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March 30, 2011

Ashley Madison & Noel Biderman: Will a Rabbi Take Them On?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/ashley_madison_noel_biderman_will_a_rabbi_take_them_on_20110330/

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Noel Biderman

A month ago I was introduced to the dating site Ashley Madison when my editor sent me an article written in Bloomberg News.  It was very interesting, and by interesting of course I mean disturbing.  I wrote about my first impressions and you can read that initial blog here: Ashley Madison 1

I got emails from women who were repulsed, men who could not sing it’s praises enough, and one man in particular who was articulate and compelling.  He did not make me change my mind, but he delivered his message in a way that made me get it.  Not the site, but his view.  You can read that article here: Ashley Madison 2

I also got an email from Noel Biderman, the founder of Ashley Madison.  He wrote: “You seem to want to vent your anger but have no desire to understand the cause.” I was not sure what he meant exactly, so I wrote him back.  We emailed for a while and finally agreed to talk on the phone.  Well, let me just say, fascinating.

Biderman is a regular guy from Toronto.  He is the same age as my brother, his wife is the same age as my sister-in-law, he has two young kids like my brother, lives in the same neighborhood as my brother, and I felt a need to like him.  He is such a normal guy in his home life that I did not want his work to define what I thought of him.

He is Jewish, as is his wife Amanda.  He had a Bar Mitzvah, is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and looks forward to his son becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  In hearing him talk of his upbringing and faith, you can’t help but like him. Until he tells you that the 10 commandments are outdated, mean nothing in modern day life, and don’t really matter.

I went into the conversation wanting to like him, and with a sincere goal of hearing his take on Ashley Madison.  I thought about him as my brother, just a regular guy making a living to raise his family.  That lasted about two minutes.  While I truly believe he loves his wife and kids, I also believe he is buying into his own hype.

He started out the conversation telling me he was not Ashley Madison.  It was his job, but not who he is as a human being.  It’s also not what he was trained or educated to do.  Back in the day, he was an attorney working as a sports agent.  He saw his famous and successful clients having affairs and that was the inspiration for Ashley Madison.

He believes monogamy is unnatural, and not practiced by most.  People are going to cheat so why not start a dating site that is open about it, allowing people a safe place to engage in extra-marital sex?  It is interesting that he is “allowing people to be honest”, when the honesty is to strangers, not the person they exchanged vows with.

Biderman claims there are 8.5 million users on Ashley Madison.  He says the breakdown is 60% men and 40% women.  He does not clarify how many of those are active members, browsing potential members, or people just snooping around like I did.  I’m not sure one can even accurately break it down in such a way.

Biderman believes the only reason people cheat is because the sex in their marriage is not good.  That is the ONLY REASON.  He also says that cheating in Japan is part of a happy marriage, and the gay community embraces cheating.  He was so bold as to say that ALL gay relationships include infidelity.  All of them.

Sidebar:  I told my friend Andy Nicastro about Biderman’s comments on gay relationships and he had this to say:  “Every gay couple cheats? News to me, and I’ve been gay for a really long time. That this man perpetuates the myth of the sexually profligate homosexual to justify abhorrent behavior in the heterosexual community is disingenuous, ignorant and utterly reprehensible.

Statements like his are the reason the fight for marriage equality so often feels like an uphill battle.  Open relationships exist among both heterosexual and homosexual couples, and are entered into by mutual agreement.  Cheating - what this man is condoning - is the breaking of a solemn vow, whether two men, two women or two members of the opposite sex made that vow. 

Biderman can justify his monetization of infidelity any way that assuages his conscience, but leave the gays out of this. Biderman claiming all gays cheat would be the same as me saying he recognized the financial potential of Ashley Madison because all Jews are good with money.  It is insulting, demeaning and utterly untrue.”

Biderman truly believes monogamy is not something that exists in any tangible way.  He says that if your sex life with your partner is good, they will never cheat on you.  As much as his rhetoric is ridiculous, you’ve got to applaud his conviction.  He has been defending his service for so long that perhaps the line between fact and fiction has been blurred.

He’s got a lot of slick arguments for his theory on cheating.  He talks about how the most popular and successful Presidents are cheaters, yet we revere them.  He says cheating is happening in relationships we would never expect, and uses Presidents as a way to show that the desire for great sex trumps the fear of getting caught, no matter how much you have to lose.

He speaks very matter of factly about things he is not an expert on, says them with tremendous conviction, and you can hear the judgment in his voice if you don’t agree.  He is not rude, but dismissive.  He is so certain he is right, that if you question his statements you can feel his eyes rolling over the phone as he talks to you about his statistics.

I wonder if he felt my eyes rolling when he told me if women were willing to be more adventurous in bed, think outside the box, and consider doing things sexually that they may not be comfortable or familiar with, their spouses would never cheat.  Never.  So this begs the question, what is his wife like, and what does she think of Ashley Madison?

Biderman and I spoke a lot about his wife Amanda.  To hear him talk about her made me flutter.  He totally and completely loves her, is proud of her, respects her, and is in awe of her as a mother.  It’s really quite lovely.  One must assume she is talented in the boudoir because if she’s not, according to Biderman’s theories, he may cheat.

I was curious about the woman whose husband’s claim to fame is creating a way for people to break their vows.  What does she think about the fact that he compares drinking and smoking to infidelity? He says people smoke and drink which can kill them, and we are accepting of that, so why not accept cheating, which will not kill you?

Clearly he does not watch the television show Snapped because that show proves cheating will in fact get you killed.  He is adamant that he is not hurting anyone, and we should not judge him as he is not judging anyone else.  He says if someone is cheating, it is between the cheater and God, and his part in the cheating is nothing to be mad about.

Biderman’s wife called me the same day I spoke with her husband.  I really liked this woman.  She is sweet, soft spoken, and kind.  I cannot say enough how great I think she is.  She called me from home while doing dishes and puttering around the kitchen, and it was like talking to my sister or a girlfriend.  Biderman scored because she rocks.

Amanda is raising her 2 small children with Jewish traditions more than religion, and loves her husband.  To hear her talk about Ashley Madison is a revelation.  This is a woman who cares for her husband, wants to support him in his work, and at the same time, is heartbroken that this is the turn his career path has taken.  It’s both lovely and sad.

Amanda is quick to say Noel is not Ashley Madison.  It does not define who he is as a man, husband or father.  She feels there is no karmic debt to be paid by him for what he has created, and she feels happy and content in their relationship with each other, and God.  She does not take responsibility for the people who use the Ashley Madison site.

Amanda herself does not agree with cheating, would never cheat in her marriage, and knows that neither would Noel.  She does not understand cheating, but she does not judge those who do it.  She also does not think Noel is doing anything wrong.  He did not create infidelity, and Ashley Madison is not making anyone cheat.

In terms of her own marriage, when asked if she was worried her husband had access to millions of women who wanted to sleep with him, she said it was not going to happen because they are committed.  When I told her that her husband repeatedly told me he does not believe in monogamy, she was certain I had misunderstood him and he does.

The thing is, he does not.  He believes monogamy is not natural and if he and his wife do not keep their sex life new and fresh, there may be a problem.  I think Amanda Biderman is conflicted.  When she met Noel, he was an attorney.  They dated for two years before getting engaged and it was after their engagement that Ashley Madison was born.

It’s not the ideal situation for her, but she feels she should not be the one to judge others, just as she hopes others will not judge her.  She says love and relationships are complicated, and her marriage has the same issues as every other.  She feels strongly people are going to cheat whether there is an Ashley Madison or not, and it’s not because of her husband.

She is a real supporter of her husband.  She is a cheerleader for him and it was interesting to here her say the same catch phrases that Noel uses.  She has clearly been indoctrinated and tows the party line.  I asked her if she was aware that she was sounding like her husband, to which she responded that he is a smart guy who understands people.

Amanda feels her husband knows the psychology of people, and while he is not powerful enough to make people break their vows, he was smart enough to have seen a need for such a service.  That said, she knows he is not cheating and has no insecurities when it comes to their marriage.  After 10 years together, she is happy, secure, and doing fine.

If anything, both Noel and Amanda feel Ashley Madison has made their marriage stronger.  They feel they are better connected and more open in their communication, because they see first hand what can happen in a marriage when people start to pull apart.  It’s all very sweet and romantic, but I don’t understand how she trusts him.  I couldn’t.

At the end of the day no matter how immoral Ashley Madison is, they are not doing anything illegal.  They are not killing anyone, and nobody is dying. They are not putting a gun to people’s heads and making them cheat, and they feel no guilt for the privileged life they are living, even though it was built on the broken hearts and dreams of other human beings.

Amanda Biderman told me that while she finds cheating very upsetting, it is simply not her problem.  Her job is to be a good mother, a good wife, and focus on her children and marriage.  I ended my call with her wanting to get together for a cup of coffee.  I liked her so much that I wanted to hug her and tell her she was a good person.

Noel Biderman.  He is just a guy who spins marketing gold, and cashes in on something that has been happening for years.  I get it and good for him on providing a comfortable life for his family. While I do not condone what Ashley Madison does, and I think he will deal with God when all is said and done, his website is not why I don’t respect Noel Biederman.

My problem with Mr. Biderman is that he is trying to crush my dreams.  I am searching for love.  Beyond love, I want a committed and monogamous relationship, and he is telling me it is not possible and I will never find it.  In addition to ruining marriages and relationships, he is taking away the dream I’ve had since I was a little girl.

He wants me to believe I will never have a monogamous relationship, which he is allowed to believe, but he does not know me, and what about Amanda?  Is she exempt from his logic? I am going to meet a man that cheats, but she found the one man who does not?  Her man helps people get away with infidelity, but it’s okay because he won’t cheat?

According to Biderman, I can’t have my dream of monogamy unless I am consistently a dynamo in the bedroom.  First of all, I am, but the big problem for me is that he is implying no marriage can survive a waning of sexual energy, even though it’s natural.  A marriage is about trust, and working through things, or why bother getting married in the first place?

I think Biderman has a lot of chutzpah to tell me my dreams are unattainable, when he helps crush dreams every day.  If he were quiet, not publicizing himself, and allowing Ashley Madison to speak for itself, it would be one thing, but he’s not doing that.  He is screaming from the mountaintop, look at me, I am Ashley Madison, and I’ve got news for you.

He wants us to buy into his rhetoric and I’m not doing it.  I will find love, we will be monogamous, there will be no cheating, and we will not be on Ashley Madison.  That’s my truth Noel Biderman.  You are wrong.  You do not know anything about me, or the man I will marry.  Monogamy not only exists, but it is respected and attainable.

I am guessing that any press is good press to Mr. Biderman, and he likes being the face of Ashley Madison.  The thing is, he may be right, this could be the next big thing, and he may change the rules of what it means to be married and have sexual relationships outside of your marriage.  What will happen if he is right and cheating becomes okay?

It could all happen, but the question is, will it be worth it?  If he makes a billion dollars will it be worth it? If he shatters the dreams of decent people will it be worth it? When I asked him if he wished he stayed behind the scenes, he said anonymity would have been great, but without his being out there, Ashley Madison would not be as successful as it is.

Noel and Amanda Biderman are nice people.  They are philanthropic to many Jewish focused charities.  They are financially secure, love each other, adore their kids, and are working hard to have a happy and healthy marriage.  With all of their blessings, why work so hard to take away my dream and the dreams of millions of people?

Why not be anonymous, say nothing, and live a quiet life?  That’s not Noel’s style.  There is a Jerry McGuire quality to him and I think he is drinking his own Kool-Aid.  If he was my little brother, I would want to smack him and knock some sense into him.  Sit with him and talk about it, right after I kick him in the ass and take him to shul for some praying.

I have invited Noel Biderman to come to Los Angeles and join me on a panel to discuss, love, marriage, vows, cheating, and faith.  I think it would be interesting to speak with him, a Rabbi, perhaps a therapist, throw a Priest in, and let’s talk about it.  Mr. Biderman needs a bit of a talking to and I think we can learn a few things from each other.

I was very impressed when he agreed to do it.  Of course that was before this article was published, so we’ll see if he changes his mind.  I don’t imagine he is one to step away from a challenge, and he is certainly not afraid to go head to head with me.  Bless his heart.  Turns out this man who I am offended by on so many levels, is also a mensch.

Sidebar:  While Biderman agreed to come and meet me for a discussion, it’s been a challenge finding a Rabbi to join the panel.  Several Rabbi’s and their temples were approached by The Jewish Journal to participate in this evening of discussion and they all said no.  To be honest I was more embarrassed than surprised, which is a bigger piece of the pie.

I would think that a Rabbi would welcome the opportunity to discuss the 10 Commandments and the importance of fidelity in a marriage.  It makes me sad that the leaders of my faith are not willing to sit with Biderman and talk like grown ups about something that is so important and prevalent in these times.  It is an intolerance that I do not understand.

Mr. Biderman has spoken about Ashley Madison at churches and mosques. They have opened their doors, allowed him to speak, and then disagreed.  That Jewish clergy is afraid to take him on is troubling. Ashley Madison is wrong and Biderman should be ashamed of himself as a man, a father and a Jew, but apparently I’m the only one willing to tell him to his face.

I am not giving up on love or monogamy, and I will never approve of Ashley Madison.  A pig will fly out of my tuchas before I accept a glass of Kool-Aid from Noel Biderman, but God bless him.  Bless him, and then let him have it.  To the lovely Amanda Biderman, it was classy of you to call me.  I think you are wonderful and hope you are happy, healthy and keeping the faith.

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