NEW YORK (Mar. 15)
As `Kosher Sex’ hits America, rabbi urges `emotional intimacy’ Most — and there aren’t many — books about Judaism and sexuality have titles that read like lists: “God, Love, Sex and Family,” “Love, Sex and Marriage,” “God, Sex and Women of the Bible” and the poetically titled “Heavenly Sex.” But no title stands out as boldly as “Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, just published by Doubleday.
Already a best seller in Israel and in England, where the author lives, the book arrived in bookstores just as the author arrived in America to begin a whirlwind of publicity, including a scheduled appearance on the “Today” show on Tuesday.
An excerpt of the book appeared in the January issue of Playboy.
Dan Levine, of J. Levine Books & Judaica in Manhattan, said he had received hundreds of phone calls in anticipation of the book’s publication. “I expect it to sell very well.”
“The focus of this book is sex and the central position it occupies within marriage and relationships,” the book’s front jacket announces in large silver type. “Sex for pleasure is an end in itself. But `Kosher Sex’ is the fire of sexual attraction that creates union in the bedroom and closeness and intimacy in life.”
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Miami, Boteach heads the L’Chaim Society, a Jewish education and outreach organization with branches in Oxford, Cambridge and London, and he appears frequently in the British media.
This year, he was a runner-up in Britain’s preacher of the year competition. The book’s British publication brought much criticism to the Orthodox rabbi, who was pressured to resign from a London synagogue, although Britain’s chief rabbi issued a statement of support for his work.
His rabbinic career in England has been controversial from the start: He began his work in Oxford as a Lubavitch representative, but was dismissed for his maverick ways. Undaunted, he remained on campus, running L’Chaim, which had grown to be the second largest organization at Oxford, as an independent group.
“Sex is a subject that consumes us, confuses us,” Boteach says, speaking in a pre-U.S. tour telephone interview from his London office, explaining his motivation to write “Kosher Sex.”
The 32-year-old father of six, who has counseled hundreds of couples in matters of relationships, thinks of himself as a teacher, spreading the teachings of Judaism.
“I’m a rabbi. I’m not a sex guru. I’m not Dr. Ruth,” he says.
For Boteach, marriage and family are the cornerstones of Judaism, and the purpose of a rabbi is “to bring peace between people, between husbands and wives, parents and children. Nothing brings me more pride than if I can save a marriage.”
In his book, he writes: “The real reason I write about sex is that it is holy. It is as religious a subject as a discussion on belief in God.”
He explains that his life direction has been very much influenced by his own parents’ divorce when he was 8. Like many children of divorce, he spent years wishing that his parents would remarry.
At age 14, he gave up on that idea and began thinking about the rabbinate. He writes: “Since I couldn’t bring my parents back together, I became inspired to pursue a profession that was about mending hearts and healing wounds.”
Boteach sees sex as “the central key in engendering emotional intimacy.”
Kosher sex, as he describes it, is married sex. Readers may be surprised by Boteach’s tone, with its lack of prudishness; he offers, without graphic details, advice about sexual aids and oral sex.
“Couples should leave no stone unturned in their sexual repertoire,” he writes, and adds, a few pages later: “Total sexual focus on our spouse is the ultimate form of holy sex.”
However, he believes that pornography and masturbation destroy intimacy.
“Most married couples today are either lovers or great friends,” he writes, calling for the need to synthesize the two, intimacy and compassion, encouraging “the positive feelings and warmth that only sex can induce and only friendship can sustain.”
He suggests that Jewish marital laws — with a period of sexual abstention – – work to promote both sexual excitement and a deep emotional connection.
In a 20-point list, Boteach contrasts kosher sex with what he characterizes as the kind of “great sex” seen in the movies and described in most books on sexuality.
“Great sex is about the interaction of two bodies, kosher sex the integration of two souls.”
“Kosher Sex” can be read as a book of sexual healing, a guide, an introduction to Jewish sexual ethics. Written in the style of a self-help book with lots of headings and brief sections, the book highlights the teachings with examples of real couples, drawn from the rabbi’s counseling experience.
Boteach sees his audience as Jews and non-Jews, and points out that in Britain the book sold well in the non-Jewish market. In fact, there’s a group he calls “the Kosher Sex Club” — more than 600 couples who have been in touch with him about their efforts to begin observing Jewish laws of marital purity.
Boteach also includes a section, “Sex for Single People,” discouraging premarital sex and always encouraging marriage, preferably at a young age.
He offers a 23-item Checklist for Marriage (“Do I find this person attractive? Is this a good person with a good heart?”) and suggests to readers who can check off 18 items: “What are you waiting for?”
His next book, to be published in England this May, is entitled “Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments.”
When asked about homosexuality — which isn’t covered in the book — Boteach says that he has become the “de facto rabbi to many gays” and says that some of the toughest questions he has been asked by students are in this area.
“I do not believe that homosexuality is an illness or deviance. The beauty of our religion is not an all-or-nothing sum game. The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot; there are 611 left for gays. I’m not going to change Torah. I’m not going to ostracize people. I treat homosexuals like people who smoke on Shabbat, eat a cheeseburger. No big deal.”