by Shmuley Boteach, Doubleday, $19.95
If Kabbalah is Jewish chic for celebrities, I guess “kosher sex” is what’s left for those who don’t have energy to attend special seminars. Not to worry, we ordinary folks are clearly the ones getting the better deal. While Kabbalah offers you eternal spiritual enlightenment, “kosher sex” offers you not just great sex, but transcendental sex. Mind-blowing sex that will save almost any marriage from boredom and breakup. That’s at least what Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a charismatic 32-year old married American rabbi from Oxford University, is trying to sell you with his bestseller, Kosher Sex.
What is “kosher sex”? It is not sex through a hole in a sheet (which Boteach points out is in fact unkosher because it creates a barrier between the husband and wife). Rather, “Kosher sex is carnal love that leads to knowledge and intimacy.”
Sounds great. Unfortunately, if Boteach knows how to achieve this “transcending moment,” he’s certainly keeping mum about. Instead, Kosher Sex offers only a simplistic rationalization for sex as prescribed by Jewish law, packaged in a cuter-than-cute message, spiced up with running commentary from Mae West. Don’t worry about reading things that might make you blush: His language is almost insultingly prudish, making almost no mention of actual penises and vaginas, only “genitals,” “appendages” and “organs.”
In a nutshell, Boteach thinks that marriage is of the utmost importance and sex is what will keep a marriage alive. So, get married as early as possible, don’t have premarital sex, have kids as soon as possible (you’ll never know unconditional love until you see your spouse with your children), don’t use pornography (it brings another person into sex; use homemade videos), don’t masturbate (it relieves sexual tension that should be focused into the relationship) and so on. If you get into an argument, don’t discuss it. Have sex. Then the two of you will be able to rationally discuss the problem.
Granted, every so often, you’ll hear something in this book that you didn’t expect a Lubavitch rabbi to say. Experiment with positions, he allows, in order to add spice. Oral sex is okay, as long as you don’t lose sight of the person. And he mentions the one that stops the presses: a husband’s duty, according to Jewish law, to pleasure his wife before he can succumb.
Based on the book’s overwhelming sales and presence on major talk shows, I will even grant that the good rabbi probably is on to something in his attempt to talk about Judaism and sex in the same breath. I would even say that I think that a book that talks about sex within a halakhic setting is vital for the observant Jewish community. Unfortunately, for those really looking for guidance in how to be both the best of friends and passionate lovers, Boteach doesn’t really help. For all the self-deprecating cuteness in the book, his tone is arrogant and superior, his views on Jewish laws are reductive and his peppy visions of a perfect marriage are terribly grating.
Natalie Blitt is a writer living in New York.