Unorthodox Views on Sex

Miryam Kabakov, an advocate for LGBT Orthodox Jews, offered a solution for reconciling male homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism during the third (and most recent) episode of The Joy of Text, a podcast that bills itself as an Orthodox exploration of sexuality.

I like to not talk about Vayikra (the book of the Torah containing a passage that is interpreted by Orthodox Jews as forbidding homosexual behavior between men), actually, because I feel like it narrows the conversation…like it’s a dead end.

After noting that homosexuality is becoming more accepted in general society and by the mental health community, Kabakov added, “The Rabbis will eventually get it and will stop focusing on that pasuk (passage), I believe.”

Choosing not to relate to (or focus on) Torah passages that are viewed as problematic in modern times isn’t a novel approach – this is how the Reform and Reconstructionist movements formulate their views on homosexuality and other issues. But is this a legitimate Orthodox approach?

The two podcast co-hosts – Rabbi Dov Linzer, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, the clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality and the founder and vice president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) – neglected to question Kabakov on this point.

This approach is emblematic of the main problem with The Joy of Text. Rather than truly serving as a sincere examination of Orthodox views on sexuality, the co-hosts and guests seem determined to look for loopholes in Jewish law and endorse the commonly accepted sexual practices of secular society.

Dr. Marcus prefaced her response to one question in the third episode by noting, “I feel like at this point there’s been nothing that I’ve said I don’t think is appropriate,” drawing laughs from the live crowd at Limmud NY.

Indeed. The co-hosts and guests on The Joy of Text tend to be extremely liberal for the Orthodox sector and the topics discussed are certainly on the outskirts of today’s mainstream Jewish Orthodox movement. Kabakov, who described herself during the third episode as “disobedient Orthodox,” said she has conversations with Rabbis about transgendered children, such as a boy who might want a bat mitzvah, and on which side of the mechitza (prayer partition) transgendered children should sit.

Dr. Marcus said she once told a class of girls at Westchester Hebrew High School, “You should start touching yourself to figure out what feels good.”

When one of the girls protested that boys at the school teased certain girls by claiming that they masturbate, Dr. Marcus told the girl that if such a comment were repeated in the future, the girl should tell the offending boy, “You should only be so lucky to get to be with a girl who does masturbate.”

This is how Orthodox educators teach their young students to speak to the opposite sex?

Rabbi Linzer, for his part, comes across as very knowledgeable about the topics that are discussed, but he defers quite a bit to Dr. Marcus and often comes across as apologetic about Orthodox Judaism’s perceived incompatibility with today’s sexual norms.

“When it comes to the issue of sex…the Talmud very much…sort of sees everything from a male perspective,” he said when discussing female masturbation.

Listeners seeking conversations about the beauty and sanctity of Jewish family purity laws are not going to find them in The Joy of Text (at least not in the first three episodes). The podcast mostly seems aimed at young Orthodox people, particularly women, who feel repressed or stymied by Orthodox Jewish law.

My own views on sexuality are not particularly conservative. I’m just disappointed in the podcast’s failure to deliver what it promises – an open and honest look at how Jewish Orthodoxy and sexuality interact and intersect in the modern world, without undue favoritism towards one side and predetermined conclusions.

*The subjects discussed in this blog post can evoke passion. Nonetheless, please be respectful in the comments section and refrain from name calling and mean/hurtful comments.

About the Author
Eric Danis lives in Modi'in, Israel with his wife and three cute kids. Whenever possible, he tries to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about Israel and Judaism.
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