In my book “Kosher Adultery” I suggested that husbands make their wives into webcam girls. I was being facetious, but only just. We remain sexually healthy when our sexuality is not repressed. Why not cater to the male need for voyeurism by allowing husbands to stare at their knowing wives? It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but then sex is highly personal. Rather than condemn individual erotic needs as sick, why not cater to it in a kosher way? And if a wife is fine with her husband taking pictures of her changing, who cares?
Now comes the painful news that a well-known Rabbi in the nation’s capital was using other men’s wives as his webcam girls. The pain of the victims is unimaginable as is the culprit’s family. Women go to the mikveh (Jewish ritual immersion bath) to feel spiritually and physically rejuvenated. They do not go to feel dirty. The mikveh is a place of female sanctity. It has been shockingly violated.
Few stories over the past years have been as serious with regards to male religious violation of women and action is required. A comprehensive review of male access to the female mikveh must be undertaken so that all women feel and know that the mikveh is an inviolable place of religious privacy and spiritual security. This sorrowful story also highlights the need to accelerate the establishment of female Halakhic (Jewish legal) authorities so that women can increasingly regulate private feminine Jewish matters.
I would be lying if I did not say that, however misplaced, I am filled with pity for Rabbi Barry Freundel, a brilliant scholar whose insightful and lucid writings on Jewish ethics I have found informative. To see a sage and communal leader who spent so many years devoted to a community destroy his life should evoke in the rest of us Rabbis – all of whom are human and fallible – both condemnation and humility. At any time even virtuous men can drive their lives off a cliff and engage in reprehensible actions that are inexcusably harmful to trusting and virtuous victims. And few things are more virtuous than a woman who goes to mikveh to establish the holy nature of her marriage.
I have long argued that sex is not something that can or should be tamed but channeled, not suppressed but sublimated. Alone among the religions of the world, Judaism embraces the human sexual instinct as pleasurable, erotic, and not merely procreative. Last week’s beautiful Torah reading makes it abundantly clear that the purpose of sex is not having children but intimacy born of cleaving: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and leave his mother. He shall cleave unto his wife and they shall become one flesh.”
In an age of romantic cynicism and the decline of marriage – and last week’s new census data revealed that more people than ever are not marrying – why would we not harness the single most powerful human instinct to draw men closer to their wives? Instead of making husbands feel that their erotic needs are aberrational, let’s always encourage them to direct it toward their wives.
The rule applies even more to women. I was amazed last week that an orthodox Jewish sex counselor attacked me for an interview I gave on my new book “Kosher Lust” to New York Magazine, reprinted in Britain’s Daily Mail, that said that Jewish law encourages a man to make his wife climax first. This is Judaism’s tacit acknowledgment of a fact that modern science has finally caught up with – that women are much more sexual than men, having more deeply-rooted sexual needs. But the counselor in question accused me of putting undue pressure on men to pleasure their wives.
Can we stop this? Can we cease always portraying sex in religion as a man’s game? The Ketubah marriage contract, read at every Jewish wedding, is an express and shockingly public declaration of a man’s sexual obligations to his wife rather than the reverse.
And that’s what makes this story of Rabbinic voyeurism so particularly tragic.
If there is one message conveyed by the mikveh it is the sacredness of sex. Before a couple indulges their pent-up sexual passion that has been denied and allowed to build for a number of days, they declare the godliness of sex by immersing in holy waters. A far cry from the declaration of a celibate St. Paul that marital sex is a concession to man’s sinful nature and it’s better to have it than to burn, Judaism sanctifies carnal desire by preceding it with immersion in a ritual pool.
Sex is kosher, steamy, and wet.
And why the woman? Because men have always needed sexual novelty to create passion and have often made the tragic error of finding it in new flesh rather than in creative play with their wives. So God gives them a woman who emerges fresh from the primordial waters.
Men have their source in the earth, a symbol of sexuality that can be left arid and lifeless, while women find renewal in the eternal spring of life. And a husband should seek sexual renewal in his wife – unpeeling her erotic layers – rather than in the superficiality of porn or the criminal invasion of a woman’s privacy.
It’s a lesson that every man and husband, without exception, must learn and relearn.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of Kosher Sex and The Kosher Sutra. He has just published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.