Playboy cover 370.
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
I discovered via Saturday Night Live that Playboy had launched a Hebrew-language
edition in Israel.
About a week later I received a call from its
publisher, Dan Pomerantz, asking if I would contribute an article to the
The call was not without precedent.
Thirteen years ago
chose my book Kosher Sex as its main selection for the cover of its 30th
anniversary edition (a distinction accompanied by two tickets to the Playboy
Mansion West celebration party, which my wife promptly destroyed, saying, “No
bunnies for you”). Why Playboy would have chosen to highlight a book that argues
pornography closes the erotic mind is anyone’s guess. But the magazine was
deferential in honoring my wishes not to have any nude pictures near the
serialization and even chose to publish the chapters about the erotic quality of
With this in mind, and with Mr.
Pomerantz ever the
gentleman, showing respect and boldness in allowing me to challenge the
magazine’s central “entertainment for men” model, I agreed to write an article
about the three laws of lust, culled from the Bible’s Song of Solomon and based
on my upcoming book Kosher Lust, to be published in November.
article I discuss the centrality of desire to relationships and how mystery and
unavailability, as opposed to nakedness and explicitness, is the very soul of
carnal lust. But just as nudity represents one extreme in deadening eroticism,
religious discomfort with lust in marriage represents an equally destructive
An example is an article recently sent to me by a friend that
appeared on Chabad.org, an outstanding and comprehensive website I use for daily
study. The article, entitled “The Jewish Take on Lust,” was prompted by an
inquiry from a reader raised as a Christian and who, believing Christianity is
hostile to lust and erotic urges, asked a rabbi whether the position (no pun
intended) of Judaism was similar.
The rabbi states plainly that in Judaic
thought “[we are expected to] muster enough inner fortitude to overcome our
bodily drives” and “overpower [lustful desires] when they arise.” And how is a
man or woman expected to suppress or ignore erotic lust? The general solution
the rabbi proposes is to adopt his comprehensive system of vigilant deprivation
coupled with raw distraction as tools in man’s service of the Creator. “An empty
mind is a blank screen waiting to reflect a fleeting lustful thought or image.
So we study the Torah daily, and by doing so, we beef up our spiritual immune
Attitudes like these make me feel bad for Jewish wives the world
Is there any woman reading this that doesn’t want her husband to
lust after her? Is there any woman who would prefer that, when her husband feels
erotic yearning for her, he quench it with a healthy dose of Torah study? Is it
any wonder that mindless advice of this nature so often backfires, leading
otherwise pious and devout individuals toward ever more egregious sexual sins
rather than quenching the rightful desire for a lustful life with a fiery and
passionate marriage? Libraries of nonsense have been written about religion
wanting to repress rather than focus our sexuality. So let’s be clear.
Suppression is no means of preserving our awareness of a higher calling. The
outlook of Judaism, let alone a century of medical and psychological research,
is that stifling our innate sexuality is at best mistaken and at worst
dangerous. Moreover, the Jewish position on lust is emphatically the opposite:
lust is a beautiful and sacred gift from on high, intended to be used in our
lives to make the world a holier place. Erotic love is not something to be
unduly restrained but to enjoy with a partner grafted on to us in the bond of
Indeed, whereas other religions emphasize human love for God,
the very heart of the Kabbala is that the soul seeks unrequited ecstasy in its
emphatic lust for God.
The tenth commandment is clear: “Thou shall 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 them. But lust for another woman has trumped that love. Lust is, quite
simply, much stronger than love. So why aren’t we using this powerful tool in
our marriages, letting it serve as a reinforcement for couples who are deeply
committed to each other? Why do so many well-meaning religious teachers mislead
the public into believing lustful tendencies are a force that should be denied
rather than channeled to our spouse? I maintain that Jewish observances of
periodic distance and marital sinfulness – the idea that one’s spouse becomes
forbidden for a period each month – are specifically designed to increase a
man’s lust and sexual appetite for his wife and a wife’s craving for her man. To
live in a marriage without strong desire is to be incarcerated in an ossified
institution. Lust is enhanced through an inability to attain the object of one’s
longing. It’s where passion is magnified by the failure to satiate one’s
And it’s the reason why the Torah makes a wife sexually
unavailable to her husband every month (laws of Niddah) so that sexual hunger
But it’s also true of every other area of life. The fare
in every fast-food restaurant always tastes bad. The reason: nobody makes you
wait for it. But in an upscale restaurant they purposely delay your food, even
if you ordered the ready-made special of the day, because appetite is enhanced
Furthermore, lust is enhanced in darkness and shadows.
Ironically, the more the body is covered the more one lusts after it. The most
boring place on earth is a nudist colony, because it leaves nothing to the
Once a woman is overexposed, men lose interest. The element
of modesty in a relationship is crucial because it acts as a electrifying
mechanism of mystery.
Many complain that Judaism creates prudish, sexual
taboos in relationships.
But sexual taboos ironically increase lust. The
success of applying the Torah’s laws of lust to one’s marriage and sex life
leads to a relationship suffused with life, passion and erotic
excitement.The author, “America’s Rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The
Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international
best-selling author of 29 books, and will shortly publish The Fed-up Man of
Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.
is www.shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.