprah Winfrey’s marriage, parenting, and relationship expert on the “Oprah and Friends” radio network. Follow him on Twitter and Instragram @RabbiShmuley.
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