March 18, 1999
Judaism Between the Sheets
By Diane Arieff,
TV offers us All-Monica all the time. The globally accessible Internet offers its own virtual red-light district. Surrounded by wall-to-wall visuals and 24-hour media blather, we're inundated with sexual information. Ultimately, inevitably, it has become boring, degenerating into vaguely provocative background noise.
Yet along comes the titillatingly titled "Kosher Sex," written by an energetic, media-savvy Orthodox rabbi, and controversy follows in its wake. Perhaps it's the potent addition of religion to the sexual mix that has made the book an object of intense debate in England, where it was originally published last spring, and now worldwide, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach continues a well-publicized book tour that brings him to Los Angeles later this month.
Despite the tacit support of England's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, whose office issued a statement lauding Boteach as an "imaginative talent...prepared to take risks in order to communicate an authentic Jewish message to a new generation," Orthodox critics in England were having none of it. They accused Boteach of pushing the halachic envelope, and they derided the book as shameless and inappropriate. After the book's debut, religious detractors waged a battle against Boteach in the press and from the pulpit so fractious that it eventually led to his resignation from London's Willesden United Synagogue, where attendance at Shabbat services had more than doubled since his arrival. "Rabbis should leave sex therapy to sex therapists," said United Synagogue president Elkan Levy.
In the Jewish and mainstream British press, devotees of the 32-year-old maverick rabbi came to his defense, calling him a "shining light" and an "inspiring leader." For his part, Boteach repeatedly defended his rabbinical right to jump into public discussion of sexual matters, charging the "rigid" Anglo-Jewish Orthodox Beit Din with "rabbinic terrorism."