Recently, Egypt’s best-known sex therapist, a woman named Heba Kotb, said on the Al-Hayat TV network that Judaism’s repressive rules on sexuality made Jews guilty of enormous “sexual perversions.”
For good measure, she perpetuated the stupid, anti-Semitic myth that Jews can only have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle, “through a buffer, after sunset, without touching,” which in turn led to significant sexual deviance among Jews. “In Jewish thought,” she said, “sex has to be for a reason, and the reason could be procreation or the voracious sexual desire of a man, who cannot bear it unless he has sex with his wife. There are very strict rules among the Jews. It has to be done through a buffer, after sunset, without touching, and so on. It’s a whole story in the Jewish faith. But this creates a psychological imbalance, even among the Jews who do that stuff. And therefore they have the highest rate of sexual perversions in history.”
Many of the news outlets that covered her remarks quoted from my 1998 book, Kosher Sex, to debunk her stupid, Jew-hating claims.
Where to start? First, Judaism is alone among the religions of the world in expressly saying that sex is not for procreation but for intimacy. Genesis 2:24 makes it clear. “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and leave his father. He shall cleave unto this wife [a clear sexual euphemism] and they shall become one flesh.”
The purpose of sex is the pleasurable joining together of husband and wife as bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh. Judaism embraces the human sexual instinct as pleasurable, erotic, and not merely for babies, even though we are obviously a religion that loves children.
This is the reason Judaism mandates that a husband must address his wife’s sexual needs even when she is pregnant or post-menopause.
It is also the reason why Jewish law mandates that there be no barrier of even clothing during sex, let alone a stupid sheet with a hole in the middle, one of the biggest canards about Judaism, right up there with drinking Christian blood in matzot and killing Jesus.
Also, Judaism expressly acknowledges the deep-seated sexual desire on the part of a wife that a husband must address and satisfy.
Last year an Orthodox Jewish sex counselor attacked me for an interview I gave on my new book, Kosher Lust, to New York Magazine, reprinted in Britain’s Daily Mail, that said that Jewish law encourages a man to make his wife climax first. This is Judaism’s tacit acknowledgment of a fact that modern science has finally caught up with – that women are much more sexual than men, having more deeply rooted erotic desire.
Can we finally stop portraying sex in religion as a man’s game? The ketuba marriage contract, read at every Jewish wedding, is an express and shockingly public declaration of a man’s sexual obligations to his wife rather than the reverse.
As for Kotb’s disgusting allegations of Jewish sexual perversions, let’s be clear. Judaism believes that sex is sacred, holy, and the highest form of knowledge, which is why the Bible says, “And Adam came to know his wife Eve.”
He knew her better through carnal intercourse than even through verbal communication. The former is totally immersive and experiential whereas the latter deals with only one facet of our being.
If there is one message conveyed by the mikve it is the sacredness of sex. Before a couple indulges their pent-up sexual passion that has been denied and allowed to build for a number of days, they declare the godliness of sex by immersing in holy waters.
This is a far cry from the declaration of a celibate St. Paul that marital sex is a concession to man’s sinful nature and it’s better to have it than to be consumed with sinful desire. “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7) By contract, Judaism sanctifies carnal desire by preceding it with immersion in living waters.
Sex is kosher, steamy and wet.
And why the woman? Because men have always needed sexual novelty to create passion and have often made the tragic error of finding it in new flesh rather than in creative play and erotic exploration with their wives. So God gives a husband a woman who emerges fresh from the primordial waters of creation.
Men have their source in the earth, a symbol of sexuality that can be left arid and lifeless, while women find renewal in the eternal spring of life. And a husband should seek sexual renewal in his wife – unpeeling her erotic layers – rather than in the degradation of porn or the abasement of adultery.
Sex is not something that can or should be tamed, but rather channeled, not suppressed but sublimated.
Judaism believes that marriage must be built on deep desire and covetousness. The holiest book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, is an erotic lust poem that describes the burning yearning between a man and a woman: “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies... Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’” For us, lust is hot, sexy, and holy.
The Tenth Commandment is clear: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” which means, by direct implication, you ought to be coveting your own. About 80 percent of husbands who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives. So why are they unfaithful? Because lust for another woman was more powerful than love for a wife.
Lust is stronger than love, desire more passionate than companionship.
We recapture erotic lust through three rules: unavailability, mystery and sinfulness. Whereas love thrives on accessibility and constant sharing, lust flourishes on precisely the opposite: frustrated desire and erotic obstacles.
Lust is enhanced through an inability to attain the object of one’s longing. It’s the reason that the Torah makes a wife sexually unavailable to her husband for 12 days out of every month (laws of Niddah) so that sexual hunger may increase.
The second rule of lust is mystery. Lust is enhanced in darkness and shadows. Ironically, the more the body is covered, the more one lusts after it. Modesty is not prudish but erotic.
And the third rule of lust is sinfulness. You’re walking along a beach. You see beautiful women in bikinis. Is that sexy? Perhaps. Is it erotic? Definitely not. What do most men do at a beach? Either fall asleep or play Frisbee.
But now you’re walking home. A woman has accidentally left the blinds to her bedroom open and she’s walking around in her undergarments. Same amount of clothing as a beach. Same amount of flesh exposed.
Except this time it’s not a bathing suit, it’s her undergarments.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sleepiness? Where’s my Frisbee? Of course not. So why is the second scenario so much more erotic? Peering into the privacy of a woman’s bedroom is forbidden. As the Talmud says, “Stolen waters are sweet.” Now you know why the Torah made a wife sexually forbidden to her husband for a portion of every month, thereby injecting erotic “sinfulness” into marriage.
The “love marriage” is based on closeness and constant intimacy. The “lust marriage” is based on separation, renewal and a measure of distance.
Kotb and others of her anti-Semitic ilk are pygmies in their understanding of the erotic mind and hence are utterly ignorant of the deep erotic longing that Jewish sexual law and the mikve brings to marriage.Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of Kosher Sex and The Kosher Sutra. He recently published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (Gefen).