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April 25, 2016 7:48 am

On Sex, the New York Times Gets Judaism Wrong

avatar by Ira Stoll

Email a copy of "On Sex, the New York Times Gets Judaism Wrong" to a friend
Prince. Photo: Wikipedia.

Prince. Photo: Wikipedia.

An article in Sunday’s New York Times about the pop music star Prince, who died last week, asserts, “The Judeo-Christian ethic seems to demand that sexuality and spirituality be walled off from each other, but in Prince’s personal cosmology, they were one.”

A wise rabbi once taught me to dial my cow-manure detector up to high alert whenever anyone started talking about “Judeo-Christian” anything. There are Jews and there are Christians. I’ve never met a “Judeo-Christian,” though I have heard reports that there might be some in high positions at the New York Times. When people do use the term, their goal is often to blur the real differences between Jews and Christians.

This is as true about sexuality as it is about many other matters. Rabbi Maurice Lamm writes in his book, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage, that Judaism “frowns on celibacy…in stark contrast to the celibacy of the two founders of Christianity, Jesus and Paul.”

Rabbi Lamm writes, “Judaism posits that sex is a gift from God.”

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Later in the same book, Rabbi Lamm writes, “Judaism teaches that the erotic act has wide significance, and that this physical act operates transcendentally. The creation of family and the consecration of marriage are events of which Jews sing at the wedding feast… ‘there is joy in His [God’s] abode.’”

In short, the New York Times has this wrong. Contrary to what the Times says, there is no “Judeo-Christian ethic.” And the Jewish ethic does not “demand that sexuality and spirituality be walled off from each other.” It doesn’t even “seem” to demand it.

The author of the Times article, Touré, has a past history of having apologized for what he called an “insensitive and wrong” tweet about Jewish Holocaust survivors. I was on a television show with him probably half a dozen times and he never treated me inappropriately.

Touré probably knows a lot about Prince. But he clearly doesn’t know much about sex in Judaism, because if he did, he wouldn’t have erroneously conflated Judaism’s view of it with Christianity’s. It would be nice if the Times had some editors with enough knowledge about this stuff to rein in errant writers. Alas, no such luck, at least in this particular case.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Sam Harris

    Toure’ is a nobody in journalism. He takes a single name which is truly affected and the NYT lowers it self further publishing this crap.

  • John zimmerman

    There is no scriptural basis for the statements that Jesus & Paul advocated celibacy state of being unmarried would be best for those engaged in missionary service. Jesus taught chastity which the Old Testament taught was a commandment.

  • Roger Froikin

    The problem is that the so-called Jewish staffers at the NYT have hardly any Jewish background themselves, yet they claim to speak as Jews.

  • Paul

    Just a technical point: Thjere Is something called the Judeo-Christian ethic. It is the moral ethc that accepts the ten commandments as the basis of moral behaviour. and, leaving sex apart (which is NOT specifically addressed in the ten commandments), Jews and Christian DO accept the ten commandments as their moral ethic.
    More specifically: the spectrum of values oof the Judeo-Christian ethic spans values whose highest virtue is Justice, and at the other end of the spectrum we find guilt.
    The big difference between the western world and the Arabs (muslims) is in their moral ethic. For the Muslims, the highest virtue is pride and honor, and the lowest, most negative value is shame.
    This is why Muslims fathers will slit the throats of their eight-year-old daughters if they suspect them of having being raped. Becuasse they have besmirched the family honor. Justice plays no part in their world-view. Family honor is the ultimate virtue.

  • Ruth Rachel

    Harmoniously lifting the physical to the spiritual, uniting the physical and the spiritual, is the goal in Judaism.

    Thus, when there is right direction of the heart and right intention, there is no conflict between the body and the soul, between sexuality and spirituality, within Judaism; indeed, human life exists within the “oneness” of body and soul.

    Prince understands sexuality and spirituality from a Jewish perspective, and the NYT does not.

    Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book, “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage”, is excellent, by the way…

  • Rachel Cohen

    That rabbi is not wise–like it or not–Biblical Christianity came out of Biblical Judaism.

  • jonathan Mishkin

    Wow! Ira Stoll has been working overtime this Pesach to advance his obsession that the New York Times is one anti-Semitic rag that will stop at nothing to subvert true and pure Judaism. Whatever that is.

    Let’s start with his comment that any reference to “the Judeo-Christian ethic” scores high on his “cow manure meter.” Firstly, I doubt that any Rabbi in the history of the planet has ever compared either Judaism or Christianity to “cow manure.” That comment is offensive to both Jews and Christians and deserves an apology. Secondly, the reference to Judeo-Christian ethic is not an attempt to conflate two religions, but rather a reference to Western Civilization generally and the monotheistic belief system that spawned our culture. It should not require a great intellect to appreciate the similarities between the two religions. As contrasted to, say, Islam, Buddhism and animist faiths.

    That said, let’s acknowledge that Toure’s piece does suffer from a certain hyperbole. Wow, again. I have never seen that in an obituary. Ever! Especially on the arts page. But Mr. Stoll takes particular umbrage at the comment, “The Judeo-Christian ethic seems to demand that sexuality and spirituality be walled off from each other, but in Prince’s personal cosmology, they were one.” My experience is that between sexuality and spirituality, you will find a wide gap. The two do not sit next to each other in shul. After all, isn’t that what a mechitsa is all about? So the men will not be tempted by the women in their piousness? What about the concepts of shomer negia or tzniut? Aren’t they about leaving the sexual for the private sphere while allowing and encouraging much more explicit displays of spirituality? And avoiding temptation? It is true that both Judaism and Christianity celebrate large families. But that happens in private. That explains the concept of “yichud,” the private time that the chatan and kallah enjoy after the wedding ceremony. It’s private! And I won’t even begin to consider the refusal in more Orthodox circles to allowing the amplification of a woman’s voice.

    I read today that Prince was in fact a fairly religious man. He was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So there appears to be something to what Toure write about. But he does seem to conflate sexuality and spirituality at least a little more than the average Hazan.

    I really wish that Mr. Stoll would not be so eager to find anti-Semitism in absolutely everything that the New York Times writes about.

  • Diane B.

    It’s safe to ignore EVERYTHING that is printed in the New York Times.

  • Lia

    The NYT has become the abyss of ignorance.

  • Yaakov

    There is no Judeo-Christian ethic, but most Jewish values are universal in nature, and there is nothing wrong with finding common ground where it exists. Honesty, being loving to one’s neighbor as to oneself, and the whole Leviticus 19 text are examples of this, and I do think such values may be better developed in people of Jewish or Christian background as compared with people of some other backgrounds. Further, Jewish and Christian values are often concordant with regard to some of the sexual issues that are grabbing the headlines today. But the views of Judaism and Christianity toward sexuality in general are not the same and should not be lumped together.

  • Robert

    What the times probably meant is that Jews and Christians are somehow wrong to not prejudice pre-marital, extramarital, polyamorous, homosexual and bestial relations as spiritually elevating.

    • Alana Ronald

      Then the article should have been written to clearly point to that.

    • Robert Davis

      sorry for the typos I meant golf playing or boat sailing…

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