Hollywood Renews Its Assault on Orthodox Women and Jewish Sexuality
The new film “Disobedience,” starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, presents us with the yawn-inducing chestnut of the Orthodox Jewish woman as a baby-making machine. According to this narrative, the Orthodox Jewish woman yearns for a freedom that only Hollywood can provide in films that assault Jewish tradition. The twist in this particular film is that McAdams, who plays a rabbi’s wife, Rebbetzin Esti, is a closet lesbian who had an earlier affair with Weisz — a rabbi’s daughter gone secular who returns to monotonous Golders Green, London on the occasion of her father’s demise.
The film bored me to tears, which is a lot to say about a movie that comes with a lesbian sex scene. It was slow as molasses and utterly predictable, with its depiction of monolithic religious robots going about their ancient existence unaware that there’s an electrifying secular world out there that they’re missing.
The truth, of course, is that Judaism is a sensual, erotic religion in which sexual activity is celebrated and encouraged. Last week I launched my newest book Lust for Love: Rekindling Passion and Intimacy in Your Relationship, co-authored with the actress Pamela Anderson. Pamela wowed me from the outset with her solid commitment to traditional values. She spoke constantly of the inspiration she received from two parents who loved each other through a decades-long marriage. She told me of her deep desire to find fulfillment in a monogamous and committed relationship, and to raise children who love marriage but never lose their independence. The moral of the story is that we humans are complicated creatures and, contrary to Hollywood’s never-ending assault against Orthodox Judaism, what you see is not always what you get.
But then religion has been misunderstood as being hostile to sex from its inception. We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales of priests warning boys that masturbation will lead to blindness or that Catholicism insists that sex is only for having babies. Judaism is a religion that orders a man to put his wife’s sexual needs first. It is a religion that has long advocated that desire is more important than compatibility, that lust is greater than love, that carnal connection is the highest form of knowledge, and that sex is not for procreation but for conjoining husband and wife.
The holiest book of the Jewish biblical canon, says the Talmud, is Solomon’s erotic love poem the Song of Songs. Sex in Judaism is the very soul of marriage and the termination of a couple’s sex life constitutes a functional termination of the marriage itself. The pragmatic nature of marriage today — as an institution primarily promoting companionship and friendship, rather than fostering and sustaining deep erotic longing — is utterly foreign to the Jewish faith.
Many wonder if there is some sort of magic glue that can keep a man and woman together happily under the same roof for the duration of their lives. Or is marriage an ossified institution that has passed its shelf life?
I reject the idea of marriage as an institution and embrace it instead as an instrument of erotic expression. I reject the idea that monogamy is deadening and embrace it instead as the avenue by which to fully focus our sexual lust. And I reject the idea of commitment as something confining and embrace it instead as the fullest means by which we humans attach ourselves to our other half.
In our time, the deep yearning for sexual connection is being replaced with a shallow desire for sexual conquest. And sexuality is overtaking sensuality. The two are not the same. Whereas the former is a strictly carnal experience of bodily friction, the latter is an electrifying elixir of psychological and spiritual indulgence, leading to the orchestration of two halves as one whole.
Silly and tedious films like “Disobedience” enjoy maligning Judaism as a religion of sexual repression that sees intimacy as being solely for procreation. In truth, the Hebrew language has no word for sex other than “yediah” — knowledge — a deep and passionate desire to know and experience another person in the most intimate way.
It may seem odd that two bodies locked together in an erotic charge can provide for a far deeper understanding than a conversation or the exchange of ideas. But then, knowing someone experientially is always superior to knowing them intellectually. The heart has always been superior to the mind. That Hollywood, with its insistence on sexual lasciviousness as opposed to erotic connection, is blind to this truth speaks volumes about its blissful ignorance of relationships and how sex has been degraded by popular culture.
It’s time we recaptured the ancient idea of the sacred feminine not as a woman of wifely duty and pious virtue, but as a risk-taking adventuress whose very being captures the infinite possibility of joyous sexual experience.
If it’s true that our troubled world — filled with so much friction and strife — needs to “make love not war,” then it’s equally true that love cannot be made when we are constantly fighting an inner war. The battle for sexual focus, to be passionate and intimate about one person, is one we must finally engage in, freeing ourselves to experience the blessings of erotic liberation.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” has just published his newest book, Lust for Love: Rekindling Passion and Intimacy in Your Relationship, co-authored with Pamela Anderson and published by Hachette.