Last week, the paper of record contained a 3,000 word profile piece on Bat Sheva Marcus “Orthodox Sex Guru” who feeds into the hands of the New York Times by furthering the ignorant stereotype of unworldly Orthodox Jews clueless in the bedroom.
You don’t have to be a guru to recognize that rather than remaining in the dark ages as Marcus describes, in the last few years, Orthodoxy has been advancing in healthy sexual awareness, building on our rich treasure trove of holy traditions surrounding the spousal relationship.
The Orthodox community in Israel is paving the way for healthy discourse and learning surrounding intimacy and sexuality. Where Dr. Marcus finds it challenging to gather a crowd for sexuality training course, we are seeing the opposite here in Israel.
In my work as an educator and therapist, I have found that the words ‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘Sex’ are not incongruous, but describe a fast growing and important area. There are a number of burgeoning organizations that offer training in the topic of intimacy to a variety of medical professionals, as well as kallah and chatan teachers.
In addition to numerous private practitioners, organizations like the Eden Center, Merkaz Yahel, the Puah Institute, and Nishmat’s Yoatzot Halacha Program, to name a few, are all doing pioneering work in expanding the healthy discussion surrounding intimacy and sexuality within the religious community in Israel.
In America steps are definitely being taken in this direction with pioneers taking the field in the form of religious and community leaders, among them; Drs. Scott and Rivky Chudnoff as well as Chani and Shmuel Maybruch.
Orthodox educators have produced important books, such as Dr. Yocheved Debow’s ‘Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality’ giving observant parents a Torah inspired voice and a language to raise the topic of intimacy and sexuality within their own family.
While the New York Times describes “widespread sexual aversion” in the Orthodox community, the reality is much more embracing and today there are even Orthodox distributors of ‘sex toys’ who will, privately and appropriately, come to a couple’s home to explain which item is ideal for mutual enjoyment.
There are websites for the Orthodox which enable couples to find what they may need to enhance pleasure in their physical relationships, without flashing immodest images of naked bodies that take away from the intimacy of a marriage .
Where Dr. Marcus describes a community of Orthodox Jews who lack basic knowledge regarding intimacy, there remains an entire spectrum of Orthodox Jews who have absorbed all of the messages that secular culture has to offer, and now they will figure out how to fit those ideas into their Orthodox lifestyle in a healthy and positive way, in line with Jewish values.
Throughout its long history, Judaism has provided deep insights into intimacy and the spousal relationship. If we go all the way back to Creation, when G-d formed the world, we meet man and his counterpart, his ‘ezer kinegdo’, partner, woman. Very soon after man and woman are each formed into their own beings, they receive their first directive, ‘And one shall leave their mother and father and cling to their spouse’ (Genesis 2:24).
This imperative acknowledges that the most important relationship one can develop in their lifetime is between husband and wife, and traditional Judaism has constantly sought ways to protect and enhance this relationship.
I believe we, as a community, are finally returning to our age old traditions surrounding intimacy, and are not allowing the media and pop culture define how we create and maintain our intimate relationships. Ideas such as Kosher Lust, although important in some ways, do not solely define the way to reach healthy intimacy in marriage.
In fact, so many of the cultural mores that seem restrictive in nature, are in place to maintain a level of closeness and intimacy between spouse and partner. One may be able to fathom how in today’s day and age with internet on our handhelds, such mores may be helpful. But again, Orthodox couples across the spectrum have the opportunity to choose their comfort level in this arena.
“Orthodoxy” in Judaism is an enormous continuum that continues on and on to the Right and to the Left, depending on who you are and how you define yourself. Orthodox Judaism is not defined by fringe sects of Hassidism, as may have been inferred by the NYTimes magazine article. I would hope, that when presented with a title including the words ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Sex’, we would read of the dramatic steps mainstream Orthodoxy has taken and continues to take toward perfecting our message on healthy sexuality. The Orthodox community is expanding the conversation and offering families a framework within which to build their homes. Next time you see the words ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Sex’ in an article headline, hopefully it won’t be another superficial cheap shot making Jewish people and customs look ridiculous, but rather, reporting on the great strides being taken in our traditional yet dynamic community.