Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kosher Sex

YCT Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Dov Linzer
About 15 years ago, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a book called Kosher Sex.   It catapulted him to celebrity status. But he was also roundly criticized for it by most Orthodox rabbis. Now It seems that YCT (Yeshiva Chovevei Torah ) Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Dov Linzer has embarked on a similar path. He is participating in a podcast of similar content.

He is joined by Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, a woman who bills herself as an Orthodox sex therapist.  According to the Jewish Week she was profiled in the New York Times about her work with Charedim. I’m not sure there is any difference between what Rabbi Boteach did and what Rabbi Linzer is doing. Other than the fact that Rabbi Linzer’s efforts are free to the public online and available to anyone who wishes to access it.

I have to wonder about the propriety of this. I have my issues with YCT. And have spelled them out quite clearly in the past. One of them in fact raises questions about a hard line being crossed. A line with respect to the tolerance of rabbis in their midst that have cast the the events at Sinai into the realm of fiction.

But leaving all that aside, a new issue has arisen that is keeping YCT firmly implanted in controversy. The Jewish Week reports about a new website jointly hosted by YCT and JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) on a program called the Joy of Text… a play on the title of a very popular book of the 70s entitled the Joy of Sex - an illustrated sex manual by British author Alex Comfort, PhD. That should give you some idea about the purpose of this podcast. (Jewish Public Media is a separate organization that produces the The Joy of Text in collaboration with JOFA and YCT.)

It isn’t a program about Taharas Mishpacha - family purity laws. That would be fine. It is basically a a sex manual for Orthodox Jews. It features Issues like  the permissibility of sexual fantasies... which kind are permitted and which are forbidden and whether sex toys are permitted and in what context.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it. On the one hand, there ought to be more information about these things disseminated to young people before they get married. My guess is that there is precious little of it now. I am told by people involved in these things that that these issues are indeed discussed. But my guess is that they fall woefully short of touching the entire gamut of issues involved. Knowledge is power. Halachic knowledge is Halachic power.

So at first blush it would seem that there is everything right about this. Nothing to criticize. Sex is an important part of marriage. It ought not be put on the back burner of educating young men and women about marriage. Understandably, however, most people are reluctant to talk about it. Including, and perhaps especially those that ought to be – Mechanchim.  Teachers who mold the character of our young.  That makes it kind of a conundrum. But it shouldn’t be.

My reservation is in the public way it is being done. And that one of the participants is the Rosh HaYeshiva of YCT. Is it really appropriate for a Rosh HaYeshiva to be talking publicly about sexual fantasies and sex toys?  Even if his entire purpose is to provide the Halachic perspective on this?

I’m conflicted about this particular way of tackling this very sensitive issue. And yet I think there is a need. Perhaps instead of a podcast it might be more appropriate to encourage people to consult with rabbinic experts and a therapist privately about these matters. 

On the other hand maybe this is the only way to do it effectively so that it reaches the maximum number of people. Isn’t that better than taking a chance on doing something that is forbidden? Or not doing something that is permitted because of preconceived notions that it is forbidden?

Does that outweigh the impropriety of a Rosh HaYeshiva talking about sex toys in public? I don’t know. Rabbi Boteach thought his way was fine. I suppose that Rabbi Linzer thinks that his way is fine too. But I wonder.