Boteach: I give kosher sex shop my blessing

LAST week, the Jewish Telegraph — among other papers — ran a story on my daughter Chana, who recently opened the world’s first Kosher Sex store in Tel Aviv. She trusts there will be many more.

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.

When a reporter asked my daughter whether her father approved of the Tel Aviv and online store, she answered that I gave it “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.

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 — mikva 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 counselling 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.

In counselling 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 bestseller that was translated into 17 languages.

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.

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.

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 the reporter, “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.

(Rabbi) Shmuley Boteach,
New Jersey,

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