EVENT: Hot & Holy — A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality


A provocative discussion on sex and spirituality. Whether you are single, married, have a great sex life, or want one — join the conversation as we talk about what sex means to a relationship and how it is reflected in our faith.

Moderated by Ilana Angel, panelists are Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, Sex Therapist Dr. Limor Blockman, Dating Coach David Wygant, and Hollywood Jew Danielle Berrin.  Ticket price includes admission and hors d'oeuvres.  Cash Bar. Special Valet Rate of $7.00.

Click here to buy your ticket online and secure entry. Some tickets will be available at the door. First come, first served.

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

The shandah factor: What makes Jewish sex scandals different?


The guy with the socks up. The guy with the pants down. The guy with the headlocks. The guy who tweets and deletes.

What is it with these male politicos? And why are they all Jewish?

The cloistered community that is Washington’s Jewish elite collectively choked a little Saturday morning as it progressed through a column in which Gail Collins of The New York Times named the protagonists of what she dubbed the “Weiner Spitzer summer.”

“Ever since the Clinton impeachment crisis, we’ve been discovering how much personal misbehavior we’re prepared to ignore in elected officials,” Collins wrote. “Hypocrisy, for sure. Adultery, definitely. Chronic lying, maybe. Financial skullduggery, possibly.”

Those seeking absolution this month for past misdeeds include Anthony Weiner, now running for New York mayor, who quit Congress in 2011 after he was caught saluting a female Twitter fan in his boxer briefs; Eliot Spitzer, now in a bid to be Gotham’s comptroller, who quit as the state’s governor in 2008 after the revelation that he patronized high-priced call girls — and allegedly kept his knee-highs on while doing so; and Bob Filner, who quit Congress last year to become San Diego’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years and is now facing a welter of sexual harassment claims, including allegations involving something called the “Filner headlock.”

[Related: Weiner acknowledges latest revealed lewd exchange]

Rounding out the sordidness is the baffling case of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was caught tweeting and deleting messages to a bikini model during the State of the Union address in February. Turns out she was his recently discovered love child. Then it was discovered she wasn't. Then he commented on the looks of a female reporter who asked him about the situation.

In her column, Collins did not identify the protagonists as Jewish, but their collective appearance in print unsettled Jewish political players who were whispering their names at social gatherings over the weekend.

“If we need a reminder of how Jews are like everyone else, this is a useful one,” said Ann Lewis, who as White House communications director managed the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal and whose brother, former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, was caught up in a scandal in the 1980s involving a gay escort. “It does help bring us down to earth.”

Unlike other lawmakers caught in scandal, Lewis said, Jewish politicos are less likely to face the charges of hypocrisy that have afflicted others caught with their pants down.

“Jewish politicians by and large have not been huge advocates of patrolling other people's sex lives,” Lewis said.

The cases all have their own particularities.

Spitzer's lapses were crimes, though he was never prosecuted for them. Filner's might yet land him in court; his former communications director said this week that she was suing the mayor for sexual harassment. And the ones with Weiner and Cohen are just bizarre, though no one has suggested they are criminal.

Filner thus far has rejected calls for his resignation, while Spitzer and Weiner are both trying to rehabilitate their political careers after retreating from the spotlight in the wake of the scandals. On Monday, however, Weiner acknowledged that he had sent more explicit photos and texts to a woman, though the exact date of the exchange was unclear.

The Cohen saga began in February, when reporters noticed his tweet to bikini model Victoria Brink, who had told Cohen via Twitter that she had seen him on TV. “pleased u r watching, ilu,” he replied, using the shorthand for “I love you.”

The unmarried Cohen had a relationship with Brink's mother, who had told the congressman that the model was his daughter. CNN reported last week, however, that a DNA test showed Cohen and Brink are not related.

Asked about the situation by a young female reporter, Cohen said, “You're very attractive, but I'm not talking about it.” Cohen almost immediately sought out the reporter to apologize, saying he had not meant anything untoward.

“Been tough week, then this,” Cohen said in a tweet. “Sad 2 say I'm not perfect.

Political observers attribute the various scandals to the same factors that have led other politicians into the halls of shame: arrogance, insularity and just plain loneliness.

“Anyone who wants to run for Congress has to be a little bit crazy, and that includes Jewish members of Congress,” said a longtime Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for a number of Jewish lawmakers — none tinged by scandal.

The perpetual fundraising, unfettered accolades from supporters and the rarity of staffers who push back when a boss crosses the line insulate lawmakers from reality checks, according to a number of Hill staffers. The rigors of living one's life under the constant glare of media scrutiny may also be a factor.

“When people are separated from their families for a long period of time, things occur that wouldn't necessarily occur if your family was there,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who described his first months in Washington as hellish, eventually leading to his decision to move his family north so he could spend more time with them.

The move was not without a price. In 2008, Wexler came under fire when it was revealed he no longer maintained a residence in his Florida constituency.

“Eventually, your political opponent will claim you are of Washington,” he said.

Sex scandals have not always sounded the death knell for political careers.

Frank continued to serve in Congress for more than two decades after revelations that he patronized a male escort and then hired him as a personal aide. Weiner is leading in several recent polls, and has never polled lower than second since declaring his candidacy in May. And Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead over his Democratic primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the Jewish Manhattan borough president.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Lewis said. “They have a lot of work to do, but if I go back and think about Jewish tradition, you are encouraged to give people another chance.”

But the scandals have certainly exacted a price. Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a leading Democratic fundraiser, said the Weiner scandal was a factor in her decision to fundraise for one of his opponents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“Because I am Jewish, because I am a Democrat and I am active in that arena, I see it as a tragedy” that Weiner and Spitzer are running again, Goldman said.

“There are many fine qualified candidates out there who do not come with the baggage,” she said. “Find another day job. It’s chutzpah.”

The Jewish Journal announces iPhone/Android apps


” title=”iPhone and Android” target=”_blank”>iPhone and Android.

These new smartphone apps build on the ” title=”JewishJournal” target=”_blank”>JewishJournal is the number one downloaded Jewish news app for the iPad. The new smartphone apps offer the same cutting-edge local, national and global news updates throughout the 24-hour news cycle, along with an easy-to-navigate interactive experience.

The release of the smartphone apps makes ” title=”jewishjournal.com” target=”_blank”>jewishjournal.com, including ” title=”Rosner’s Domain” target=”_blank”>Rosner’s Domain, ” title=”Nice Jewish Doctor” target=”_blank”>Nice Jewish Doctor and webmaster@jewishjournal.com or call 213-368-1661 or visit

Drug abuse debate: Legalization, medication or therapy?


On a wall at Beit T’Shuvah’s sanctuary there are plaques with the names of those connected with Beit T’Shuvah who have passed away. One of those names is that of Josh Lowenthal, a former resident who died on June 11, 1995.

The Jewish Journal recently ran a story about “One-Way Ticket,” Rita Lowenthal’s memoir about her son, Josh, who was addicted to heroin from the age of 13 until his death from a self-administered overdose 25 years later. Lowenthal’s moving account of her son’s life punctures the myth that addiction can’t happen to Jews. It can, and it does.

Another myth that Lowenthal would like to puncture is that if addicts only had enough willpower, they could kick the habit — that only weak-willed people can’t pull themselves out of the addiction abyss.

A recent Newsweek cover story is called, “The Hunt for an Addiction Vaccine.” The article says that science views addiction not as a failure of willpower, but as a “chronic, relapsing brain disorder to be managed with all the tools at medicine’s disposal,” and that the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) is developing and testing compounds that could prevent or treat addiction.

NIDA scientists have concluded that there are three kinds of self-control: putting off present gratification for a later reward, processing sufficient information before making a decision and being able to change responses that have become automatic.

It should come as no surprise that addicts score poorly in all these categories. In other words, addicts’ brains are wired to opt for immediate rewards, to leap before they look, and to keep repeating accustomed behavior in a rote manner. The medicines in development would change the addict’s responses in all three areas.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a different focus: He objects to what he calls the massive failure of the global war on drugs. Like a growing number of responsible voices, Nadelmann argues for drug legalization, or at least decriminalization.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Nadelmann makes the case that the war on drugs cannot be won — he cites “mountains of evidence documenting its moral and ideological bankruptcy.” He writes that U.S. administrations have let rhetoric and ideology drive policy, and that in countries that have adopted a different way of dealing with drugs and addicts — Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland — the result has been “a reduction in drug-related harms without increasing drug use.”

When asked about this, Beit T’Shuvah staff and residents uniformly say that legalization and pharmacological addiction treatments are beside the point. Their attitude is that addiction — defined in their Web site as the “obsessive pursuit of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, property and/or prestige” — is not about drugs, it’s about the issues that lead to drug use, issues that also lead to other self-destructive behavior.

One long-time Beit T’Shuvah resident, a middle-age man with an MBA and a background in the entertainment industry, said that “you can solve your drug problem and still not be any closer to an effective life. The point is to find out what the problems underneath are: not living your life effectively, not living it with truth. The problem is not the drugs.

“You can legalize drugs, you can find chemical ways of neutralizing the effects of drugs, but the end result will be the same: the root problem will still be there, and the person who has that problem will suffer in a different way. If it’s not drug addiction, if it’s not incarceration, it’ll be family dysfunction or abuse or other issues. These are all manifestations of a deeper problem, just as drug addiction or alcoholism is a manifestation of a deeper problem. And it’s that deeper problem that has to be treated.”

Lowenthal agrees that addiction’s deeper problems should be addressed: “Anyone who has been shamed and punished for addiction needs understanding and support.” But she points out that the situation with illegal drugs, as opposed to alcohol or prescription drugs, makes users subject to the law: Her son was in and out of San Quentin and other prisons because he stole in order to maintain his addiction. “Try getting a student loan, a job, or sympathetic in-laws after serving time in prison,” Lowenthal says.

If her son had lived in a society where heroin use is not a crime and where it’s cheaply available, then he probably wouldn’t have stolen, she believes. He probably wouldn’t have gone to prison over and over, and he might not have chosen to take his own life at the age of 38.

Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past


Gunter Grass Admits to SS Past

Nobel Prize-winning author Gunter Grass’ admission that he was an SS member has drawn both rage and defenses of the writer.

While some say the revelation devalues his life’s work, others are showing more understanding for the pressures faced by the teenager who later would write such modern German classics as “The Tin Drum.”

Grass, 78, whose autobiography is due out this fall, told the Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung in an interview published last Friday that he was drafted into the Waffen SS in the final months of World War II.

The Waffen SS was the elite fighting force of the SS, the Nazi Party’s quasi-military unit, and was declared part of a criminal organization at the Nuremberg Trials. Grass was interned briefly in a POW camp in Bavaria after the war.

Literary critic Helmuth Karasek told the radio program BDR that Grass should have revealed the truth sooner, and suggested that the Nobel Prize committee might not have honored someone “whom they knew had been a member of the Waffen SS and had long denied it.” Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

Grass biographer Michael Juergs said he was “personally disappointed,” and has called into question the validity of Grass’ life work. But German writer Erich Loest told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Grass’ admission should be “accepted without condemnation. He was very young and there was no one to influence him in the opposite direction,” he said.

Grass told the Frankfurt paper he was drafted as a 17-year-old following a stint in a support unit for the German air force, and was brought to serve in a Waffen SS tank division in Dresden. In the forthcoming autobiography, “While Skinning an Onion,” he writes that the past had “oppressed him. My suppression of this through the years was among the reasons why I have written this book. It had to come out, finally.”

Grass said he originally had volunteered to serve in a Nazi submarine unit, which was “just as crazy.”

Until now, his biography has shown that Grass was drafted in the support unit for the air force in 1944, then served as a soldier. In the new book, he writes about how he was 15 when he tried to volunteer with the submarine corps and was rejected because of his age. He was called up in 1944, as were all boys born in 1927.

He was assigned to the Waffen SS, which “in the final year of the war took draftees, not only volunteers,” he said in an interview with the German Press Agency.

Grass said he never had tried to hide the fact that as a youth he was vulnerable to Nazi propaganda. He also told the Frankfurt paper that he never actually served in the Waffen SS division to which he had been assigned. He ended up behind the Russian front on reconnaissance patrols, witnessing what he described as gruesome scenes and surviving by pure chance. During his brief internment as a POW, Grass says he met the similarly interned Joseph Ratzinger, who now is Pope Benedict XVI.

Israelis Arrested for Allegedly Running U.S. Hooker Ring

Two Israelis are under arrest for allegedly running a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar prostitution ring in four Western states, employing up to 240 women.

Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, the alleged leaders of the ring headquartered in Palm Springs, are now in a local jail, Sheriff Bob Doyle of Riverside County announced Monday.

Also arrested were two Russian nationals, Moti M. Vintrov, 33, and Eliran Vintrov, 28, together with their spouses.

According to authorities, the two Israelis ran the sex ring under the cover of Elite Entertainment, an adult escort business, which dispatched prostitutes to clients in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.

The Press-Enterprise news service in Riverside described the ring’s Palm Springs headquarters as a glass-walled office in a quiet open-air business complex, which also included the district office of U.S. Republican Rep. Mary Bono.Elite Entertainment allegedly operated 80 phone lines, over which clients ordered sexual services through their credit cards. Rates varied from $200 to $2,000, “depending on what you’re getting done,” Doyle said.

Local authorities and U.S. Secret Service agents arrested the suspects after a two and a half year investigation and seized $5 million in assets and more than a dozen computers.

The suspects used their income to fraudulently obtain loans to buy luxury homes in the Palm Springs area, authorities alleged.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AIPAC Judge Won’t Broaden Case

The judge in the classified information case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists rejected a prosecution attempt to broaden the indictment. Prosecutors had sought to redefine as classified a document described as unclassified in the original indictment.

Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected the request last Friday, saying it would unconstitutionally alter the indictment.

Keith Weissman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former Iran analyst, asked Larry Franklin, a Pentagon Iran analyst who since has pleaded guilty, for the document in June 2003.

It’s the only document that Weissman or his former boss, Steve Rosen, actively solicited, according to their August 2005 indictment.

In pre-trial rulings, Ellis has made clear that at trial he will expect a higher bar of evidence to prove that defendants knew they were hearing classified information in conversations, as opposed to receiving documentation.

Holocaust Cartoon Exhibit Opens in Iran

Iran opened a competition for the cartoons in reaction to last year’s controversy over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One of more than 200 cartoons displayed shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi-style salute in the other, The Associated Press reported.

Scandal Over General’s Stocks

Israel’s military chief drew fire following revelations that he sold an investment portfolio when the Lebanon war erupted. Within hours of a Hezbollah border raid July 12 in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two abducted, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz sold off some $25,000 worth of stocks, Ma’ariv reported Tuesday. Halutz confirmed the sale, which came shortly before markets tumbled at the prospect of major unrest in the Middle East, but said he did not know at the time that there would be a war. Ma’ariv’s revelations further stoked Israeli ire at the military’s handling of the offensive against Hezbollah, which ended this week in a cease-fire. Lawmakers from across Israel’s political spectrum called for Halutz’s resignation, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was asked to investigate whether the stock sale constituted a criminal breach of trust.

Jewish Greeks Advocate for Israel

Jewish fraternities and sororities are launching an Israel advocacy push on college campuses this fall. Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Phi, the two largest Jewish Greek organizations, brought 90 students to Louisville, Ky., from Sunday through Tuesday to learn about building support for Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Modern Orthodoxy’s Marriage Crisis


Hard-to-marry-off children have been worrying parents since Genesis, when Leah, her eyes tender from the sadness of being unwanted, took part in a hoax to trick Jacob — her younger, prettier sister’s suitor — into marrying her. There’s no indication of how old Leah was at betrothal, but the tone of the text prompts a mortifying thought: Had she lived in our time, the future matriarch of the Jewish people would likely be another tough case for the matchmakers.

Or so I surmised a few months ago after a crowded panel in Manhattan on what has come to be known as the “shidduch crisis” in Modern Orthodoxy. Over the past decade, rabbis, activists and parents have been wringing their hands over the “ever-burgeoning number of religious singles and rising percentage of failed marriages” in the community. This event was only the most recent of many discussions devoted to the topic.

Having once been both single and Modern Orthodox, I recognized many of the audience members — not exact faces, of course, but types: The knitted-browed parents, bantering anxiously among themselves; the fresh-faced Stern and Yeshiva University students who seemed too young to take the bus themselves, let alone join in holy matrimony; a handful of older singles brave enough to show their faces at such a gathering.

The evening’s discussion traversed a lot of ground, but it was clear that among its primary goals was the prevention of those too-often-seen tragic situations — “marriages that end, God forbid, in divorce” and “people who are in their late 20s, even 30, and not married.”

The timing could not have been better — or worse: Three days earlier, I had signed divorce papers; six days later, I turned 30.

Of course, the world is filled with singles wishing to be part of doubles. Since the fate of every society turns on the success or failure of its particular set of mating rituals, each one develops its own specialized system of coupling. But what happens when those rituals erode?

This is the bind in which Modern Orthodoxy has lately found itself. Over the past decade, the movement has drifted to the right — adopting, along the way, the belief that greater stringency in Jewish law and ritual equals greater religiosity. Distinctions that might seem infinitesimal to an outsider — “she’s a Bais Yaakov girl,” “he wears a kippah sruga” — have become fundamental differences, and competitions have sprouted up over who follows which obligations more strictly.

Along with new perspectives on the legality of singing in the shower and smoking cigarettes on Passover, there also has emerged a more exacting code of modesty and celibacy for singles. In response, ever younger people have begun racing to the chuppah, with many of us discussing potential mates as early as high school.

This is the system used successfully by the ultra-Orthodox, who place more emphasis on God, family and community than on individual choices: Each person has confidence in her mate not only because he is right for her, but because he is right for everyone and everything in her life. On the other end of the spectrum, the secular world offers a method based on individualism: Release yourself from everyone else’s expectations, and date as many people as it takes to find the one.

The problem is that both of these opposing philosophies are now circulating in the Modern Orthodox community, and their coexistence is causing static — mixed signals, false expectations, miscommunications. The confusion might be surmountable, but muddling through it requires two things that Orthodox Jews who’d like to remain marriageable don’t have: experience and time.

The first inkling that I did not have nearly enough time to find a mate was in my junior year of yeshiva high school. We were learning about Amuka, an area in northern Israel where the prayers of people looking for their besherts (destined partners) allegedly are answered, when I was seized with confusion.

“Can each person only have one beshert?” I asked.

“I think so,” said the rabbi.

“But what about a woman who remarries after her husband dies? Which one was her beshert?”

“Only God knows,” came the reply.

“What if my beshert lives in, like, Pakistan?”

“You have to just believe, Alana.”

I can’t, I thought suddenly. I don’t know enough about the world.

And with that, Amuka became my Archimedean point, the place where I stood when I inadvertently lifted my entire religious world off its axis. After that, the questions came quickly — even leading, briefly, to a period of greater observance.

By the time I started my second year at Barnard, I was taking classes on other religions, had an Episcopalian best friend and regularly attended non-Jewish campus events on Friday night, as long as I could walk to them.

But as my curiosity about the larger world expanded, the atmosphere of Modern Orthodoxy contracted. I wanted to engage with the secular world — to learn about it as well as to experience it — but the same adventures that might have once been par for the Modern Orthodox course now threatened to make me an outcast.

I was too attached to religious life and thought to abandon it entirely. Instead, I made the kind of unspoken compromises with my parents (and, by extension, the community) that some people make with God: I will not go to services often, but when I do, I’ll attend Orthodox synagogues; I will eat nonkosher in restaurants but at home will abide by rules strict enough that the rebbe could snack in my kitchen; I will avoid premarital sex, but won’t follow the laws of negiah.

This last item was, in fact, the only one for which I had an intellectual defense. I was shy and insecure about sex and knew enough to fear its power as an obfuscating force in relationships. The more I knew, I thought, the better my chances that I wouldn’t mistake lust for love.

Fooling around before marriage has, historically, not been an uncommon practice among Modern Orthodox Jews. After all, they gave the world the “tefillin date,” so named for the men who brought along their phylacteries in hopes they wouldn’t be home in time for morning prayers.

By my early 20s, the community had moved significantly to the right. People found themselves caught between rules of the old world and the kind of curiosity about sex and dating fostered in the new one.

“It is bad enough to be alone, but to be not sexual is almost as bad, and the two together is terrible,” writes an anonymous Orthodox blogger. “I have had fantasies of killing myself. I have considered hiring a male prostitute and getting it over with. No, I have not tried either of those last two things, chas vishalom…. To all the married people out there telling older singles that they should deny themselves, I wish I could respond, ‘Let he who is 34 and never been kissed cast the first stone.'”

I was 25 when I married — a bit old compared to my yeshiva classmates but still within respectable limits. To a casual observer, Daniel might have seemed like a rebellious choice: He did not grow up Orthodox; his father is not Jewish; his last name is Scotch-Irish. But he was almost as connected to the community as I was, having just gotten out of a relationship with another Orthodox woman.

He had started learning Hebrew, loved Shabbat and had relatives in Israel. And, unlike me, he had yichus, a distinguished lineage: His grandfather was a famed civil rights lawyer and Zionist activist. He was different enough, and yet similar.

After a year of dating, we wanted to move in together, but I knew this was unheard of in our circles. So I made another silent compromise: I’d marry the person of my choosing, but at an age and in a way that would be acceptable within the community.

Daniel and I married before we should have, a step that put undue pressure on a young relationship and two people still struggling to define themselves. When the marriage ruptured, so did the thin thread holding me to Orthodoxy. I became angry at the community for depriving me of my adolescence or, rather, for being too rigid to encourage it.

As psychologist Naomi Mark said at the panel on the shidduch crisis that I attended, the community expects young adults to have marriage, education and careers settled, or at least on track, by their early 20s, leaving no time to make the kind of mistakes that teach us who we are. My effort to avoid these mistakes — to experience the world but not so much that I’d be forced from the community’s safe corral — threatened to split the baby. And the baby was me.

In the end, I chose self-definition over religion. As Plato promised, the examined life is indeed fulfilling — firsthand experience of oneself trumps guesswork any day — but it’s not nearly as pretty as the brochure implies. For me, the ugliness lies not in the fact that by opening the door to all experience I’ve ushered in pain as well as joy, or because in the course of learning about myself, I’ve unearthed a few things I’d rather never have known — though both have certainly happened.

What most disquiets me is the limbo. Unlike my Orthodox peers, who can be sure of the basic contours of their lives, I writhe with uncertainty: Where will I be living 10 years from now? What school will my kids attend? How kosher will my kitchen be?

Sometimes, the fog gets so intimidating that I start to wonder if there’s still time to go back, to abandon all this liberty and just get comfortable again. Alas, I fear all this experience has ruined me; I’ve lost too many virginities — intellectual, emotional, psychological and, well, otherwise — to mesh again with that life. Plus, as the panel proved, the community hardly needs another 30-year-old woman in need of marrying off, especially one without a younger, prettier sister to use as bait.

Alana Newhouse is the arts and letters editor at The Forward.

Reprinted from

No Religious Bias in Racy ‘Bodice Rippers’


Fess up or don’t, a lot of us are reading romance novels — otherwise known as “bodice rippers.” The numbers speak for themselves, accounting for 48 percent of all popular paperback fiction published, according to the Web site of the Romance Writers of America.

And that “us” includes more than a few Jews.

While there are no statistics to prove it, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Typing “Jewish romance novel” into Google calls up dozens of bodice rippers featuring Jewish themes or characters, and not all published by small presses. And since publishers make their decisions based solely on a manuscript’s marketability, the romance novel industry is as democratic as it gets. Bottom line, these Jewish-themed books are getting published because editors know there are readers who will buy them.

Just who these readers are is hard to say, according to Mark Shechner, professor of English at State University of New York at Buffalo and co-editor of “Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Jewish-themed pulp fiction is prevalent and has a loyal following, it’s just not singled out in reviews, Shechner said.

“There are even writers of Chasidic romance fiction, like Pearl Abraham, author of ‘Romance Reader,'” he noted.

Recently published Jewish-themed romances include Persian Jewish writer Dora Levy Mossanen’s “Harem,” and her 2005 follow-up, “Courtesan”; Australian Jewish author and screenwriter Tobsha Learner’s “The Witch of Cologne,” and Southern Jewish writer Loraine Despres’ “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.”

The list goes on, with titles also including works that seem to be a part of an emerging genre fondly termed “biblical bodice rippers” by Abigail Yasgur, executive librarian at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

Anita Diamant’s 1998 best seller, “The Red Tent,” a fictional retelling of the biblical story of Dinah, seems to have set off the trend. Two recent releases include Eva Etzion Halevy’s “The Song of Hannah” and Rebeca Kohn’s “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther,” which both came out in the last two years.

A Jewish tradition of romance writing may help account for this trend, Shechner said. “The earliest Yiddish writing we have is from the early 16th century, ‘Bovo of Antona,’ a Yiddish translation of the Anglo-Norman romantic epic.” Moreover, “there were courtly romances with names like ‘Pariz un Vyene’ (Paris and Vienna). There were early translations of Arthurian tales into Yiddish — very early.”

And while the genre is easy to mock, consider this before you do. Shechner believes that the Jewish culture has an intrinsic relationship with romance.

“Maybe after all, romance is one of the authentic undercurrents of the Jewish imagination,” he said. “Isn’t romance the underside of piety, the negative, the shadow, the suppressed yearning that follows duty and restraint around? That is how I look at it.”

Three Romance Books Follow Novel Paths

“The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” by Loraine Despres (Willaim Morrow, $23.95).

Incorrigible Belle Cantrell can’t seem to help being bad — or is it just that she’s ahead of her time? Women combating social repression are a common theme of historical romance fiction, and “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” is no exception.

The protagonist of Loraine Despres’ latest book lives in 1920s Louisiana, and whether it’s fighting for women’s suffrage or against the Ku Klux Klan, this Scarlett O’Hara with a sex drive always seems to be getting herself into trouble.

It doesn’t help that she’s fallen for a handsome Jewish Yankee with a wife back in Chicago.

Spitfire Southern girls and genteel Jewish men seem to be Despres’ specialty, having written for television shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas” — including penning the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. Despres is currently a producer living in Los Angeles, as well as a romance writer.

In 2002, she published her novel, “The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc,” and has followed it up this year with a prequel, “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.” Both feature Christian Southern belles with affections for Jewish men.

But while the protagonist of Despres’ “Bad Behavior” may seem a bit of the Southern girl cliche, the book’s sexy love scenes aren’t too purple and should leave regular romance readers satisfied. So will a host of other kooky characters and a happily-ever-after ending.

“The Witch of Cologne” by Tobsha Learner (Forge, $14.95).

Interfaith love sits at the heart of Tobsha Learner’s dark historical romance epic, “The Witch of Cologne.” The starkness of mid-1600s Germany is brought into focus through the eyes of Ruth Bas Elazar Saul, a learned midwife and the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Deutz.

At 23, Ruth is still unwed, after running away to Amsterdam to escape having to marry a man she did not love. Ruth’s rebellious nature also leads her to study Kabbalah and modern birthing techniques in Amsterdam.

However, her inability to live a quiet life, coupled with her maternal family’s unfortunate history with an evil Spanish friar who has since become an inquisitor under the Inquisitor-General Pascual de Arragon, puts Ruth face to face with the Inquisition.

This chain of events will bring Ruth face to face with true love — in the form of nobleman and Christian canon Detlef von Tennen — and, ultimately, her greatest tragedy, as well.

As defined by the Romance Writers of America’s Web site, this story isn’t considered a romance: “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

But apparently, emotional justice isn’t to be had in 17th century Cologne. Still, considering this book remains in good company with other “nonromances” like the film, “Titanic,” and the book, “The Bridges of Madison County,” we feel fine including it just the same.

Moreover, readers who enjoy hints of magic and circles of political intrigue woven through their romances will be pleased with this choice.

“Courtesan” by Dora Levy Mossanen (Touchstone, $14).

The exotic lives of Parisian courtesans in the Belle Epoque provide the backdrop for Persian Jewish author Dora Levy Mossanen’s latest novel, aptly and simply titled, “Courtesan.”

Mossanen’s protagonist, Simone, is yet another headstrong girl. But what’s a girl to rebel against when she has been raised in a brothel by her famous grandmother, the courtesan Gabrielle?

Simone’s best way to defy her grandmother, and the mother who followed in her footsteps, is to embrace what her grandmother rejected, namely a Jewish upbringing and a more conventional life.

Simone chooses to follow love, rather than follow their ways. And so she does, all the way to Persia, where she marries Cyrus, a Persian Jew and the shah’s jeweler. But that is just where Simone’s adventure begins, eventually taking her back to Paris and to the diamond mines of Africa.

While certainly lighter than “The Witch of Cologne,” “Courtesan,” to its credit, also does not provide the formulaic happy ending. However, its flowery prose is occasionally too much, and Mossanen’s tendency to imbue her women’s sexuality with supernatural qualities can seem silly at times.

Still, it is refreshing to find a romance that does not rely on its characters’ opposing religions to provide the story’s major obstacle.

More Love and Lust From the Bible


“The Song of Hannah” by Eva Etzioni-Halevy (Plume, $14).

Biblical fiction is enjoying a renaissance. Some say it began in 1998, with Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” — a fictionalized account from Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, of daily life with her aunt Rachel and mother Leah. For the last few years, writers have started mining the Bible for similar stories — that they could rewrite into a Harlequin-type romance, replete with heaving bosoms and burning loins. The stories of Queen Esther and matriarchs Sarah and Rebecca, to name a few, have been rewritten in this manner.

The latest addition is “The Song of Hannah,” Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s debut novel about the mother of Samuel the prophet, the man who anointed both King Saul and King David. Hannah earned her own place in Jewish history through the power of her prayer. Bereft at not conceiving children, Hannah went to God’s tabernacle in Shiloh and prayed for a son, promising God that if He would grant her a son, she would give him up to serve God for all the days of his life.

The presence of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, in the biblical text is brief — the account is written in 28 sentences in Chapter 1 of Samuel I, while her famous “song of joy” is 10 sentences in Chapter 2.

“The Song of Hannah” as imagined by Etzioni-Halevy, tells the story of two women — Hannah and Peninah, Elkanah’s other wife — and its chapters alternate between their two voices. It is essentially the tale of two young women who find themselves wedded to a faithless husband, in a community where women have few rights. Although both women are scribes, their status depends on Elkanah, who is portrayed as a cruel, polygamous beast and expects servile obedience, while he sleeps with and impregnates his many maids. The only reason he marries Peninah (in the novel) is because he has impregnated her out of wedlock. And at their wedding, he spies out Hannah and starts wooing her. Soon after he marries Peninah — once she is pregnant with their child — he tells her that there will soon be three in the family, and no, he is not referring to the fetus she carries. He means Hannah, who is Peninah’s childhood friend.

He marries Hannah, giving her a far more beautiful bedroom than Peninah, and his relationship with his wives, and their relationship with each other, is forever tinged with jealousy and some bitterness. Peninah satisfies Elkanah’s lust, but he loves Hannah. Yet his love for her doesn’t stop him from sleeping with the maids (whom he admits mean nothing to him) or from spending most nights of the week in Peninah’s room.

The book has some feminist points: As many characters point out — it’s unfair that ancient Israel was a polygamous society but not a polyandrous one. Of course, what the author does not say is that had that society been polyandrous, a person’s paternity could never have been established.

But Elkanah is not the only character who needs to repent. The book is full of sex — and purple prose. Perhaps the best pick-up line is by a priest to Hannah: “Come with me and I will show you how beneficial my priestly blessing, my triple priestly blessing, can be.”

Peninah takes a lover of her own, and Hannah helps her keep the secret from Elkanah. Meanwhile, Hannah’s son, the prophet Samuel, grows up and marries a woman whom he impregnated before their wedding, and then falls in love with Peninah. In this ancient Israel, all the men, it seems, lust after women who are not their wives, while the idol trade does good business among the sinning multitudes.

Etzioni-Halevy, a professor emeritus of political sociology at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, admits that there is no evidence in the Torah for Samuel’s attraction to Peninah (nor is there evidence of him getting his wife pregnant before he married her), and the description of Elkanah as an imperious, lustful cad is at odds with the Elkanah of Samuel I. Traditional commentators note that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife, not his second, and it was only at Hannah’s urging — because she saw that she was barren, that Elkanah took a second wife. Elkanah was, according to tradition, kind to Hannah and a God-fearing man, who bought his children to God’s tabernacle in Shiloh because he wanted to instill in them fear of God.

“The Song of Hannah” might inspire readers to study the source, but as biblically inspired material, such books can come across as either religiously superficial or so filled with melodramatic guesswork that their value as something more than light entertainment is open to question. Taken seriously, it’s a fairly dispiriting look at the origins of Judaism — presenting our forefathers and mothers as adulterers and worse. Perhaps the next wave of biblical fiction will have something deeper and better to offer.

Eva Etzioni-Halevy will be appearing Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Library, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free, but reservations required at (323) 761-8644 or resource@jclla.org.

 

SWF Rabbi


It begins typically. I am sitting at the bar with some friends drinking a beer out of the bottle. I peel the soggy label off with my freshly painted nails; an odd ritual I took up back in college that has infuriated bartenders all over the world. I scope the scene out of mascaraed eyes — looking for a cute boy to flirt with. That one is too short, his friend is too stalky; the guys to their left are too young, the ones near the door are clearly focused on the silicone blonde types. I go back to my work of peeling off the label from the beer bottle and giggling with my friends.

I reach into my purse to get some lip-gloss and as I look up, I catch the glance of a man with a sweet face standing at the other end of the room. I hold the gaze for a second, offer a smile and look away. I continue to talk with the girls, and then a few minutes later, I look up again to see if he is still on my radar; he is. Another smile. He smiles back. Nice teeth, I think. Nice eyes. Definitely attractive. I look away.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. I find myself playing with my hair; a dead giveaway that I am engaged in the mating dance. I sit up straight. I check that my new shirt from Barney’s is sitting properly and that my jeans are holding my thighs in their most flattering position. I begin to wonder if he has any semblance of a brain under his well-styled hair. I start to hope that he is funny in an ironic sort of way; that he comes from a good family, that he went to a good school, that he has a stellar career. I worry that he might be narcissistic, damaged from a bad relationship, immature, or (please God, no!) cheap.

Our eyes are locking for longer periods now. The smiles are becoming more intimate. I order another beer. He starts to make his way over to me. I feel my heart beating a little faster. I try to act casual. And then he is standing in front of me. And he introduces himself and extends a soft but manly hand and I take it and we begin to converse.

It begins typically, like I said. But now things are about to get interesting. We go through the routine introductions: names, a joke or two … where we grew up, where we live now; and that’s when I know its coming: the dreaded question is well on its way. I may as well ask first. Buy myself some time. Try to figure out how I will choose to answer when it’s my turn.

“What do you do?” I ask. He’s in computer programming. Wonderful. Can’t make too much conversation out of that answer. I try my best. It lasts all of two minutes. And then it happens: he asks the same of me.

I think fast. This guy is really cute, and thus far seemingly perfect. I will take the “ease in slowly” tactic (versus the blunt and shocking method reserved for less promising suitors). The objective here is to offer ambiguous responses upon which I will only elaborate if further questioned; in this way I not only learn how interested he is, but I also give him some time to prepare for the final answer at the end of the series of queries.

“What do you do?” he asks.

I just finished grad school in New York, I say.

“In what?” he asks.

“A sort of theology program,” I say.

“Were you at NYU?”

“It’s connected with NYU,” I say.

“So, is it, like, a master’s degree?”

“Um, I got my masters a few years ago and then got another degree…. No, it’s not a Ph.D. Actually, it was kind of a program in Jewish theology.”

The questions are getting harder to dodge now.

“So, what do you do with that sort of degree?” he asks.

“I do a lot of teaching,” I say.

“Kids?”

“Yeah … and adults. And I write a lot. And I do a fair bit of counseling.”

I try to change the subject. No luck.

“Where do you work?” he asks.

This is it. I have to lay it on him now. I try to look pretty and enhance my appearance of normalcy; I look into his lovely green eyes, take a deep breath, and give it to him straight.

“I am a rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge,” I say.

And then I wait.

First there is the look of shock, but he quickly recovers. He takes a half-step back. I watch the neurons firing in his brain. “She’s a … rabbi,” he’s thinking. I can predict the conversation from this point on; please let him avoid the stupid joke at the beginning. No such luck.

“You must have shaved your beard today,” he says.

Idiot. I force up a chuckle. Here we go.

“So, you’re a rabbi? I didn’t know women could be….”

“Well, they can. … Clearly, I am a liberal Jew. … Yes, actually half of my graduating class was female.”

“So, can you get married?”

“What you mean is, can I have sex?”

He blushes. Poor guy. He’s confused. He doesn’t know where to look. It is suddenly inappropriate that he is checking out my low neckline. It is instantly incongruous that he likes my snug Diesel jeans. He tries, God bless him, to segue back into casual discussion; it lasts for seven minutes. He excuses himself, mutters something about a call he has to make and staggers away in shock.

I go back to peeling the labels off the Heineken. I take another sip of beer and turn back to my friends.

“What are you writing your sermon about for Friday?” one of them asks.

“Well,” I say, and my typical evening becomes filled with words of Torah and the faint hope that someone out there will know how to flirt with a beer-drinking, jeans-wearing, nice Jewish girl who also happens to be a rabbi.

Karen Dieth is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

Rabbi Expelled Over Sex Abuse Claims


 

The decision of a leading association of centrist Orthodox rabbis to expel one of its members has highlighted for some in the community the difficulties of addressing sexual abuse in the Orthodox world.

Following an investigation into allegations from several women of sexual harassment, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) announced last week that it had expelled Rabbi Mordecai Tendler.

Tendler had “engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi” and refused to cooperate with the committee investigating the claims, the RCA said in a statement.

Tendler referred JTA to his spokesman for comment on the case, though he did say that members of his synagogue, Kehillat New Hempstead, located near Monsey, N.Y., have been “very supportive.”

Asked if he plans to remain in his pulpit, he replied, “Of course.”

Hank Sheinkopf, Tendler’s spokesman, said the RCA procedure leading to Tendler’s expulsion was “reminiscent of the Salem witch trials,” referring to fraudulent trials in colonial America.

“A decent man has been smeared, his family damaged irreparably and a community injured after a prolonged witch hunt,” Sheinkopf told JTA.

He complained that Tendler was not permitted to confront his accusers and that information on the case was leaked to the media.

The charges against Tendler include claims that over the last few years, he engaged in sexual affairs with several women, among them women who had come to him for rabbinic counseling.

Brian Leggiere, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan whose clientele is comprised largely of Orthodox abuse victims and offenders, said the case highlights the fact that the Orthodox community is beginning to “wake up” to issues of abuse among its leaders, but still has “a ways to go.”

“We imbue our leaders with a great sense of kavod, respect, and usually it’s deserved,” he said. “It’s a wonderful value, but when you have a community that over-idealizes [its leaders at times,] that’s a recipe that allows abuse to occur.”

In the Orthodox world, where marital matches, or shidduchs, are highly valued commodities, even the victims of abuse often remain silent for fear they will damage their chances to find a husband or wife.

Tendler’s expulsion reportedly went into effect immediately, though expulsion from the RCA does not necessarily entail removal from the pulpit. Some 1,000 ordained rabbis in 128 countries have membership in the RCA.

“Synagogues and institutions are entirely independent entities,” Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA. “Therefore, it’s up to every synagogue to decide how it will wish to deal with its rabbi or its clergy or employees.”

Herring declined to comment directly on the case, as did several other RCA members complying with official RCA policy.

One Orthodox rabbi who requested anonymity said it was the first time the RCA had expelled a member following sexual abuse allegations.

The expulsion was based on protocols, instituted in April 2004 for addressing accusations of sexual impropriety against RCA members. The new protocols followed the highly publicized conviction of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official who is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey.

The Lanner case, in which allegations emerged that victims’ complaints had gone unheeded, has been seen as a watershed in the way the Orthodox community addresses sexual abuse.

Tendler’s expulsion is a particularly sensitive issue for the RCA, Orthodox insiders said, because he comes from an important family of respected rabbis. His father is the well-known bioethicist and Yeshiva University teacher Rabbi Moses Tendler. His grandfather, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was among the Orthodox world’s leading experts in Jewish religious law.

Orthodox movement insiders said Tendler gained respect for his work on women’s issues within Judaism, particularly his approach to helping agunot, women unable to secure divorces from their husbands.

“As painful as it has been” for the community to start coming to terms with abuse issues, “I think it’s helpful when it comes to the fore because it helps people respond,” Leggiere said. “Generally, people aren’t going to respond to a situation until you get past a level of denial.”

 

Frum Frenzy


Visitors trolling for casual sex on Craigslist.org last week were left scratching their heads over an unfamiliar reference that has surfaced in a flurry of recent postings.

"I keep seeing this term ‘Frum.’ Can somebody please clue me into what the hell that is?" wrote Jeff, a 30-year-old regular on the site.

"OK, I give up … what does ‘frum’ mean?" huffed another.

To the posters’ disappointment, frum (pronounced "froom") is not shorthand for a kinky new posture or adventurous attitude. It’s a Yiddish word that technically means "religiously observant," but for all intents and purposes is used by men and women who identify themselves as Orthodox Jews.

Jeff, an events planner who grew up Catholic in the Midwest, said he kept seeing requests from frum men and women seeking frum sexual partners.

"The only thing that was in my mind was ‘fru-strated, m-arried?’ I had no clue what it was," he said. "I didn’t realize it was an Orthodox Jewish person. From what I understand, they’re supposed to put a sheet between them when they have sex."

It turns out that the deeply religious have sexual tastes as mundane as the rest of us:

"Single frum guy for single frum girl for fun!" one 24-year-old wrote. "Married, frum guy looking for a frum girl (married or unmarried) for some NSA [no strings attached] fun. We can have good time ‘learning’ together," a 31-year-old posted.

"Frum married guy looking for frum guy to explore," wrote another, continuing: "I am a frum married 28-year-old guy … during the summer my wife will be upstate and I am looking to explore having sex with a man … please be frum."

That’s not to say that this frum frenzy hasn’t ushered in a whole range of heretofore unimaginable caveats such as "We could do as little as you want," written by a gentle soul seeking a frum woman, and "No Chasidish," written by a 24-year-old married Manhattanite, referring to the ultra-Orthodox denomination whose members wear black hats and suits and sport long sidelocks.

Or, less chastely, a poster seeking "Frum girls gone wild" for an orgy in Brooklyn, or another one advertising a Yahoo group for married frumsters seeking "extracurricular fun."

Though the posters are seeking members of their observant sects to romp in the sack with, none seem to be under the illusion that this is, well, kosher.

"Frum guy seeks frum girl for not such frum fun!" a 32-year-old wrote. And one might question whether picking someone from the notoriously tight-knit community would be a discreet move.

In case there were any doubts, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, confirmed that Jewish law prohibits such shenanigans — either in the form of extramarital affairs or premarital sexual contact.

"Rabbis have taught that there is a prohibition of all contact of a sexual nature between male and female prior to marriage," he said, referring to Maimonides’ encyclopedic code of Jewish law. "But we’re not talking here about a man and a woman who are emotionally bonded and have difficulty with a specific Jewish law. We’re talking about people who are completely disconnected and lonely. It’s sad; it reflects the reality of our time."

Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, director of organizational development for the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, added that while traditional Judaism discourages sexual relations outside of marriage, "Historically some were permitted if the relationship was ongoing and committed" in the case of concubines.

"I assure you, they know very well that society doesn’t approve it — that’s why they’re going to the Net," he added. "If they belong to parts of a classically frum society, they can’t exactly go to a party and say, ‘Do you want to come back to my place?’"

"That’s so funny," said Jessica Ressler, 26, a Modern Orthodox divorce lawyer. "I just posted an ad on there for a nanny. I didn’t know they went on there for that."

Of course, it was only a matter of time before a class of frum frauds emerged on Craigslist. But if the missives from Orthodox neighborhoods are to be believed, where there are frum, there is desire.

"Are there any frum men here that want to meet for real?" one single gal wrote. "I am sick and tired of all the fakes here."

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Observer.


Anna Schneider-Mayerson is a writer living in New York City.

‘L-Words’ in a J World


The 2000 book “Best Lesbian Erotica” includes Jewish writer Joan Nestle’s short story and its provocative, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination title referencing sex with World War II pinup Rita Hayworth.

“Desire and passion are a very big part of my life. I am a Jewish woman and I refuse to give up that part of my territory,” said the 63-year-old author of short stories in the anthologies “Queers Jews” “The Oy of Sex” and “Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace.”

It is two decades of work from such writers that is being honored Sunday at the USC-affiliated gay and lesbian ONE Institute & Archives. The event celebrates ONE’s long-running Lesbian Writers Series and also coincides with the institute’s Feb. 29-April 10 photo exhibit, “Image from Sapphic L.A.’s Photography Community.”

Nestle is one of many Jewish lesbian writers with work catalogued at ONE, an archive similar to New York’s Lesbian Herstory Archive, which Nestle co-founded in 1973.

“I’m a secular Jew, but memory is how I live the history of the Jewish people as I know it,” she told The Journal.

Other Jewish writers to be highlighted at Sunday’s retrospective include Alice Bloch, Elizabeth Nonas and Robin Podolsky, an aide to state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles).

For writer Sarah Schulman, crafting stories about her sexual identity has isolated her from prominent publishers.

“It’s not because I’m Jewish, it’s the gay part,” Schulman said. “It’s very hard to know what I would do if I felt free. I’ve had so many problems with censorship that I write very defensively at this point.”

For a lesbian writer, she said, isolation also can be felt through Judaism’s family-centric institutions.

“Women are supposed to reproduce the Jewish culture,” Schulman said. “It’s one of the few cultures that has no role for single people.”

Nestle said Schulman seeks, and deserves, popular acclaim that older Jewish lesbian writers like her are not as drawn to.

“She has a sense of entitlement that is perhaps much more healthy than mine,” Nestle said. “I’ve never been really bothered by competing identities but I don’t expect my work to be ‘mainstream.'”

“20 Years of L-Words!” will be held Sunday, March 28 , 2
p.m.-4 p.m. ONE Institute & Archives, 909 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. For
more information, call (213) 741-0094 or visit

No Half Love!


Will I fall in love again?

After 17 years of marriage? At 42?

Will I even recognize the feeling? How soon will I allow myself to feel that vulnerable? That trusting?

Here’s a shocker: I’m cynical. I tend to regard women who come into my life with the narrow-eyed acuity of a fact checker. I have quickly become an instant documentarian, a sharp-eared debriefer in the Guantanamo Bay of the heart.

An astute interviewer, I listen for instant disqualifiers — gross insecurities, knee-jerk judgmentalism, debt, uncontrollable recoiling at the mention of sex.

Call this the Yiddish model of wary romance. At best, this model is worldly and practical.

"Love is a fine thing," the Yiddish saying goes, "but love with noodles is even tastier."

At its worst, this model is as despairing as Kafka, who let us know that "there is infinite hope — just not for us."

My Yiddish model admits that there is indeed infinite love between men and women, but that I’m destined for membership in the other 99.8 percent of the population.

It’s a seductively comfortable working model for dating. Why? Because it begins in fear, and so keeps me armored, garrisoned, provisioned and snugly out of the range of fire.

But, as Goethe’s Faust famously cried, "Two souls dwell, alas, in my breast."

And so my Yiddishe kop rides atop a body suffused with a Hebraic soul. Built of love, not fear, it belts out the Hebrew of the Song of Songs — "Love is stronger than death," and "Let me lean against the stout trunks, let me couch among the apple trees, for I am sick with love."

My Hebraic heart doesn’t fact check women, it listens optimistically for a singing partner — for spontaneous appreciation of beauty, for playful verbal dexterity, affection, exuberance, sensuality, beneficence.

This Hebrew model of love is far more uncomfortable. It pounds at the ribs. It is a ready conflagration under the skin. It is a psycho inner-puppy that persistently leaps to imagine a future of conjugal bliss. Hebraic love, as the Song of Songs reminds us, is a promise of love that, in its fullness of heart, is so expansive, so complete, that it can serve as nothing less than a metaphor for God’s love of us and for the human love of God.

Whoa. Yeah. I want love like that. And outsinging Kafka, there’s an optimistic voice in me that believes I, single, unfettered, can have it.

Because the great thing about starting out fresh at this point in my life is that, past the anxieties of youth, and before the frailties of age, I’m at full power.

For the first time in almost 20 years, unable to blame someone else, unburdened of the need to please someone else, I get to create the life I want. As ideal as I want to it to be.

And so, when I met a woman with an inspiringly buoyant, happy heart, I found myself blurting to her, "No half love." I was spontaneously striking a deal right from the start. A veteran of an increasingly listless marriage herself, her whole face lit up.

"No half love," she repeated. We weren’t in love yet, but if we were going to be, we were pledging ourselves at this important threshold to an idealism of, well, biblical proportions. What does that translate to in everyday life? To me, it means drawing from a bottomless well of generosity; it means kindness under stress, patience when gloom visits, quiet amid chaos and an almost giddy joy in the other’s happiness. All in all, it means maintaining a steadfast X-ray vision through the inevitable husks of daily imperfection to the divine creamy filling within.

Will I fall in love again? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that though I crack wise in Yiddish, my heart soars with a more ancient yearning…

Set me as a seal upon thy heart

As a seal upon thy arm

For love is as strong as death…

Many waters cannot quench love,

nor can the floods drown it.

Undrownable. Amen.


Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also
teaches creative writing based on Jewish texts at the UJ and privately. He can
be reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

Foregoing the Test-Drive


It may come as a surprise that in today’s post-sexual revolution world there are still men and women who don’t have sex before their wedding day. These otherwise modern, cell phone-carrying individuals choose to adhere to the 3,000-year-old Jewish tradition of sexual piety.

When I first presented this idea to my weekly class of twentysomething Jewish singles, they were incredulous. They argued, understandably, that there has to be sexual compatibility before making a commitment. How else but through pre-marital sex could you know this? Would you buy a car without a test-drive?

True enough, but the analogy is faulty. People aren’t cars. For one thing, a prospective buyer need only take a car for one test-drive in order to make a decision. For another, cars tend to drive the same over time. Parts deteriorate and need replacement, but a Cadillac will always be a smooth ride, and a Ferrari will always be fast. Not so with people. Even if you do a test-drive, five years into a marriage your sex life will most likely be very different from that test.

Time, age and experience change a person. As an individual changes, so does their relationship. In a good marriage, as trust grows, love multiplies. A suitable couple might decide not to marry based on an unsuccessful test-drive that bears little resemblance to what their intimate life might have evolved into in a healthy marriage. In fact, it may be that the absence of commitment, mutual trust and enduring love are the very factors that contribute to a failed “test-drive.”

Okay, but what, my class argued, are they supposed to do with natural biological urges? That question begs another question. What’s behind the urges? What is our real desire? Is it for flesh or something deeper?

The Torah answers that we want something better. In Genesis 4:1 we read the first mention of sex in the Bible. Revealingly, the Hebrew word for sex is yadah, which means “to know.” Traditional Jewish sources tell us yadah means that Adam and Eve were connecting on a deep soulful level that transcended the flesh.

Sexual urges are natural, but they are not meant to remain without direction or purpose. We do not shy away from them, but the Torah teaches that our physical passions are a stimulus aimed at helping us develop and maintain a meaningful relationship between husband and wife.

We have become a society of sitcom sex. On television and in movies, most dates are only the appetizer before the main (inter)course. A few scenes or episodes later, that romantic interlude or wild bedroom romp is ancient history. There is no comparison between sitcom sex (even if it lasts half a season) and the richness of a physical relationship built on a foundation of commitment and trust.

In marriage, safe sex doesn’t just mean disease-free. It also means nobody is worried about “love me and leave me.” In “The Death of Cupid,” author Rabbi Nachum Braverman talks about the effects of misusing sex as the language of love. After a while there is an inevitable numbing effect. Compare this emotional numbness from too much loveless sex to the emotions of a couple who has never touched prior to their wedding ceremony. Those lucky enough to have experienced it can appreciate its wonder, depth and preciousness.

Hearing this, some of my students admitted they agreed. But they had one last troubling question. What if you tie the knot and sex is terrible?

Nobody is suggesting that chemistry isn’t important between potential spouses, or that a healthy sex life isn’t vital to a successful marriage. So what are the chances of a disappointing love life following marriage? To answer that, it’s important to understand one fundamental difference between secular-style dating and Orthodox Jewish dating.

Orthodox men and women date in order to find a suitable spouse. In their world there is no such thing as sport dating. When young Orthodox singles meet, their conversations are seriously focused on mutual goals and outlooks — and, of course, each one sees if there is attraction for the other. Years of education and upbringing have sculpted them into individuals committed to the idea of commitment. A 19-year-old orthodox man or woman is quite often mature beyond their years in their outlook on love and marriage. This maturity translates into a level of commitment to finding solutions to any problems that may arise, sexual or other.

Surprisingly, experience tells me that sexual incompatibility is much less likely when a couple has no experience to begin with. They have clean slates. They are not comparing their spouse to a past lover. They can grow together in their intimacy as they grow together in their emotional and spiritual lives. What begins as incompatibility may just be shyness or lack of trust. As the couple gets to know each other better, as trust grows, they will naturally become compatible.

What, in today’s secular style of sex, would be labeled incompatible, is more likely a product of loveless, trustless, sexual calisthenics.

Rabbi Baruch Gradon, a well-known local Rabbi who counsels hundreds of couples, says he has never seen a couple breakup only over sex. Bad sex is a symptom of other problems. In other words, while important, sex is but one of many elements that contribute to a healthy marriage.

I realize that in today’s modern world, marriage before sex is a hard thing to sell. But think about it before you take your next test-drive. Your best buy may be the one you never test.


Mark Firestone teaches “User Friendly Judaism” for twenty- and thirtysomethings. He can be reached at (310) 278-5943. Beth Firestone, the author of “Candles in My Window” (Targum Press), contributed to this article.

The Year of The Grudge


Left to right, from top: Dennis Prager, Rabbi Harvey Fields,Rabbi Boruch Cunin and Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

The Year of The Grudge

The dominant stories of 5757 centered around ourcontinual war of words fought over religion, sex, politics andhistory

By Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

Can’t we all just get along? Reviewing the events of the pastyear in our community, the answer seems to be: just barely. For theChinese, this has been the Year of the Rooster. For Los AngelesJewry, let’s call it the Year of the Grudge.

The big stories of the year were not Jew vs. Black, or Jew vs.Gentile, but Jew vs. Jew — a continual war of words fought overreligion, sex, politics and history. At least we can’t be accused ofpettiness.

To help us parse the cyclone, let’s take it by subject:

Sex

From late November well into February, the pages of The JewishJournal carried heated arguments over whether homosexuals should beordained as rabbis. The firestorm was ignited by Dennis Prager, who,though no shirker from controversy, must have had no idea what nervehis arguments would drill into. In the Nov. 22 issue (“Homosexuality,Judaism and Rabbis”), he declared that to ordain practicinghomosexuals as rabbis would be “to overthrow Judaism’s historicattempt to channel human sexuality.” Ordaining gays would open thefloodgates, warned the radio talk-show host, and soon we’d face thespecter of bisexual rabbis performing quadruple weddings on bisexualcouples, with two rebbetzins — one of each gender — in tow. OK,maybe we exaggerate his concerns, but not by much.

Faster than you could spell “Limbaugh,” the community was all overPrager. Sixteen local rabbis, including prominent Conservativeleaders, signed a letter, accusing his piece of being “homophobic,poorly argued and cruel.” Then came letters accusing the rabbis ofad hominem attacks. Then more letters from some of the 16rabbis, who said that they objected to the letter they had signedtheir name to. Then Prager again, defending himself. And that’s notto mention the letters from members of the community, swarming toPrager’s defense or eager to pile on. Finally, Rabbi Harold Schulweisof Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom, on Feb. 28, chimed in with abrilliant essay on Torah, compassion and human sexuality — a subtlebody check to Prager’s reasoning and a model of learned discourse forPrager’s critics. Now if only Schulweis had written in on Nov. 22.

Religion

For an instant, it appeared that a small group of Orthodoxcongregations would finally pull us together– by teeing us all off.In late March, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States andCanada declared that the Reform and Conservative movements are notJudaism. Some, such as Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi HarveyFields, at first thought the pronouncement — given a misleadingheadline in the Los Angeles Times — must have been a Purim joke. Butit wasn’t, and rabbis from Fields to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’sMarvin Hier railed against an attempt to undermine the very Jewishnotion of critical interpretation. Orthodox lawyer Baruch Cohenlambasted Fields et al. for their misunderstanding. The Union ofOrthodox Rabbis, he explained, did not say that the majority of usweren’t Jews, just that the religion we practiced wasn’t Judaism.That felt so much better.

Politics

At home, problems surfaced, or resurfaced. Chabad once again facedoff against the American Jewish Congress and the city of BeverlyHills over the right to raise its 27-foot Agam menorah over SantaMonica Boulevard. This time, Chabad lost.

Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, neatlydivided the Jewish electorate. The Jewish Federation Council’sexecutive board finally came out against it, but only after a raucousdebate.

Jews, however, did come together this year to — of all things –vote Republican, for Mayor Richard Riordan over Tom Hayden.

The news from Israel didn’t exactly help heal domestic rifts.Successive waves of suicide bombings, some of which wounded membersof the Los Angeles community, provoked unanimous grief and outrage.But the search for solutions divided us. Those leaning leftcriticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the settlers forundermining the Oslo peace accords. Those leaning right unleashed achorus of we-told-you-sos and called for Oslo’s ultimate demise.

At the annual sermon seminar, convened for area rabbis, not onecleric presented a sermon in praise of Israel. Beth JacobCongregation’s Rabbi Abner Weiss urged his colleagues to put asidetheir differences on Israel and celebrate its accomplishments. Buteven louder was the silence from more and more members of thecommunity who are turned off to the news from Israel.

Religion and Politics

Two words will suffice here: The Wall. The Orthodox attack onnon-Orthodox women and men holding a prayer service at the WesternWall Plaza on Shavuot and Tisha B’Av provoked outrage at home.Conservative and Reform Jews felt the sting of religious persecutionin, of all places, a Jewish state. And the Orthodox believed that asacred space was used to score political points in the ongoing battleover the religious status quo.

But the hardest hand-wringing was taking place amongIsrael-affiliated fund-raising organizations, who feared that thethreats to pluralism in Israel would shrink donations back home.

Perhaps the problem was that we had, thank God, too few externalthreats to unite us. David Duke, the poster boy of the Ku Klux Klan,visited Cal State Northridge last September and spoke to some 1,100people. But the real drama was all in the pregame show — should hebe invited or not. The speech itself was as dull as anything said inthe mayoral race.

More Rancor, Please

The Jewish Journal did its part to stir the pot withinvestigations into the dire lack of funding of Jewish day-schooleducation; the slightly kooky world of the Kabbalah Learning Center;sex and power among the rabbinate, and stories and Jewish girls andsexuality.

And Schulweis, fresh from reconciling us on the gay issue, openeda new storm front: proselytism. In a passionate essay and sermon, hecalled on Jews to open their arms to potential converts and to moreactively bring non-Jews into the fold, no matter how rent the foldis. Schulweis drew fire for his suggestion, which many critics saidwas un-Jewish (it’s not) or impossible (to be determined).

And now the Good News

It’s easy, amid the fury, to be blinded to what’s right with ourshtetl-by-the-sea. We’ll mention, in passing, the synagogues,schools, clubs, community centers, museums, libraries, havurasand businesses that continue to serve a flourishing community. As ofJan. 3, there were three– three— Jewish theaters in LosAngeles. Also, there was Laemmle’s Jewish Cinema Series, a Yiddishfilm festival, the “Exiles and Emigré” exhibit at the LosAngeles County Museum of Art, and “Too Jewish?” at UCLA’s ArmandHammer Museum.

A conference on “The Jewish Quest for Purpose” drew 550 youngpeople to the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica (150 had to be turned away,to find purpose elsewhere). About 400 youngish men and women showedup for a conference on Zionism last month. The Kosher festival,Jewish festivals in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, thefirst Sephardic festival– all attracted huge crowds to bask in asense of togetherness, no matter how fragile.

In any case, healing may be at hand. On July 2, rabbis fromdifferent denominations met to discuss ways to draw Jews together.And on July 11, the Federation took out a full-page ad in TheJournal, calling on us all to support unity and respect diversity. Inother words, there’s always next year.

Navigating Sexual Turmoil


Naomi Wolf, author of “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood”
Sex will always be with us, but thoughtful, non-hysterical conversations about sexual issues are few and far between. With the publication of her newest book, “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood” (Random House, $24), social critic Naomi Wolf has helped bring the subject of girls’ sexuality to the national spotlight in a serious way — for at least as long as it takes to conduct a book tour.

Though Wolf’s book is uneven (see review), the importance of the issues she raises is undeniable: What marks the passage from girlhood to womanhood in our society? If sex is integral to a definition of womanhood, how do parents and educators help girls deal with the challenges it raises? What is the role of social institutions — the media, churches and synagogues, schools — in shaping sexual self-image and even desire?

In conversation with The Jewish Journal while on tour in Los Angeles, Wolf turns these issues over for the umpteenth time, examining them in a slightly different light — a Jewish one. That’s not such a stretch.

“Oh, I’m a real Jew girl,” she says.

“Promiscuities” reveals only the surface of a deep Jewish background. Raised in a Conservative family, Wolf grew up attending San Francisco Temple Beth Shalom. She had the bat mitzvah, went to Hebrew school and made numerous visits to Israel. Wolf, her husband, writer David Shipley, and their 2-year old daughter, Rosa, attend synagogue near their home in Washington. The Jewishness, she believes, made her career choice something more than a coincidence.

“Being a Jew is great training for being a cultural critic,” she says, “because you’re always an outsider. You’re never allowed to be fully integrated into whatever the prevailing culture is.”

Wolf herself has become a fairly well-known figure in that culture. Her first book, “The Beauty Myth,” published when she was 29, was an international best seller, and launched Wolf as spokesperson and whipping girl. Depending on which feminist you speak with, “Promiscuities” is either a thoughtful continuation of Wolf’s polemic or a halfhearted exploitation of a hot-button issue.

In any case, it raises the issues that The Journal hopes to address in these pages.

The Jewish Journal: Where does sex education for girls really take place?

Naomi Wolf: Even the most conservative family can’t avoid the bath of images that their daughters and sons grow up in. Even the most observant and practicing families, especially in an urban environment like this one, can’t protect or screen their girls from VH-1 and MTV and friends.

JJ: So does having a house that upholds Jewish values even help?

NW: I know it certainly helped me to have religious practice in our household in terms of having a vantage point from which to look at the Sexual Revolution as it was sweeping over us, and to consider whether this was the only way to understand sex.

JJ: You felt Jewishness had a different take?

NW: Definitely. One of the big diseases we have in the West is the virgin-whore split, and one of the blessings we have of being Jewish is you can always, as a woman, have some credible distance from the virgin-whore thing because it wasn’t our virgin or our whore. There’s also this beautiful tradition in the Zohar that eroticizes married love. Judaism’s better than Christianity at eroticizing married love. In marriage, women’s sexuality is definitely honored. I think we’re way ahead in that respect.

And I don’t know any Jewish families that, in practice, stigmatize masturbation, that teach it’s wrong to touch yourself — maybe just in public or during the seder.

Also, spiritually, it made me much more scrupulous about contraception than my friends. Judaism has a stronger tradition than Christianity that sex is a sacrament, and it certainly has a stronger tradition than the secular Sexual Revolution that sex is a sacrament and that life is precious. And though I’m pro-choice, I knew I’d never want to face choosing an abortion. Somewhere, I’d absorbed from my religious background that you shouldn’t cause harm with your sexuality. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong with having premarital sex at all in terms of my Judaism. There was no problem there, and I still don’t think there’s a problem there. But I definitely had the sense that I shouldn’t hurt anyone, that I shouldn’t cause unnecessary damage.

JJ: Did your friends come from similar Jewish backgrounds?

NW: No, it set me apart. The striking thing about the families of most of the girls I was friends with was the total agnosticism and secular mood. We were weird.

But that gave me grounding to navigate the sexual turmoil.

It didn’t spare me, but any kind of spiritual grounding, whether you’re comfortable with it or you’re uncomfortable with it, at least gives you higher or deeper or more lasting things than “Have the best orgasm of your life” or “Make the most money” or “Be the thinnest” as your prevailing value.

JJ: Like what kind of lasting things?

NW: Probably the most direct effect it had on us as kids was through our parents. I think it helped my parents keep their balance. Just having our synagogue as the ground of our community was probably a buffer for my parents to help them withstand the messages around us saying, “Find yourself; family isn’t that important.”

JJ: Is there a larger role Judaism can play in guiding girls through sexuality?

NW: Yes. I remember on our visits to the Planned Parenthood clinic, there was no moral grounding, no spiritual content, no ethical instruction. We were being processed like animals. And if there’s one thing Judaism does tell you over and over in every way, whether it’s through lighting the candles or blessing the meal, is that we’re more than animals.

Kids are being taught sex education in schools in a way that’s purely physiological and not about the relationship of their sexuality to their spirit. Boys are not learning about girls’ sexuality in relation to girls as complete human beings. Both boys and girls are encouraged to think of sex as completely divorced from their spiritual life, their spiritual evolution and maturation, and I really think this harms teen-agers. I would love to see sex education in schools in the context of asking deep questions about right and wrong, asking deep questions about love and responsibility.

JJ: It sounds like that would be a perfect course for a synagogue to give rather than a school.

NW: You’re absolutely right. As a mother, I would love to have my synagogue be a resource for my daughter’s generation to talk about these things. That would be great.

JJ: In the book, you call for older women to mentor younger women about sex. But when you were a young woman on a kibbutz, involved with an Irish-Catholic worker, you refused to listen to the rabbi’s wife, who warned you to stay away from him.

NW: It’s easy to misread that moment. What offended me was not that she was giving me guidance like, “Don’t go too far too fast.” That would have been fine. What offended me was I thought she was being racist about it. I knew it would have been perfectly OK with her for me to have made out with a nice boy from Great Neck (N.Y.).

JJ: That whole episode reads like a case study in the slippery slope to intermarriage. Is the attraction to the Other an inevitable or even necessary part of our development as sexual beings?

NW: The whole thing Philip Roth described is just as true for women. I think it’s almost hard-wired. But it’s also true that our culture does not eroticize marriage or intimacy. It eroticizes distance. I do think that if we did a better job eroticizing marriage and closeness, we would not be so drawn to always trying to find excitement and stimulus with the Other, further and further away from home.

JJ: What culture comes closer to the ideal in developing girls’ sexuality?

NW: You know, Israeli women are pretty confident. They don’t have a lot of the shame issues that people in other cultures have. That’s a sweeping, gross generalization, but that has been my experience.

I remember when I was on kibbutz when I was in my 20s, there were big barrels of contraceptives outside the infirmary, and you didn’t have to see a medical worker to get them. It just felt safer to be a woman there because of that.

JJ: How would you raise a son?

NW: The best thing I could do for him I already did, which is I married a man I think will be the right kind of model for him. Also, I guess I would talk to him about how girls feel, and let him know he’s entitled to think about how he feels. Really, the best thing we can do for our kids is to teach them how to stay conscious. We can’t save them, we can’t insulate them, but we can give them self-acceptance, and we can give them critical intelligence.

Part Memoir, Part


For the next few weeks, you will be hearing about girls and sex. “Oprah,” “Leeza,” “Charlie Rose,” The New York Times, even The Jewish Journal — media great and small will focus airwaves and inches on a topic that, while hardly new, rarely gets serious, sustained attention.

You’ll be hearing about it because Naomi Wolf wrote about it. The best-selling author of 1992’s “The Beauty Myth” has just released her third book, “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood” (Random House, $24). Part memoir, part polemic, part socio-anthro-historiography, the book talks about how American girls experience sexual awakening, and how society can do a better job of helping them.

There have been dozens of other books that have covered the same or similar ground (Wolf credits most of them in her bibliography), but Wolf has a knack for shaping the various voices into a mostly coherent, highly readable set of arguments.

With heart. The heart comes from Wolf’s memoirs of her own sexual development. Growing up near the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the Sexual Revolution, the author, now 35, recounts her and her friends’ own gropings — pun intended — toward womanhood in a culture that offered few definitions of being a woman beyond losing one’s virginity.

“Men were deciding for us if we were women,” she writes. “Heck, teenage boys were deciding for us if we were women.” (Much of Wolf’s decision making took place during summers abroad in Israel; “Promiscuities” gives new meaning to the phrase “Israel Experience.”) In all, these personal recollections form the book’s most moving passages.

They are joined by Wolf-the-cultural-critic’s discussion of how society has come to devalue women’s sexuality. As she points out, there is a great, debilitating power in terms such as “promiscuous” and “slut,” which punish women for exploring what Wolf posits is, in fact, a much more powerful feminine libido.

Wolf-the-activist weighs in at the end with suggestions on how women can take control of their sexual destinies. Among them: Go on retreats with other women to pass on wisdom; develop rituals to mark and respect sexual growth; and join girls with older women/mentors to whom they can turn to ask questions about anything, including it.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in “Promiscuities.” Sometimes, the effect can be jarring. Just when Wolf’s memoirs pick up steam, for example, she veers off to discuss a turn-of-the-century Danish sex manual or Emma Goldman’s sexual liberation. At other times, the polemicist plows forward, leaving the larger picture in the dust. Doesn’t society’s ineptitude at sexual initiation afflict boys and young men as well? Isn’t a larger discussion in order here?

But here’s where Wolf succeeds mightily: in touching nerves. You will find quite a bit in this book to side with, react to, debate, reject, admit. While Wolf’s greatest successes as a writer may lie in the future with more personal essays, it’s hard to deny her current power as the instigator of a crucial national conversation. — R.E.