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April 25, 2016 7:48 am

On Sex, the New York Times Gets Judaism Wrong

avatar by Ira Stoll

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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.”

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.

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