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...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →