Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Attacks on Eric Cantor are gaining steam. Harry Reid called him childish. Many in the media have portrayed him as the obstinate Republican who will destroy American credit by blocking a deal on raising the debt ceiling. But for those of us who feel constantly ripped off by a government addicted to irresponsible spending, he is a hero.
I know Eric personally. He is a modest, focused, and unassuming man who speaks up with something important and wise to contribute. But beneath the calm exterior is a steely core which President Obama is now brushing up against first hand. This is not a man whom you can intimidate. He is not flashy and is not desperate to be loved. He pursues principles rather than popularity contests. A man of faith and conviction, his salt-of-the-earth values stem from his upbringing in Richmond to a family with deep communal involvement. They are committed Jews who till today serve in leadership positions in Synagogues and educational establishments. Eric’s mother is a warm Southern matron with a caring smile who converses freely and kindly. You could never guess that she has a son in high position of power.
But what is most responsible for Eric’s meteoric rise to House Majority Leader is that he is a people person. When you write to him, no matter how busy, he writes back. When you speak to him in his office, he listens attentively and he seeks to learn from all whom he meets. I remember feeling, the first time we met, that I was in the presence of the consummate Southern gentleman.
And because he’s a people person he knows that people are plain fed up. We work hard to support our families and raise good kids. We feel let down by undisciplined politicians who think the American tax-payer is a piggy bank. We’re drained from bloated government waste. Yes, we want America to be a compassionate country that takes care of the needy at home and fights bad guys overseas. But we’re tired of being pawns in a game of vote-buying by political figures appealing to special interests. We feel no guilt at protecting that which we have legitimately earned and we want our generous charitable giving to be at our own, rather than the government’s discretion.
Those who criticize Eric for refusing to raise taxes accuse him of harming America over a financial issue. They forget that the American revolution was a call to resistance against unfair taxation. And while the circumstances were, of course, different, and the British levied taxes without giving us elected members of parliament, the principle remains the same: fair taxation, by the will of the people, that inspires citizens to live by the sweat of their brow.
The national debt has increased by a third in the two-and-a-half years since Barack Obama became President. Is the solution to closing this gap really to tax us more rather than to finally reign in spending?
We Americans are taxed up the wazoo. We are taxed when we wake up and we are taxed when we sleep. We are taxed when we breathe and we are taxed, ironically, when we stop breathing. We are taxed when we work and we are taxed when we rest. Yet still, our governments is bankrupt.
Aside from Federal, State (in New Jersey it’s nearly 10%), and local tax, owning a home requires me to pay exorbitant property taxes of which not a single dollar can go to my children’s education because they are in a private Jewish day school. You’d think that some of my tax money could go to their school’s mathematics or social studies departments, which are not religious. But I and other religious parents across the nation are being bankrupted by high property taxes and high tuition rates that are becoming unaffordable. So were we to feel when we read in The New York Times in early 2009 that President Obama’s trillion dollar stimulus package forced public schools who did not request nor require stimulus funds to accept the money and spend it? We middle-class Americans are paying about half all we earn to the government. On top of that we want to give charity. Is it reasonable to ask for more?
Yes, we’re fed up. President Obama can storm out of all the meetings he wants with Cantor. But he cannot break the man because Cantor is backed by people who are already broken and who have had enough.
Amid a flawed nature and an imperfect character I try to live by the values of justice and compassion. I believe in helping all those who are in need, and Lord knows, I have been in need at times of my life as well. But I also know that greater even than the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter is that of human dignity, which derives from self-sufficiency. Dignity accrues to the man or woman who, with G-d’s blessings, provides for their family’s daily bread. The role of government is to facilitate the acquisition of human dignity by giving men and women the opportunities to be self-sufficient. In life we all seek redemption. But we wish for it to come through our own devices.
A bloated, nannie-state government is an impediment to that self-sufficiency. We want teachers who are effective rather than teachers who are guaranteed jobs which stunts student development and undermines the dignity of faculty. We want unions who understand that collective bargaining that drains a government’s coffers is bad for workers as well as for business.
I have had jobs and I have lost jobs. But the last thing I want is to be kept on in a job because I am pitied. If I have had to lean on others in difficult times – and I have – it has eroded by self-esteem and I have therefore endeavored to get back on my own feet rather than develop, G-d forbid, a stultifying and painful dependency. The sentiment is best captured in a beautiful Jewish prayer, recited on the graves of the righteous: “May my sustenance be conveyed to me by Your hand and may it be sweet. May it not be conveyed to me by the hands of mortals, for then it would be as bitter and tough as wormwood and shamefully degrading. Therefore may You, in Your abundant mercies, prepare my sustenance from Your good and full hand, and may it be complete.”
Hence, my support for Eric Cantor. He, more than anyone else currently in government, is the dam holding back the torrent of spending that would deepen our national depth and increase the unhealthy dependency that government sometimes creates. His efforts may not be fully appreciated now, but in cutting government waste he will earn the gratitude of the American people for saving our country from financial calamity and saving the rest of us from the plundering of private pockets to facilitate that oblivion.
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July 14, 2011 | 3:32 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
There are three reasons Hassidic Jews live together in tight-knit and often insular communities. The first is shared values. The second, a strong support network and security in number. And the third is a desire to filter out some of the corrosive elements of outside society from corrupting their children.
All three have been undermined by the brutal murder of Leibi Kletsky by Levi Aron. Where did Mr. Aron stem from? Yes, he dresses like an orthodox Jew. But one can only pray he is mad. Because Judaism, as a religion, commands the highest sensitivity to all life and even inanimate objects. Moses was not permitted to smite the waters of the Nile or dust of Egypt because both had saved his life. Cruelty to animals is one of Judaism’s most severe sins. How could a man schooled in the Jewish tradition of the infinite value of life butcher a boy into pieces?
As for a strong support network, one assumes that this is the reason Leibi’s parents agreed for him to walk home from camp. Noone can now imagine how their unspeakable pain is being now compounded by extreme and unjustified guilt. Why did the boy walk home? But that’s the whole point. Borough Park is a safe neighborhood. It’s the reason you choose to raise a family in a community surrounded by people who are never total strangers. They share your faith, your values, your way of life. So your kids are never in danger. When one family is in trouble, all come to the rescue, as was evidenced by the outpouring of help to find Leibi in the first place. Therefore, when Leibi got lost he walked over to someone who, though unrecognizable as an individual would have been very familiar to him as a member of his community, in other words bearded and with a yarmulke or a hat. Someone safe.
I have long argued that one of the factors that has led to the national child obesity epidemic is parents’ fears for their children’s safety, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children are no longer permitted to walk to school because parents’ don’t want them to bump into sickos. The net result is that they don’t get the exercise they need. But in the case of a child in a highly orthodox community the thinking would be that the child is safe because unzere, ‘our own people’ are around to help and protect.
But Levi Aron is not unzere. Not only is he not part of the religious Jewish family, he is not part of the human family. He is a beast of the field, a cold-blooded predator, devoid of any spark of G-d or hint of humanity. He is a man without a soul, a spiritless hominid.
Which leads to the most important question of all. In most cases where a child is abducted or brutally murdered by a predator, the child had already been a mark. A pedophile would have been at a playground or on a street corner studying a child who is then abducted. But in this case, a child became lost and he approached a man for directions who turns out to be a diabolical fiend. One can only hope and indeed assume that there aren’t that many crazed killers stalking Boro Park. So how could it be that the child ends up asking the one psychopath who just happened to be at his dentist to pay his bill? In other words, what was G-d thinking? We Jews believe in divine providence. Nothing happens by accident. So a child gets lost and the only person who is around for him to ask ends up being a schizoid killer?
Which brings me to my final point. I said the third reason why religious Jews live together is to protect their children from corrosive influences, to filter out elements of the popular culture and the media which are unhealthy for a child’s development. My G-d, given that’s the case, how do we make sense of a child being killed in a neighborhood set up to protect children?
We will never understand a mind like Levi Aron. Nor should we try. I just read that he is on suicide watch and wish he weren’t. If he killed himself it would be no great loss. He is not human anyway. But I wish I knew what celestial purpose could possibly have been filled by an innocent child innocently bumping into someone who would murder him.
The G-d who we Jews love and to whom we have been, and will continue to be, so tenaciously attached for thousands of years has a lot of explaining to do.
July 11, 2011 | 10:29 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The two sides of war – useless carnage on the one hand, necessary bravery and heroism on the other – were always in evidence as I toured with my wife and older children the WWI and WWII battlefields of Belgium and France.
In Flanders and at the Somme, where millions of soldiers lost their lives in the First World War to capture a few yards that were quickly recaptured by the enemy, the feel of death lingered nearly a century after the fearsome clashes. Everywhere around the towns of Albert at the Somme, and Ypres in Flanders, there are graves. Endless mounds of graves. So many that it would take weeks to visit them all. Military cemeteries dot the landscape with the ubiquitousness of Starbucks and Macdonald’s. The cemeteries each have hundreds and often thousands of headstones. Never in my life have I been surrounded by so much death. A single British memorial at Thiepval lists the names of seventy-two thousand soldiers whose bodies were never recovered.
The pock-marked, cratered battlefields where so many soldiers died in vain are likewise everywhere along the truly massive Western front, which extended from Switzerland to the North Sea. Nearly a hundred years later, the cemeteries are still richly maintained by the British, Canadian, Irish, and South African governments. The famous poppies which came to define the First World War still grow between the graves and on the side of the road in a manner reminiscent of John’ McCrae’s unforgettable poem, Flanders Fields. And the overwhelming emotion felt by the visitor a century later as he views this most quintessential of European wars is the utter stupidity, futility, and uselessness of war. Painful as it is to say, these millions of men, including the 400,000 British casualties of the Somme offensive which yielded but a few hundred yards and which the Germans retook just a few months later, died for nothing.
Not that the military cemeteries would ever admit as much. In nearly all the first words you encounter, etched in bright stone, is ‘They Fought for Freedom,’ or some such banner. But the truth is they fought for the limitless egos of European imperialists and the megalomaniacal stupidity of clueless generals, all of whom – Wilhelm II, Nicholas II, Kitchener, Haig, Bethman, and the Ottomans – have been utterly discredited by history.
By the time you drive southwest, however, for just three hours, the beaches of Normandy yield a uniquely American face of war. Just as I can scarcely describe the feelings of horror I experienced amid the tombstones of poppy country at the Somme, I struggle equally to convey the inspiration of living out my lifelong dream of standing on the invasion beaches of D-Day. From the British and Canadian beaches of Sword, Juno, and Gold and especially to the American beaches of Omaha and Utah, there is heroism glimmering from every particle of sand and bravery shimmering from the crest of every wave. Here was war with a noble, human objective. Not to win glory but to defeat evil. Not to expand empire but to crush tyranny. Not to subdue a foreign nation but to stop the genocide of a defenseless people.
Omaha Beach should be the American Mecca, a place of required pilgrimage for every US citizen at least once in their lifetime. As I stood on the vast expanse of Omaha beach I closed my eyes and tried to see the nearly three thousand Americans who died storming a heavily fortified beach, dodging machine gun nests, evading mortar fire, jumping from tanks hit by German 88mm cannons, until they could fight no more, falling amid the withering German crossfire in defense of people they had never met. Walking among the silence and perfect rows of Crosses and Magen Davids of the ten thousand Americans interred at the Omaha Beach cemetery overlooking the invasion site, you can still feel the tremor of millions of American soldiers hurling themselves against Hitler’s Atlantic wall to liberate a continent that Americans had themselves abandoned a century-and-a-half earlier because of its limits on human freedom. To witness the scale of the effort, like the remnants of the mammoth ‘Mulberry’ artificial harbor at Arromanches, built in the absence of a captured port to feed and supply the immense army, is to be rendered small as you stand amid the enormity of those justly labeled ‘The Greatest Generation.’
Americans do not fight wars for medals or conquest. They fight wars for liberty and freedom. Colin Powell expressed it best: “Over the years the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our border. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
Those noble ideals should guide the current debate as to whether America should be participating with the French and English in the fight against Kaddafi, as more Republicans join the criticism of President Obama for bombing Libya without Congressional approval.
Like any nation, there are limits to our manpower and resources. America should not have to be the world’s policeman, a goal that was originally set for a now toothless and corrupt United Nations. But as someone who has criticized President Obama in the past for showing weakness toward Iran in 2009 and doing next-to-nothing about Syria in 2011, I strongly applaud his efforts to bomb the hell out of Kaddafi’s thugs who are slaughtering their own people. I am amazed that any Republican would feel differently.
The British humiliated themselves by freeing the Lockerbie bomber over what seemed to be capitulation for an oil deal favoring BP. Likewise, the French condemned America for removing Saddam Hussein, a man who gassed thousands of children. But both nations have found a measure of redemption in their bold campaign to punish Kaddafi for brutalizing innocent people. And the thought that the United States should not, at the very least, participate with drones and the supply of logistics and ordinance, even as British and French pilots carry the heaviest load, to pummel a bloodthirsty tyrant runs contrary to the spirit of every American value.
It was we Americans who inspired our European brethren to put aside war as an instrument of glory and employ it solely as an apparatus to protect life and dignity. It was we who saved Britain from invasion and France from occupation. And now that they too are to fighting to protect complete strangers, we dare not retreat from values that were midwifed by generations of brave Americans.
Shmuley Boteach, the best-selling author and broadcaster whom Newsweek calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ will shortly publish ‘Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself.’ (Wiley) Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
July 8, 2011 | 10:52 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Ten years ago I tried to extract Michael Jackson from the hell of a tabloid life. Nothing hurt him more than being referred to as Wacko Jacko, something he always told me originated in the British tabloids. And it is worth mentioning, now that we have commemorated the second anniversary of his death, that the mountain of pills he regularly swallowed and which eventually killed him was an effort, more than anything else, to neuter the pain of being treated as a joke. Michael believed he had a serious message to share, that children were both special and innocent and the world had a responsibility to prioritize them and preserve their goodness. But he also understood that with the two boys alleging that he had acted indecently, though never convicted, his credibility had been irreversibly shattered. He was therefore doomed to a life of empty celebrity incarceration when, in truth, he so badly wished to use dedicate his renown to a cause larger than himself.
This lesson – that fame is nice but credibility is everything – has strong resonance for modern-day Britain, a country I arrived in at the tender age of 22, where I spent 11 years of my life and became a man, and where six of my nine children were born. Britain was once the most serious and influential nation on earth. It gave the world the Magna Carta and Parliamentary democracy. It produced William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. It peacefully freed its slaves decades before America and led the charge in saving the world from Hitler.
But those accomplishments seem a faint glimmer today as British society, once the most highly educated and sophisticated on earth, seems to have traded in seriousness and credibility for out-of-control celebrity. Having at times in my life made the mistake of prizing recognition over gravitas, I am not here to judge. Lord knows, I served as Michael Jackson’s Rabbi and revolved, at times, in constant celebrity society, I experienced how good it felt to feel famous. But having seen what the tabloid life did to Michael, I now run from it like the plague.
While living in Britain and serving as Rabbi to the students of Oxford University, I slowly noticed the change taking place in Britain. I still remember the day the Oxford Union – once the most celebrated debating society on earth – invited Kermit the Frog as one of their speakers. It was 1994 and the announcement still raised hackles. But this was before Britain became synonymous with the origin of reality TV like Big Brother, Project Catwalk, and many other programs that were imported into the US. It was before stories of John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, and Ryan Giggs trumped by far the reporting on Britain’s laudable efforts in Libya. Serious newspapers were not yet published as tabloids and a strict line still seemed to separate thoughtful journalism from scandal saturation.
But all that seems to have changed now, with tabloid celebrity becoming the dominant headline in Britain. It is easy for me to bemoan the fall of British gravitas. Perhaps as an American who had the privilege of living in Britain’s most fabled university town for more than a decade I had too glamorized a view of Britain’s history. But still I have to ask, is it possible that the nation who was led, just half a century ago, by the world’s greatest statesman and orator is now reduced to no one who can strut the world’s stage aside from William and Kate?
As a lover of debate I used to sit in awe as I watched young Oxford students and British politicians at the Union eviscerate each other with a command of language that had little parallel in anything I had witnessed in the United States. It inspired me to speak and write better. But I was sadly not all that surprised when I asked a recent Oxford graduate who was the most memorable speaker he has heard at Oxford over the last few years and he responded, “Martin Sheen.”
Yes, we Americans have our trash TV and our celebrity scandals. We have politicians who self-destruct with disturbing scandals and supermarket tabloids who assure is that Elvis is still alive and is now married to Princess Diana. But that world still seems cordoned off – for the most part – from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard, and Yale. The UK, however, has allowed some of its leading institutions to go tabloid and obsess over sensationalism.
Britain was once the most revered culture on earth. This was not merely due to the strength of its Navy or the fact that it was sovereign over one quarter of the earth’s surface, a fact of colonialism that rightly disturbs many in Britain today. Rather, it was primarily due to the high quality of its education, its world-renowned thinkers, and the striking quality of its ideas. And it is a tradition that Britain must once again reclaim if it is to significantly play on the world’s stage yet again.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom Newsweek calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ was the London Times Preacher of the Year in 1999 and is the international best-selling author of 25 books, including ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Judaism.’ (Duckworth) Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
July 5, 2011 | 9:32 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
This one was really strange.
This past Sunday The New York Times did a magazine cover story based on the ideas of gay sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, whom it referred to as America’s leading sex advice guru (really?), about how infidelity just might save monogamy, the idea being that monogamy is tough and it’s about time we acknowledged it. Savage argues that couples should be far more understanding of infidelities and even discuss them before they happen so as to receive each other’s informed consent, should that prove appropriate to the relationship. Couples should trade in the straightjacket of strict monogamy, which essentially doesn’t work, and instead seek to be ‘monogomish,’ that is, being essentially faithful but allowing for outside liaisons which just might prevent the dissolution of the primary relationship.
Yawn. What a bore. This is what passes for news in the world’s leading publication?
The New York Times would devote an ocean of ink to an idea that has been unsuccessfully argued by scores of ‘experts’ who have caused couples untold suffering by arguing for open relationships that have later been destroyed by jealousy and woundedness?
Indeed, the argument for open relationships goes back to the beginning of time, its most famous modern advocate being the celebrated British philosopher Bertrand Russell who wrote long letters to his wife about his consensual infidelities. But his open-mindedness could not surmount his jealousy when his own wife starting taking lovers. When Dora had a child by another man, he left her, later commenting, “My capacity for forgiveness, and what might be called Christian love, was not equal to the demands I was making on it . . . I was blinded by theory.” Their daughter Kathleen Tait pithily remarked about her parents’ strange marriage, “Calling jealousy deplorable had not freed them from it . . . both found it hard to admit that the ideal had been destroyed by the old-fashioned evils of jealousy and infidelity.”
The great British writer Iris Murdoch was the same. Her hhusband John Bayley wrote a memoir of their 40-year marriage called Elegy for Iris. He explains that his wife would not allow her marriage to curtail her freedom or her need for adventure. She insisted by being allowed to have lovers and pursued other men intermittently. Still, she to be married because she desired the comfort, companionship, and sense of safety that marriage offered. Bayley was not happy with the arrangement but felt he had no right to object. “In the early days, I always thought it would be vulgar – as well as not my place – to give any indications of jealousy…” So he buried the terrible pain it caused him all in the name of relationship enlightenment.
But convinced he has actually stumbled on something novel, Dan Savage, breaking new ground in The New York Times, adds more. He believes that we have crippled men by expecting them to be monogamous. “The mistake that straight people made was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitarian and fairsey.” According to the New York Times Savage believes that “the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”
In other words, the modern expectation for men to finally evolve from being indulgent boys and adolescents and become gentleman –honoring their commitments and not breaking the hearts of the women who are devoted to them by cheating on them – has been a disaster for marriage.
Hmmm. I wonder. Has Savage discussed his theory with women? Does the average wife believe that her husband ought to have ‘a release valve’ (I love these plumbing metaphors) that is not her?
Let’s be clear. Yes, monogamy is challenging and does not come naturally. But neither does studying for an SAT, waking up at the crack of dawn to go to a job, or even remaining hygienic, for that matter. I suppose that cave men probably did far more of what came naturally. No doubt bopping a woman over the head with a club and taking her by force came much more naturally that having to wine and dine her, slowly wooing the commitment from her. But men, have thankfully, become civilized. Today we expect men to try and live honorably and live by their commitments. And the first commitment a man makes in marriage is to treat his wife like she is special, loved, and the one and only. And when a husband has sex with another woman, whatever Dan Savage things, it makes her feel discarded, secondary, and useless.
One woman I spoke to expressed it best. When I asked her why she had left her husband who had cheated on her twice, though I tried and keep them together, she told me, “It changed the nature of the relationship. Before he did this I felt like I was good enough. Now I feel inadequate, and it’s now what I got married to feel.”
Savage would probably respond, Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. We need to explain to this wounded wife that by her husband cheating he was never doing so because she was not good enough. He was not rejecting her, per say. Rather, it’s that monogamy, in Savage’s words, has “drawbacks,” including “boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.” I suspect, however, that the wife in question would respond, “Oh, really. Well, I want a husband who makes the effort to find me interesting, keep our love-life fresh, and who finds variety in exploring my sexuality and endless capacity for erotic fantasy. And if a man is not willing to make that effort, I’m better off with the company of a cat.”
Indeed, spurious arguments like those made by Savage, now given so much credence by The New York Times, is what has driven so many women off of men. Three quarters of all divorces today are initiated by women, and one third of all women of marriageable age are single. Why? Because they’re tired of men who want to act like boys. Who have wandering eyes. Who watch TV at night rather than make love to them. Who lose their sexual focus, and who treat them like they’re not attractive or interesting. Dan Savage might say this is inevitable, that men are hard-wired to require lots of different women. I’ve heard these arguments ad nauseam from hard-core evolutionists who tell us that men are genetically wired to inseminate everything with a pulse.
But I’m sorry. I am a man. Not a brute. And my actions are in my control. And if I screw up I cannot blame my nature but rather my bad choices. Period.
Savage is wrong. Catastrophically wrong.
Men, like women, are intimacy seekers. The men whom I know who had affairs had them primarily to find someone who made them feel good about themselves and to open up to emotionally. Men cheat out of a sense of brokenness. That’s why the most common refrain among married men to their mistresses is, “My wife doesn’t understand me.” And he thinks that some other woman would, when all along he could have made the effort to open up emotionally to his wife and find new erotic opportunities within the confines of monogamy.
Yes, there are marriages that crumble due to boredom, just as there are business that lose their customers due to a lack of imagination. But every company like IBM, or even Blackberry for that matter, whose stock is currently tanking because of a lack of imaginative new products, there is an Apple computer that continues to innovate and expand and broaden its customer base. And for every husband like Anthony Weiner who tweets his junk to strangers there are husbands who wrestle with a straying eye to always find new beauty and depth in their wives. Rather than masturbating to porn their take their wives personally to shop for clothes, telling them what looks great on them. Rather than fantasizing about other women during sex, they ask their wives to reveal to their most secret and dangerous fantasies. Any husband who has ever tried it knows that a woman’s fantasies are far more elaborate and exciting that a man’s.
In the final analysis the reason why the Savages of this world are so misguided is that monogamy actually accords with our deepest nature. What we all seek in marriage is the synthesis of novelty and intimacy. We want a lover who is also our best friend. We want an erotic bond that is both fiery but also friendly. It is a subject to which I devoted a full-length book, “Kosher Sex,” and it is eminently doable.
What we don’t want is to have to choose. We don’t a husband who is our partner, reliable and supportive, but is not simultaneously our lover, passionate and electrifying. We want a wife who is a nurturer and who is caring. But we also want to her to swing with the chandeliers. This may sound like a tall order. But it is no more challenging than asking people to focus on the professional while also excelling at the personal. Human beings are capable of this and we sell ourselves short when we so minimize our expectations. People should be well-rounded and it is the job of us relationship and sex advisors to give them the encouragement, the tools, and also the definitive knowledge that it can be done.
But advice columnists like Dan Savage, who have a shallow understanding of what eroticism really is, are doing their readers an injustice when men to devolve back into the bad behavior that has all too long characterized the male species.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of Kosher Sex, Kosher Adultery, and the Kosher Sutra. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
June 27, 2011 | 12:53 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Now that the tide has turned in favor of gay marriage by America’s second most-populous state permitting it, it’s time to put the debate behind us and focus on more important things, specifically saving American marriage.
Yes, I know. The opponents of gay marriage have been saying they were doing just that, that their sole intention in obsessing over the issue for three decades was to protect the family and the institution of marriage. But gays marrying has nothing to do with heterosexuals divorcing and the real crisis in the American marriage is not that people of the same sex want to get hitched but that people of the opposite don’t want to stay together. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York told CNN, “I’m very sorry that our opponents succeeded in reducing this to anti-gay sentiment. It’s not. It’s pro-marriage, it’s not anti-gay.” I respect the Archbishop. But then why wasn’t he simultaneously calling for legislation that would make marital counseling tax-deductible in New York and why hasn’t he launched a crusade to cut the number of divorces in New York state by half? Is it credible to believe that the only way to save marriage is to stop the gays from participating?
My parents divorced when I was eight. There were no gays around to blame. It was mid-1970’s America and gays scarcely came out of the closet, let alone marry, the very thought being inconceivable. My parents did not argue because they saw two gay women holding hands at an airport. They did not bicker because a rainbow flag hung outside a bar in our neighborhood. They did not decide to end their marriage because they could not agree on how the institution of marriage should be defined. Rather, their marriage ended because it ran out of love.
Their split scarred me for life, just as it does many other children of divorce, as a newly published study in the American Sociological Review demonstrates. The study found little to no impact on children prior to divorce but significant decreases in performance in math and social skills at the time of, and following the divorce, which gives the lie to the belief that children are worse off seeing parents fight then seeing them divorce. And no, I do not believe that parents should stay together for the sake of their children. Children should be jailers. But less so do I believe we should fool ourselves about the effects of divorce on children.
My parent’s love me and did not want me to suffer. But they could not, or chose not, to get along. I have since devoted much of my life toward keeping families together and regularly counsel marriages in crisis. In the twenty-two years I have done so no straight couple has ever told me that their problems stem from gays wanting to marry. In most cases their marital unhappiness resulted from falling out-of-love or losing attraction, or one of the partners had been unfaithful. Money problems may have eaten away at the fabric of the relationship. Parents or other family members might have intervened and caused friction. Or the pressures of life made it impossible for the couple to spend quality time together. But none of the problems I have counseled could ever be traced back to gay marriage.
The truth is that the thirty-year fight over gay marriage has been a massive distraction for America that has prevented us from focusing on skyrocketing divorce, the growing culture of male womanizing, women feeling unreasonably old, fat, and unattractive, the fixation of husbands and wives on celebrity relationships that deprives their own marriages of oxygen, and the dumbing down of American through moronic reality TV. My God, we can’t even talk about runaway materialism in our culture. When consumer insatiability nearly destroyed our economy in 2008, we responded by fighting over Proposition Eight in California. And as New York State and New Jersey slowly go bankrupt through out of control government spending, the state legislatures still bicker about gay marriage.
The passing of the gay marriage bill in New York State has now provided an opportunity. There, it’s over. Now let’s focus on what the bill says, which is that even in a secular age where premarital sex and living together are what the majority choose over marriage, guess what, marriage is still important. Most people, even those being condemned for it, still want to be married. The bill says, whatever you think of gays wanting to marry, the human condition is such that people want to be with one person forever. That monogamy is the way we all ought to live. That love is real and commitment glorious. That no person wants to be alone, just as the Bible declared in the very first chapter of Genesis. That love and romance are to be found specifically in an institution that promotes fidelity and loyalty and that living together in some undefined status – relying on emotional whim rather than rock-solid commitment – is insufficient. Indeed, one of the strangest things about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fight to legalize gay marriage is that he has chosen not to marry his own girlfriend Sandra Lee. And while that is his business, it does beg the question of why, if he believes marriage really is so important that all should enjoy its blessings, he hasn’t made the commitment to the woman he loves.
My traditional readers will find it scandalous. But is it possible that the victory of gay marriage is actually an opportunity to bolster traditional values?
When I was Rabbi at Oxford for eleven years those most likely to champion gay marriage were the ones least likely to marry themselves. They were liberal, unconventional, and frowned on institutions, especially religion, which they found doctrinaire and oppressive. They believed that marriage was an outdated and monogamy unworkable. Marriage lacked passion and its sole function seemed to be the raising of children. Worse, it did not work. Everyone they knew who was married was either divorced or miserable.
Now, the calculus has changed. We can now tell all the womanizers out there that sowing your wild oats is for cowards and marriage is universally acknowledged by both right and left, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, to be glorious. Marriage is where is the action’s at and merely sleeping together without love and commitment has been discarded by society in a huge legal brawl that has seen marriage triumph. So give up you boy’s and girl’s who devote themselves to bed-hopping. High School is over. It’s time to grow up and become adults.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” (Basic Books) The winner of the National Fatherhood Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary, he is described by Newsweek as ‘the most famous Rabbi in America.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
June 24, 2011 | 10:37 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
This week’s Torah reading deals with the rebellion of Korach, a cousin of Moses, who contends that he is just as deserving of leadership as the great lawgiver. Korach claims that Moses has usurped power for reasons of self-aggrandizement. Moses, whom the Bible declares to be the most humble man on the earth, acts out of character, becoming visibly angry, and says to G-d, ““Do not accept their offering. I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.” Moses is declaring that he never acted out of reasons of ego. That which he did, in setting up the Jewish leadership structure, was at G-d’s command. Ultimately, things do not fare well for Korach and his cohort. They are swallowed by the earth, never to be heard from again.
Korach is like a lot of people who practice religion. He wishes to be close to G-d, he wishes to be elevated above the rest of the people. But his motivation is for G-d to do something for him. He wants religion to fill the emptiness of his life, he wants it to help him grow. Korach loves G-d and wants to draw close to him. He is upset that Moses is closer. But whereas Moses serves G-d by His command, Korach’s desire is to fill an inner emptiness and void. Lacking meaning and purpose in life, he turns to G-d to fill in the space.
Real religious is God-centric. God is supposed to be at the apex of our lives, their every action revolving around His will. I reject utterly this superficial notion that religions is designed to help us grow. We are not plants. If you want to grow eat your Wheaties. To the contrary, religion and G-d’s will are to be obeyed even if it at times bores you. You don’t get married to grow as a person. Doing so would entering into a relationship to use your spouse for your own spiritual objectives. You get married because you have love to offer and you want to make someone happy.
But Korach represents the man or woman who comes to Church or Synagogue seeking the opposite. They want God to cater to their needs. They want the Synagogue service to give them the same good vibes as a Bruce Springsteen concert. Theirs is a man-centered religion. Religion is supposed to move them, enlighten them, and make them grow. Religion exists to refine their characters. They draw closer to G-d for their own purposes, however noble.
I often tell my Christian friends that they can learn much from Judaism about the correct way to understand Christ. The classic Christian understanding of the death of Christ is that Jesus lays down his life for humans in order to atone for their sin. This reflects the thought conveyed above. G-d exists for the benefit of the people. He dies so that the people can be saved and it’s all about them. But the quintessential symbol of Judaism is precisely the opposite. Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac at G-d’s command. Humans exist to perform the divine will, whatever the consequences. We are here for G-d, not the reverse. So too, Jesus is martyred by the Romans for his desire to live as a Jew in a land that was being brutalized by Roman tyranny. He died serving his G-d.
Korach is the archetype of all those who go to Synagogue in order to find spiritual uplift, who go to Church to feel inspired, who practice Buddhism to find enlightenment. And should any of these religions fail to deliver, they become lapsed because the religion’s purpose, from their perspective, is self-edification.
This is a selfish mindset that simply extends human narcissism into the spiritual realm. It is this obsession with self which has wrought so much havoc on the modern world. In essence it is the mindset of the consumer. Everything exists for his benefit. Like Pacman, he devours everything in his midst, including G-d himself. It is the mind of utilitarian who sees personal utility in all that he encounters
Hence, the punishment for Korach and his followers is unlike any found anywhere else in the Bible. He is swallowed by the earth, never to be heard from again. His end reflects his very essence. In his life he was a black hole, sucking the oxygen out of all that he encountered. His death reflected this same insatiability. An earth that he had plundered for his own purposes gulped him down in one swish, never to be heard from again.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. His upcoming books “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself. (Wiley). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Written by Rabbi Shmuley in memory of Machla bat Bina & Pinchas Dabakarov
June 20, 2011 | 10:52 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The growing anti-Semitic images and caricatures associated with the attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco are disturbing. These include the highly inflammatory “Foreskin Man” comic, depicting a superhero saving innocent boys from evil circumcisers, which the Jerusalem Post reported to have been produced by Matthew Hess, “one of the central backers of the anti-circumcision measures.” Indeed, the attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco smacks of a nefarious campaign on the part of the ban’s organizers to portray circumcision as genital mutilation that gives the lie that Judaism and Jewish practice would ever harm a child. I debated Lloyd Schofield, the main man behind the ban, on CNN. I later respectfully asked him to debate me in public where we would have more time and, after he penned a friendly email which curiously implied that there is not much difference between our two positions, he suddenly declined.
But if the case against circumcision is so clear-cut, and it is a grievous assault on a harmless infant, then why decline the debate? Perhaps it is because the organizers know that in any debate their attempt to correlate the excising of the male foreskin with the removal of the female clitoris – a point they have repeatedly made – will be shown up to be a malicious and absurd lie. Female circumcision is all about removing a woman’s ability to have pleasure during sexual relations and is a barbarous act of mutilation that has no corollary to its male counterpart. In my book Kosher Sex I demonstrated conclusively that Judaism celebrates the sexual, intimate, and erotic bond between husband and wife and the attempts to malign circumcision as a method of denying a man’s sexual pleasure are ignorant and biased.
San Francisco is supposed to be the city of live-and-let-live even as it now betrays a curious attachment to the male foreskin, with its ludicrous attempt to punish its large Jewish community with a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail for simply honoring the oldest of all Jewish practices and rituals.
When I lived in Western Europe for 11 years it was common to hear attacks on circumcision and shechita coming together, as if there was some correlation between the humane slaughtering of an animal with the cutting of a child’s foreskin. Sweden has a reputation of being a pretty laid-back nation but it stiffens in the face of circumcision. In 2001 when it enacted a draconian law requiring a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany a registered circumciser and for an anesthetic to be applied to a baby beforehand. Swedish Jews and Muslim banded together to object and the World Jewish Congress condemned the law as “the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era.”
All this, of course, belies the medical facts. Circumcision has been proven as the second most effective means – after a condom – to stop the transmission of HIV-AIDS, with the British Medical Journal reporting that circumcised men are 8 times less likely to contract the infection. Circumcision removes Langerhans cells in the foreskin with special receptors that may grant the virus access into the body.
Circumcision also significantly reduces the transmission of other STD’s like genital herpes and syphilis and also reduces the risk of urinary-tract infection, and me who are circumcised have 100 percent immunity from contracting penile cancer.
Male circumcision is much healthier for women, significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer by at least twenty percent according to an article in the British Medical Journal in April 2002. Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus which can thrive under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse.
So why the effort to ban circumcision? Simple. Radical secularists for whom Judaism is a target of choice wish to portray religion as so barbarous that it excises any pleasure in sex, reducing copulation to a cold and sterile act of baby-making.
The lie that religion frowns on sexual pleasure is widespread. In fact, deeply fulfilling, ecstatic, and climactic sex is a must in Jewish law which makes it a sin for a man to have sex with his wife without pleasuring her first. Judaism insists that sex be accompanied by exhilaration and pleasure as a bonding experience that leads to emotional connection and intimacy.
Indeed, we Jews could teach even the highly sexually adventurous people of the Golden Gate City a thing or two about great sex, the proof of which is that we alone, among all the nations of the world, are still here after thousands of years, due to the fact that our circumcised ancestors were pretty good at doing it.
Had Messrs. Schofield and Hess canvassed Jewish husbands and wives before they got the attempted circumcision ban on the ballot, they would have discovered that we Jews are doing just fine in the sexual department and could really do without their bothersome assault on our ancient rituals and the privacy of our sexual connection. Circumcised Jewish men are great lovers and I would strongly advise Schofield and Hess to keep their nose in their own business and maybe even read my other two books The Kosher Sutra and Kosher Adultery to receive some great Jewish advice for take-me-to-the-moon-and-back sex which might rescue them from their own repression that necessitates their peering into other people’s bedrooms.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the interational best-selling author of 25 books which have been translated into 17 languages and is currently working on “The Sexually Extinguished Wife.” Follow him Twitter @RabbiShmuley.