February 25, 2020

Letters to the Editor: Debating Intimacy, Day School, Mensches

Debating Intimacy
While well-intentioned, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s prescription for intimacy is unhelpful and misleading at best (“Holy Lust Over Romance,” Jan. 4). At worst, it’s damaging. His joke about couples having sex fewer than twice a week for seven minutes — including the time the husband spends begging — should be updated and changed to read “women begging.” Nowadays in marriage, often it’s men who lose interest, can’t get aroused and then abstain. They withdraw in despair and shame to the point of depression and obsession because men can’t fake an erection the way that women can fake an orgasm.

Sermonizing about porn is just more guilt-making piled on the man. Men use porn to stimulate their lack of interest. Often, porn is an addiction, not a choice, and is no more under conscious control than any other addiction.

Marital relationships get weighed down by unresolved conflicts and couples can barely discuss, much less “explore each other” on the “marital journey” beyond a few sentences before raised voices and mutual blaming begins, followed by withdrawal and tears.

Preaching about sex only demonstrates the futility of mixing religious teaching with the psychologically complex business of intimate relationships. Sermons are a momentary “feel good” that dissipate quickly. Worse, Boteach’s is a sad message when given to the married man who is physically repulsed by his wife and for whom a “journey of discovery” is the last thing he would want to do.

Boteach could be most helpful by being transparent about his own sex life so that others could then model him. In the meantime, why not let the highly experienced who regularly work in the trenches of relationships teach about sex as it is in real life and not in biblical and New Age fantasy? Finally, the rabbi should know that porn and other escapes from sexual intimacy are its symptoms and not the cause of the problem and can’t be willed away.
Herb Goldberg, via email
The writer is the author of seven books about human sexuality and relationships.

Rabbi Boteach responds: While equally well-intentioned, Herb Goldberg’s male-centric views on sex are retrograde and represent a giant leap backward. While men are finally waking up to irresponsible erotic behavior that has alienated women, Goldberg prefers to make excuses for inexcusable male action.

The man who looks at porn to the neglect of his wife is not at fault because he is “an addict” with zero control. The husband who “loses [sexual] interest and can’t get aroused” is equally faultless because he might be “physically repulsed by his wife.”

Nowhere does Goldberg speak of women who are repulsed by male behavior toward the opposite sex, or how disgusted women are by men who believe that females exist to serve as objects of male sexual desire.

For Goldberg it is “men who lose interest, can’t get aroused, and then abstain.” But what causes this loss of interest in the first place? And how is it that they have no wish to make love to their wives yet continue to masturbate to porn?

Do we really believe that all overexposure wrought by the sexual revolution, and against which Judaism expressly counseled, has not bred contempt?

My cover story relied on ancient Jewish sexual truths that have made the Jewish marriage the envy of the world and from which society, and especially men, have strayed. To dismiss Jewish sexual values as myth is to invite increasing sexual corrosion, alienation and boredom. In the 1960s we were promised endless sexual gratification. Will we not at least ask the question of how it culminated instead in #MeToo?

Goldberg seems oblivious to women’s frustration, anger and despair, even as it boils red-hot in the culture. Seventy percent of all divorces today are initiated by wives. And women are more likely (43 percent) to live without a partner than men (40 percent).

His reductionist view of sex as an agency of “shame” and “depression” and his dystopian view of marriage as a source of “despair” is depressing. This is a material and Darwinian argument that sees sex at best as a recreational, and at worst as a purely procreational, function. What a shame that in his condescension to Torah and Jewish spirituality he cannot view sex as the agency of emotional intimacy and, in marriage, the means for erotic connection.

Women today demand that men finally live up to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of their nature.” Thirty years of counseling thousands of couples has taught me that men and women enter marriage expecting to feel chosen, that they are the one and only. Goldberg should join me in offering couples the tools, advice and wisdom to make it so, rather than offer excuses as to why this is fantasy.

The time for male sexual excess is over. Men must become worthy of their wives.

Feedback on Day School Story
I wish to comment on the story “New Pay Model, New Leader at Kadima Day School” (Jan. 11), in which you detail the new and exciting leadership and developments taking place at Kadima.

While the tone of the story was overall positive and optimistic, I was taken aback by [this paragraph]: Lorch also touts the relationships between staff and students. Many of the school’s students are Israeli, and while this has the potential to present challenges for non-Israeli families — at another day school in Los Angeles, the disproportionate number of Persian to Ashkenazi students led to tension among students’ parents — Lorch said the atmosphere at Kadima is one of inclusivity and warmth.

This paragraph offended me greatly because my children attend the school to which I believe the story is indirectly referring — and not only has this never been our experience with the students or parents at our school, but I feel it to be a be unprovoked and unnecessary criticism of our school or any Jewish school, for that matter; a poor observation when all Jewish schools, especially in Los Angeles, should be standing together and supporting one another as safe, inclusive places for Jewish thought, education and values.

That sentence diminished the impact of the story by being unfairly critical of another Jewish institution that no doubt is working equally hard to provide a spiritually, intellectually and academically inspired curriculum and community. While it is admirable that Kadima Day School prides itself on being inclusive and warm, it is unnecessary to undermine the efforts of another Jewish school to make the point, and it did nothing to further the main issues of your story. The piece would have had the same impact without your negative criticism of another Jewish institution, which like many Jewish schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere, has seen its own share of struggles with enrollment and endowment.

It is the Journal’s responsibility to be an example of setting high standards in journalism and to uphold the values of decency and integrity and to discourage lashon harah; it should never lightly discredit another Jewish institution, especially since that has not been our, nor others’ experience at the school. I have no doubt that the hard-working and dedicated administrators and teachers at our school, or at whichever school you were referencing, would feel the same as I do reading this story. That sentence was careless and neither well-meaning nor supportive and entirely antithetical to the overall spirit of the story, which was otherwise an exciting and informative piece.

My husband and I teach our children every day that by diminishing others, you diminish yourselves; and that there is no place for public shaming or humiliation. Such divisive and misplaced statements should have no part in the Jewish rhetoric. You need to do better.
Alisa Shaked, via email

Mensch List
It’s one thing to have an idea of what your child does besides her job (“Lessons From Her ‘Shanghai Jew’ Father,” Jan. 11). It was such an aha moment to read about my daughter Naomi’s accomplishments in your Mensch List story.  To all 12 Mensches, a hearty mazel tov. In this world at present, it’s a blessing to praise the good people in our midst. I’m sure all who have reaped the benefits of their hard work feel the same way. The Journal team has provided this mother a glow that will stay with me for a long time. I will go to Green Hills Cemetery, where Naomi’s father is buried, and read him the article. I believe he will hear and kvell also.
Faith Goldman, Torrance

Your turn. Send your letters to letters@jewishjournal.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name and city. The Journal reserves the right to edit all letters.