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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.