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...

  • Food Jenna Jameson Flips Janice Dickinson the Finger for Raiding Her Kosher Fridge on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ (VIDEO)

    Jenna Jameson Flips Janice Dickinson the Finger for Raiding Her Kosher Fridge on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ (VIDEO)

    Former adult film star Jenna Jameson slammed Janice Dickinson on Sunday night’s episode of U.K.’s Celebrity Big Brother after she found out that the former model took food from her kosher refrigerator, the Daily Mail reported. A hungry Dickinson took a pack of celery from Jameson’s fridge, which was reserved for food adhering to kosher dietary laws. When Jameson, who converted to Judaism, found out, she shouted, “I’m about to go eat Janice’s f***ing face.” The previous porn star then stormed into the kitchen and confronted Dickinson. She […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →