1-800-DONTCHEAT


Two months before Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to fathering a child with his housekeeper, I spent a week e-mailing rabbis about adultery.

My question to them was this: Would they agree to a public dialogue with the creator of an online matchmaking service for people seeking extramarital affairs?

One after another, they said no.

I understood. The Web site, AshleyMadison.com, has a whiff of sleaze about it, and the discussion was to be filmed for an upcoming HBO documentary on adultery, over which the rabbis would have no control.

But now, in the wake of the Schwarzenegger scandal and the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, there seems more than ever to be a need for an ancient religion to confront all the ways we can destroy marriages, trust, families and reputations. Temptation is not new, but technology has made it even more convenient. Is there a way for Judaism to address this directly, publicly, effectively?

All weekend, at the Shabbat table Friday night, at Temple Beth Am on Saturday, at a Milken Community High School event Sunday, on the beach at Lag b’Omer on Sunday night, three topics ruled conversation: Obama and AIPAC, Strauss-Kahn and his maid, Arnold and his maid.

We as a community can talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ad infinitum, but let’s be honest: Our lives are a lot more likely to be upended by infidelity than they are by Mahmoud Abbas.

I first heard about AshleyMadison.com on my morning drive, when a radio commercial on “The Howard Stern Show” ended with the tag line, “Life is short, have an affair.” 

Really? Pushing affairs like Coca-Cola? What about, “Money is fun, rob a bank”?

Here’s how it works: People cruise AshleyMadison’s online personals looking for fellow cheaters, then purchase credits that enable them to e-mail one another. In 2009, in the slough of the recession, the company quadrupled its revenue, reaping an $8 million profit on earnings of $30 million. It has 9 million users, and growing. 

What we have is a culture of entitlement fused to a culture of convenience. Is there any inoculation against this behavior? Rabbi Ed Feinstein once posited that so much of Jewish law and culture has its origins in curbing male sexual desire. But those laws don’t have the same catchy come-on as AshleyMadison.com.

One morning, I listened to Stern perform one of his virtuoso interviews on Noel Biderman, the 39-year-old CEO of the site’s Toronto-based parent company, Avid Life Media. Happily married, loyal (Stern had him swear), a doting father, a synagogue member — where what I’d expected was a more sadistic Larry Flynt, what I heard was a thoughtful philosophy major-turned-lawyer. He almost had me convinced that AshleyMadison.com is nothing more than JDate plus 10 years.

I forwarded the link to our jewishjournal.com singles blogger, Ilana Angel. She tore off after the site and Biderman, accusing him of demeaning his Jewish heritage and destroying her belief that there are good, loyal men out there.

Biderman agreed to discuss his views of God, morality and the Seventh Commandment with Ilana and a rabbi, in a conversation moderated by me, at a synagogue. At zero hour, Rabbi Mark Borovitz of Beit T’Shuvah stepped up. Beit T’Shuvah is a treatment center for addiction, Borovitz explained, and adulterers wreak havoc on families in much the same way as addicts do.

In person, Biderman is soft-spoken and polished.  His main argument is that people are going to cheat, no matter what, so why not offer them a more discreet and safer way to do it?  He believes we Americans have a limited view on the role of cheating in saving marriages that would otherwise dissolve due to boredom or sexual incompatibility.  Other cultures, he said, are much more accepting. 

Needless to say, Biderman does not see the Seventh Commandment as a moral absolute, but rather as open to modern interpretation, as is stoning the Sabbath-breaker or nailing your slave’s ear to the doorpost.

When I pressed Biderman on whether he feels he owes a “karmic debt” for breaking up marriages and destroying lives, he said he gives to charity, then backtracked and denied feeling any such debt. His Web site is a tool, a service, he said. You don’t blame bartenders for alcoholics.

It occurred to me that what Judaism needs is its own tool that’s just as effective. In her book “Talking to God,” my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy, recounts a true story of how she once returned a cryptic voice mail message only to have the man on the other end of the line ask her if she were “Island Girl.” The caller was a married man who had misdialed the number for a call-girl service. Instead he found himself talking to a rabbi. And he was Jewish.

Naomi and the man spoke for a long time, and he thanked her for keeping him from straying. In the end, he inspired her to write a prayer, which appears in “Talking to God,” for men and women facing temptation.

AshleyMadison.com makes it so easy to unravel the covenants of trust we have with ourselves, our loved ones, with God. Fallen leaders like Arnold seem to set the behavioral bar lower and lower.

Judaism has answers, it just doesn’t have the business model of AshleyMadison.com. Maybe some enterprising synagogue or rabbi can start a Web site, or a hotline, 1-800-DONTCHEAT, for people on the verge of infidelity.

Perhaps Noel Biderman can fund it.  I even thought of a slogan:  “Life is short, don’t screw it up.”

Opinion: Why powerful men can’t keep their pants on


The number of public men destroyed of late through sexual scandals is simply staggering. Within 48 hours of each other we heard that IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who many believed would be the next President of France, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, until a few weeks ago the Governor of the most populous state in the Union, self-destructed with sex scandals.

The stories themselves are beyond belief. An IMF chief, disciplined enough to oversee one of the world’s most important banks, is alleged to have forced himself on a hotel housekeeper. Schwarzenegger, disciplined enough to rise from immigrant status with a funny accent to become of the biggest movie stars in the world and one of the most powerful men in the United States, apparently could not muster the control to prevent himself from fathering a child with a woman who worked in his home. 

The biggest mistake we make in determining why powerful men cheat is to believe they’re looking for sex. If it’s sex they’re after they have wives who can cater to their needs. No, these men are looking for something else entirely: validation.

Men cheat not out of a sense of entitlement but out of a sense of insecurity. And the bigger they are the harder they fall, not of arrogance but out of fear and weakness. What makes men slowly climb the ladder of success is a desire to prove they’re a somebody. They want to be and feel important. They seek to rise from the poverty of namelessness and the penury of anonymity.

It is not the promise of their potential that drives them but the fear of being a nonentity. They absorb the noxious lie of a culture bereft of values that only money and power will rescue them from being a nobody.

Therefore, even as they ascend the ladder of ‘success’ they do so with a gaping hole in their center. And whatever accomplishments they will shove into that hole – money, fame, power – it goes in one end and comes out the other.

They never feel good about themselves. They are never content. They are defined by insatiability and characterized by voraciousness, which explains why Wall Street bankers who were earning tens of millions of dollars a year still felt it was not enough and cut corners to make even more.

The first rule of success is that there is nothing on the outside that can compensate for a feeling of failure on the inside. External accouterments of success – from armored limousines to an army of personal bodyguards – can never protect you from the din of demons who whisper to you that for all you have achieved you are still are a big zero. And that’s why these men turn to women to make them feel good about themselves.

They want to feel desirable. They seek to silence the inner voices that taunt them as to their own insignificance. Because of its power, sex has a unique capacity to make insecure men feel – however fleetingly – like they’re special.

Having women desire them makes them feel desirable.  So why can’t their wives give them this same feeling? Because the man who thinks of himself as a giant loser sees the woman dumb enough to marry him as a loser squared.

She, as the woman who bears his last name and his children, is part of his entire loser package. But the woman who is not married to him, who has never aligned herself with his failures, remains eminently desirable and can thus make him feel the same.

When Tiger Woods self-destructed with an alleged fifteen mistresses I was asked to be on a TV show discussing why he did it. He had a beautiful wife.

Why wasn’t that enough? The male panelist next to me said, “It’s simple. Men love sexual variety and Tiger had the money and the fame to get it.” I responded, “If it was variety he was looking for, why did he have sex with the same woman 15 times over? Every single one of the women he allegedly cheated with looked just like his wife, a blond-haired Nordic bombshell. There was no variety. No Asian woman, no African-American woman, etc.”

The explanation lay elsewhere. When he was a little boy they took Tiger, put a metal stick in his hand, and told him, “If you learn to use this better than any man who preceded you and knock that little white ball farther than anyone who competes against you, you’ll be a somebody,” which was another way of saying that right now you’re a nobody, you’re nothing. Contrary to the Biblical message that every human being is born a child of god.

Tiger heard the opposite. You are either the child of success are you don’t exist. So no matter how many tournaments he won and how much money he earned in his mind Tiger still remained a nobody with a lot of trophies and a lot of money. But none of that external success changed the original message: he was born a zero.

So he tuned to an endless number of woman to make him feel desirable and special. He sought someone who wanted him for his being and not his sporting prowess. And he was stupid enough to believe that any of these women would be out with him if he weren’t’ a champion.

It was his wife alone who loved him, but in his selfishness he lost her. This also explains why so many men who cheat end up opening up emotionally to the women they cheat with. If it was just sex they were seeking they would not be sending these women texts telling them how lonely they are and how only she, the mistress, understood them.

You may ask what this has to do with a renowned banker and politician allegedly attacking a hotel housekeeper? We don’t yet know all the circumstances of the alleged assault, so I do not wish to discuss this case in particular. But I have counseled enough men in similar circumstances to know that they don’t expect the woman to resist. When you inhabit a $3000 a night hotel penthouse – yet more external accouterments of success –and the woman in question is an immigrant cleaning up, you’re convinced she’ll be as impressed with the bells and whistles of success as you are and she’ll melt like putty in your hands. Her resistance becomes a complete shock.

The motivation, however, remains the same. Men who inhabit the top social sphere are usually driven to get there by a constant need to prove themselves. And in taking a woman who would otherwise have no sexual interest in you and transforming her instantly into a woman who desires you, you quiet the failure demons for even a brief moment.

In this sense, Strauss-Kahn’s comment in an earlier interview with the French publication Liberation, after he had been caught having an affair with a subordinate – “Yes, I love women. So what?” – displays a stunning degree of self-ignorance. The degree to which he loves women was never the issue but rather the degree to which he hates himself.

These scandals of decent men ruining themselves either through affairs or, much more seriously, through allegedly illegally and outrageously forcing themselves on women, should server as a wakeup call to a society that continues to have a single definition of success for men.

It’s not your gentlemanly behavior, sense of personal honor, or your devotion to your wife and kids that makes you special. No one really cares a hoot for all that. It’s rather the level of name recognition and money you attain that really makes you hot. 

Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is a renowned relationships expert and broadcaster whose books on love and marriage have been translated into 17 languages, with the most recent being, “The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets of Erotic Desire.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Palin heading to Israel


Sarah Palin, who is believed to be considering a presidential run in 2012, will visit Israel.

The former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008 will stop in Israel for two days next week on her way back to the United States from a speech she is giving a business group in India.

Palin will meet with the country’s leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and visit its Christian holy sites.

“As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,” Palin told CNN.

Jewish figures close to Palin said last year that she was considering a designated trip to Israel, but then quietly quashed the reports.

The potential presidential contender would join other GOP hopefuls, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who have made recent visits to Israel.