Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Religious Sexual Repression and the Responsibilities of the New Pope

March 12, 2013 12:49 am 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: Kancelaria Prezydenta RP.

Whoever the new Pope will be, he will have the chance to address the 900 pound gorilla staring down the Catholic Church, namely the constant sexual abuse scandals. I am a Jew who wishes to see the Catholic Church flourish. I count myself fortunate to have met Pope Benedict prior to his resignation and remember his humility, graciousness, and warmth. As I travel the world I am awed by the global network of schools, orphanages, and hospitals run by the Catholic Church. No other world body even comes close.

But much of that is being eclipsed, be it fairly or otherwise, by the seemingly never-ending sexual scandals that bedevil the Church. Even in the brief interregnum between the announcement of Benedict’s resignation and its taking effect, we witnessed the sudden resignation of the leader of all Britain’s Catholics who confessed to a thirty-year history of abuse.

The Jewish community is likewise not averse to sexual scandal and in the New York area we recently witnessed the tragic story of a Rabbi found guilty of abusing a girl and being sentenced to 130 years in prison. This followed several other stories of Rabbis or religious Jewish teachers being found guilty of abuse of both boys and/or girls.

When I published Kosher Sex in 1999, I did so not in the hope of addressing sexual repression in religion. Precisely the opposite was true. It was to a secular, mainstream, and sexually free society that I offered a philosophy of how sex could recapture its power to induce emotional intimacy. My purpose was to demonstrate how sex is a motion that brings forth and even greater emotion and that there are specific sexual techniques, like eyes-open sex, that serve as emotional threads bonding husband and wife to one another rather than the empty physical experiences couples have today that lack both passion and intimacy.

But within a few weeks of publishing the book I began receiving a steady stream of emails, nearly always with pseudonyms, from very religious couples around the world, both Jewish and Christian, asking specific advice about curing sexual dysfunction in their relationships. They wrote to me because the answers they were getting from their clerics often lacked a human dimension. Many Christians were being told sex is mostly for procreation and many orthodox Jews were being told that nearly everything is forbidden in the bedroom. Both groups were being misled. The Bible makes it clear in Genesis that sex is primarily for intimacy rather than children: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and leave his mother. He shall cleave to his wife (a clear sexual euphemism) and they shall become one flesh.” (2:24) This pivotal idea is echoed in the Bible having no word for sex other than “knowledge.” So why were religious couples being consciously misled into believing that passionate sexual expression was mostly circumscribed and that sex had to take place in the missionary position in the dark?

Fraudulent sexual teachings in religion have destroyed countless lives and extinguished countless marriages. Worse, false and repressive piety may also be the cause of some of the aberrant sexual behavior we are seeing in otherwise Godly men and women. Is clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church one of the prime things that leads to abuse? Noone knows fully. Is sexual suppression in some religious Jewish circles, that could never be countenanced by Jewish law, the reason that more stories of abuse are emerging? Nothing can be said for sure. There may be other, stronger forces at work.

But this is certain. Sexuality strikes to the very heart of the human condition. A healthy, positive, and fulfilling sex life in marriage is not a luxury but a necessity which the Bible recognizes in innumerable instances and which forms the basic narrative of so many Biblical marriages, like the famous story of Isaac being ‘sexually playful’ with his wife Rebecca.

It is beyond the scope of this column to examine the many historical and theological reasons that the Catholic Church made clerical celibacy obligatory rather than an optional encouragement about a millennia ago. Less so is my purpose to preach to another faith about what their basic tenets ought to be. But it is my purpose to make clear that any religion that bases itself on the Hebrew Bible cannot escape the Bible’s healthy encouragement of carnal intimacy being the central staple of a husband and wife’s loving connectedness.

When Kosher Sex was first published I experienced severe attacks from some Rabbinical colleagues who thought the subject unseemly. But where were married couples supposed to learn about sex? From a Rabbi or Hugh Hefner? From Biblical and Jewish sources or internet porn? Thirteen years later the book is standard issue for countless religious Jewish and Christian couples who are marrying, even though the religious market was not the readership for whom it was written.

But it is essential that more Rabbis, priests, and pastors start teaching their congregants of the glories of sex in marriage and the need for physical desires to achieve their fullest satiation within the confines of a loving and committed relationship. A man who is in love with his wife and concentrates his fullest erotic attention on her is living a holy life. The tenth commandment makes it clear that we are not to covet our neighbor’s wife which, by direct implication, means we sure as heck out to be coveting our own. We don’t need more horror stories of husbands who are porn addicts or religiously committed teachers and counselors taking advantage of their charges.

As the world’s foremost religious figure, noone can do more to address carnal repression in religion than the new pope whom, if he chooses to ignore the sexual crisis facing the Church, will be absconding on the responsibility of leadership. Great crises often bring forth great men and it is my firm hope that the new Pope will, with God’s blessing, rise to the occasion.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” He is working on his next relationships book “Kosher Lust.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    The Huffington Post is facing backlash after joking about a Jewish comedian’s  appearance at the Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday night. Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky took part in Nick Jonas’ performance of his song “Bacon,” staged in a New York diner — in a cameo role as a waiter throwing a handful of bacon in the air. Commenting on the show, the Huffington Post tweeted, “not thrilled at the fat jew [he] wasted all that perfectly good bacon!!!!!!” The message angered many Twitter users, who thought the joke […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli basketball fans mobbed Hapoel Jerusalem’s newest player, American pro Amar’e Stoudemire, dancing around with him during a practice open to the public. On Friday, the team posted a video on Twitter of the happy romp with fans jumping around Stoudemire, while chanting in Hebrew. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, Stoudemire pumps his fist in the air. The basketball player, who has Jewish roots on his mother’s side, also waved a flag emblazoned with Hapoel Jerusalem’s logo. The former New York Knicks forward retired from the NBA earlier […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    The Israeli version of the famed American Burning Man music festival is the “ultimate revenge on Hitler,” according to a column in Playboy magazine on Thursday. In his column, Jeff Weiss also took note of the fact that Midburn — a five-day bacchanal in the Negev Desert, self-described as an event celebrating “a communal life style, creativity, art and radical self-expression” — began on June 8, the day of the Sarona Market terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, which left four people dead. Weiss asked rhetorically, “What could needle the mustached […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →