New initiatives in the art of Orthodox intimacy.
The very first quote attributed to Abraham after his religious awakening was not a rabbinic discourse but a husband’s uneasy realization that his wife Sarah was so sexually electric that other men will stop at nothing, “they will kill me,” just to have Sarah for themselves. A few chapters later, the Messiah’s hardly hagiographical origins are presented through Judah’s sexual interlude with his own daughter-in-law whom he mistakes for a whore, while Joseph’s thoroughly chaste refusal to sleep with Potiphar’s wife (just about the only chaste moment in Genesis), earns him a trip to the dungeon.
Of all the books in the Bible, the Book of Genesis, with its polyamorous relationships and dime-store novel lust, seems the progenitor of Jewrotica.org, the new website that holds certain truths to be self-evident: that all Jews are created to be not just soulful but sexual, placed in this world for the pursuit of happiness, with Judaism itself providing the erotic north star.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer often cites “the brilliant” sexual wisdom and advice within the Talmud, though when the Jews went into exile, the elevated Jewish sexual sensibility went into an exile all its own. As the Talmud explains in Sanhedrin, “After the Temple was destroyed, sexual pleasure was taken from the lawful and given to sinners, as it is written, ‘Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
The exile seems to be ending; some date it to the early days of Zionism when the egalitarian physicality of the pioneers became, for many, the Jewish ideal, eclipsing the pale shetel scholar. Today, Jewrotica, which launched about a year ago, is part of a wave of sexually explicit, educational websites and books aimed at arousing and raising a Jewish sexual consciousness. “The Newlyweds Guide to Physical Intimacy,” aimed at the Orthodox, by Jennie Rosenfeld and David Ribner, published two years ago, is now translated into Hebrew. The Times of Israel recently headlined: “Orthodox Slowly Lifting Taboo On Female Masturbation,” a taboo that no one doubts was always honored in the breach, in any case. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently headlined the once-outrageous idea, “Polyamorous Jews Share Love, Seek Acceptance.”
This autumn, Halachically Yours (halachicallyyours.org) was launched by Sarah Epstein, 23, an Orthodox woman and health educator for the past four years. Her site offers a free online “intimacy curriculum,” for singles, couples or discussion groups, designed to help Orthodox Jews break through the modesty ceiling. In “a halachically-sensitive way,” Halachically Yours seeks to “provide couples with a tool for further sanctifying their relationships,” physically and emotionally, according to the website.
The problem, says Epstein, is that the virtues of modesty and privacy have become so exalted, even within relationships, that virtue can descend to silence, lost in “frustration, embarrassment, and other negative feelings.”
As with davening and other mitzvot, it should be expected that proper intentions and transcendence will ebb and flow; holiness will more often be an ideal than a daily presence. Sometimes fun can be sanctified in and of itself. For example, Ayo Oppenheimer, 28, Jewrotica’s founder, editor and an observant Jew, bills herself as “Lady of Mischief.” A New Jersey native now living in Jerusalem, she worked in Jewish education for more than a decade.
Admitting to herself that she was not just a lady of lust but of wanderlust, she spent more than a year driving the back-roads of America, teaching Judaism everywhere from Austin, Texas, to Bozeman, Mont., to Lake Charles, La., with some cowboys and highwaymen surely having a crush on her in honky-tonks and truck stops along the way. She has a laminated plaque in her bedroom: “Twenty years from now you will regret the things that you didn’t do more than the things you did. So sail away from the safe harbor, let the trade winds catch your sail, explore, dream, discover.”
Jewrotica contains no nudity, and rates its offerings of fiction, essays, poetry and fantasy content (alongside its Torah commentary) as PG, PG-13, R or XXX, so one can wander as deep into the erotic forest as suits one’s comfort, or discomfort if that is your pleasure. When it is not being educational, Jewrotica is mostly playful, currently running a contest to find “the Hottest Rabbis” who, says Oppenheimer, “deserve to be recognized for their raw awesomeness.”
According to the rules of the contest, rabbis will be judged on their “smarts,” but also their “badass factor.” Badass, for a rabbi would be, so we’re told, riding a motorcycle, playing jazz, leading unique meditations and retreats, “or maybe your rabbi is so irresistibly sexy that you haven’t missed a Shabbat service yet this year?” Of course, your shul’s rebbetzin might be the hot draw, suggests Jewrotica, so are there any “hot rabbinic couples” out there? “Nominate your rabbi/rebbetzin together!”
Jewrotica also runs workshops and programs for private groups, such as a study session at Limmud in Australia; separate programs for parents and teens (“Kedoishim Tehiyu – You Shall Be Holy” and Sex Ed 101, Jewish Style”) at the Mishpucha Family Camp Retreat in Woodstock; and similar events in North Carolina sponsored by the Greensboro Jewish Federation
Some Jewrotica essays are written by authors whose pseudonyms (“Ahava Goode”) sound like a James Bond girl in the Mossad. And then there are the fetishists, though the Jewrotica editor is quick to note, “We do not endorse sex with [tefillin] but we do welcome conversation. This poem uses controversial imagery… You’ve been forewarned.”
Although Jewrotica is not only for the Orthodox, a lot of the erotica is premised on Orthodoxy’s sexual tension between propriety and pushing the boundaries. One “XXX” memoir was from a woman who went through the Bais Yaacov school system, and decided, along with her yeshivish husband, to celebrate Chanukah with a different sexual scenario for each of the nights. “We all have our fantasies,” she writes. Each night “we would experiment with something new. A new toy, a new pair of lingerie, a new position….”
One night they went to an “adult gift store.” The next, they went “for a walk along the waterfront, before returning home happy but tired. We took a shower together and snuggled to sleep, with him holding me closely.” On Friday night, “We went out for Shabbos dinner and had a nice time. M and Y were old friends…. We returned home and I changed into my Shabbos robe. As I removed my sheitel (wig) he told me to keep it on and that he was feeling quite hungry — our code word for ‘horny as hell.’ …. I kidded him that he had the hots for M….”
Another woman’s confession: “I am a person who will take pleasure in making you feel things physically and mentally you didn’t know you could feel…. and yes, Shabbat dinner sounds lovely, but can you handle me sitting at the same table with everyone, especially after what I made you do last night?”
Alongside the raunch and risqué, Jewrotica is also a place for Torah. David Abitbol, founder of Jewlicious.com and a regular contributor to Jewrotica, compares Sukkot and the wandering Israelites to someone who is single, going “from relationship to relationship but nothing is permanent.” The Promised Land is love’s destination “but getting there is hard and the road is paved with difficulties,” writes Abitbol. “Don’t take the easy road and don’t be swayed by the false idols of quick, easy ‘love’ and surface attraction.”
Abitbol seems intent on returning sex from its exile, reclaiming pleasure from “the sinners” to the better angels among us. He writes, “If you deeply love and appreciate the one you’re with, and if that love and appreciation is nurtured and developed, I promise you, the sex will be better than what you would have with any super model or hot one-night stand. Guaranteed. Now how’s that for a Jewrotica Dvar Torah?”