Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kosher Sex

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I just taught a couple of sessions on Kosher Sex, a book which describes itself as, “A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy.” Actually, the class was only partially based on the book.  Because, in the end, I have a number of reservations about the book, I decided, instead, to make the class a more generalized look at Jewish views about sex and sexuality.  But, I will say that one of the more interesting insights which I came across while preparing for this class did come from the book.  And, that had to do with the role of sex in a relationship.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of the book, maintained that our culture misunderstands the relationship between love and romance on the one hand, and sex on the other*. Generally speaking, he points out, we tend to to see sex as the pinnacle of a relationship.  The romantic ideal is that we meet, we fall into like, we fall into love, and then we have sex.  Sex is the ultimate expression of, and fulfillment of, a loving relationship.

* anyone who attempts to make a joke out of the fact that I just said, “on the one hand” in this posting will be docked points for a lack of originality.

Actually, Boteach maintains, that's not how things really work.  The reality is that sex becomes one of the ways in which we deepen our relationships with each other, and allow them to grow into love.  Looking at the Adam and Eve story, that he points out that the Hebrew term which is used for sex is, “to know.”

Even if they were best friends, they were only acquainted with their externalities.  They did not possess the kind of knowledge that linked and hooked them together forever.  They knew only each other's most revealed aspects.  They knew what kind of cuisine the other liked, the holiday destination each preferred, whom their favorite artist were, and which music they most enjoyed listening to.  They even knew the main issues that troubled their childhood and how the other got along with their respective parents.  In short, they knew what the other did, but did not know what the other was.  They didn't know how the other would behave when all inhibition and social adjustment had been surrendered.

Love came only through physical intimacy.  As Adam and Eve took off all their outer garments and inner restraints and behaved around each other in the exact same fashion in which they behaved around themselves, that was the moment when they came to know each other.  Only then did they fathom each other's essence, peering deep beneath the outer layers into the heart and through the windows of the soul.

This is just one example of how different Judaism's view of sex really is from what most people expect from a religion (I would say, “from Christianity,” but I've learned that some Christians feel that the true teachings of the church in this arena have been misunderstood and misrepresented.  I'm certainly not in a position to judge that, so I'll stay agnostic on this one). The truth is that Judaism, in many different ways, believes that sex is not only healthy, but sacred.  It is a way in which we can most deeply know another person, and, not coincidentally, a way which we can learn to know God, as well.


Robert Hagedorn said...

The original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden was anal intercourse. For the exegesis, google the first scandal Adam and Eve.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Mr. Hagedorn is, of course, entitled to his opinion. But, I'd have to question his analysis. First of all, the plain reading of Genesis makes it pretty clear that Adam and Eve's sin was eating the fruit. That's explicit. Now, our tradition loves to add layers of commentary, often in contradiction to the plain meaning of the text. So, that's what Hagedorn has done (I clicked through to his blog to learn this). But, there's no reason to believe that that's the "correct" version. It's just a modern interpretation - a midrash.

But, since he brought it up, I'll mention that the Rabbis actually do not (at least not universally) forbid anal sex. Maimonides, in particular, allowed a husband and wife to have sex in any way which pleased them both, and he specifically allows anal intercourse.

It may seem strange to be hearing Rabbis (modern or ancient) talking about this, but I'm using it to show that, for centuries, sexuality has been embraced as a valid, holy topic within Judaism.