Friday, November 02, 2012

Boteach Must Not Win

Guest Post by Elliot Resnick

Some people may not be aware of the fact that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (pictured here with entertainer Michael Jackson) is running for congress in his home district in New Jersey. Rabbi Boteach is a controversial figure in Orthodox Jewry - most especially among his own Chabad Chasidim. Although he tenaciously clings to Chabad Hashkafos - they have virtually expelled him from the movement.

My opinions about him run hot and cold. Sometimes his views are right on the money and other times I consider them quite bizarre. We already know what he brings to the public square. As an Orthodox rabbi, it would be interesting to see what he would bring to government. 

That said there are some very serious issues at stake here for Orthodox Jewry. I have no particular dog in this hunt other than the fact that his behavior as a congressman will reflect on Orthodoxy as a whole. Will he be good for the Jews? ...or bad? I'm not sure. So I have remained neutral. I neither endorse him nor his opponent. 

But there are people who have some very strong opinions about Rabbi Boteach. One of them is Jewish Press staff reporter Elliot Resnick (who lists his credentials below). He has asked me to post his op-ed on this subject. I value his opinion and have agreed. As always the views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect my own. His unedited words follow. 

If the Orthodox community doesn’t wake up soon, America’s “sex rabbi” may become a congressman.

Shmuley Boteach is currently running for Congress in New Jersey’s ninth congressional district against Bill Pascrell. I don’t know much about Pascrell. I do know a bit about Boteach, though, and if he is elected, the honor of God and Torah will suffer greatly.

I admit, a few years ago I was beginning to warm up to Boteach. I am a conservative who believes Jews should play a more active role in America’s culture wars, and Boteach is one of the few Jews involved in this pursuit. I always had a problem with his infamous Kosher Sex and Kosher Adultery books, but I started making excuses for him. “Look,” I said to myself, “everyone makes mistakes and perhaps these were Boteach’s. Perhaps his drive for fame simply blinded him.” After all, Boteach himself admitted as much in an op-ed published in The Jewish Press a number of years ago.

But then, in 2009, he wrote The Kosher Sutra – a title designed once again to shock and provoke. There is a reason the titles (and contents) of Boteach’s books are so jolting. After all, since when do rabbis discuss marital relations in the public square – especially in such a frank and crude manner? Since when do rabbis joke about being voted one of the sexiest men alive (as he recently did on Canadian television)? Judaism believes intimacy should be just that – intimate. Tznius and kedusha, classically interpreted, dictate that we adopt a somewhat demure demeanor when talking about sexual matters. Boteach, though, doesn’t seem to care.

Even after The Kosher Sutra appeared, though, I stubbornly retained a soft spot for Boteach. I detested his public discussions of the most intimate of human behaviors, but I couldn’t help but admire his fight to promote many traditional Jewish values in America. I couldn’t help but respect the idea behind his Jewish Values Network or the inspiration behind his Make Friday Night Family Night campaign.

That all changed a few months ago after I watched several YouTube videos of Boteach’s March appearance on the Dr. Phil show. These videos convinced me that some of the worst things people say about Boteach are unfortunately true.

Boteach appeared on the show together with Pearl Perry Reich, a formerly chassidic woman fighting to retain at least partial custody of her children. Her husband, mad at her for abandoning Orthodox observance – Reich worked as a model at the time of filming – wanted to ban her from their children’s lives. Dr. Phil’s third guest was Reich’s boyfriend. (Note: Reich is still legally married).

What did Boteach say on the show? First, he advanced the controversial thesis that “both parents [being] involved in a child’s life is essential regardless of level of observance.” Anyone, he said, “who would suggest otherwise is in complete violation of normative Jewish values.” Really? In complete violation?

It gets worse. Later in the show, he claimed the Bible prohibits arranged marriages. Now, I am no fan of arranged marriages, but this statement is just staggeringly false, and Boteach – who surely has studied a bit of Bible and Jewish history – knows that.

Boteach continued displaying more mendacity, plus a touch of crudeness, when Reich’s boyfriend asked Boteach whether he had violated Jewish law by kissing Reich (who, as you will recall, is a married woman). Boteach’s one-line answer – delivered with a coy smile – was: It depends on what kind of kiss it was.

The clincher for me, though, was Boteach’s statement – remember, this show aired on national television – that he would have no problem if all his daughters became models. Mind you, he wasn’t talking about high-class, high-end, modest-clothing models (if such even exist). He was referring to models like Reich who strike the type of poses that inspire people to call America’s culture degenerate. (Dr. Phil showed pictures of her modeling work on the show.)

What made Boteach’s statement so bizarre is that he offered it unsolicited. An Orthodox Jew in the audience was criticizing Reich for displaying her body to make money, arguing that it violates Jewish values, and Boteach actually cut him off to say he would have no objection whatsoever to all his daughters entering the modeling industry. Unbelievable!

Watching Boteach on Dr. Phil was like watching a con artist in action. There was no saying what he would say or do next.

Many people dismiss Boteach. “Ah, he’s just a meshugana who loves publicity,” they say. But dismissing him is a mistake. To millions of people across America, Boteach is the face of Judaism. What he says is Judaism.

Now, none of us can stop him from writing books and making TV appearances. But we can make it clear that Boteach does not represent Judaism and most certainly does not represent Orthodox Judaism. We can also do our very best to ensure Boteach does not win his congressional bid on November 6.

Think about it: Do we really want a full-bearded rabbi who boldly misrepresents Torah values in Congress ? Do we really want this publicity hound to be the face of Orthodox Judaism in Washington? Do we really want the first rabbi in Congress’s sacred quarters to be America’s “sex rabbi”?

Unless we work against him, Boteach’s influence will continue to grow. The man is terribly ambitious. Closing our eyes and ignoring him will not solve the problem of Boteach. Only a unified Orthodox effort to disassociate ourselves from him, denounce him, and work against him will.

Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.