Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will speak at the Rothstein Theatre on Jan. 17. (photo from Shmuley Boteach)
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will be in Vancouver later next week to talk about his most recent book, Kosher Lust: Why Love is Not the Answer. Boteach, a rabbi, author, television host, pundit and in-demand speaker who has been called “America’s Rabbi,” is being presented by the North Shore Jewish Community Centre/Congregation Har El with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. His talk will be followed by a Q&A and a meet and mingle over refreshments.
Boteach described Kosher Lust as “a revolutionary book,” in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “Most books about marriage, about sex or about romance, are about how you can create love in a relationship, how you can increase love. This book argues that love has been the problem all along. Why do we have such a high divorce rate? Why, if [marriages] do work, they work on a practical level but not on a level of deep desire? And my book argues the reason is that love has always been the problem.” He stressed, “The foundation of a marriage is supposed to be lust and desire, rather than love and friendship.”
In recognizing that “we live in a modern world where marriage as an institution is in common decline,” Boteach said he is “trying to make arguments for sustaining, enhancing and promoting marriage.” The bestselling author said his newest book “gives us three rules of lust. Number one, unavailability; number two, mystery; number three, sinfulness.” The book “teaches couples how to bring the three rules of erotic lust into their marriages and relationships.” These three rules of lust are from the Song of Solomon on which, he explained, the book itself is based.
Untangling the first rule, Boteach said that unavailability is “what we call erotic obstacles, erotic impediments [or] things which frustrate desire.” These include “things that get in the way of desire … that actually increase desire,” he said.
A problem with modern marriage “is that there is no mystery,” he said. “Marriages today are based on openness and a lack of mystery, and constant availability…. I actually argue a different kind of marriage.”
When asked how an ideal marriage would look, Boteach said, the “whole belief that marriage is about this constant openness and constant availability is incorrect.” Jewish law, he suggested, argues instead “for ‘sinful’ marriages. Notice that husband and wife become forbidden to each other for a period [of time] every month [during niddah]. Then, you have the element of sinfulness under the laws of modesty that are all about things being concealed, mysterious, covered, not just always available.”
Are there dangers or limitations to lust? “From a Jewish perspective, all things in life are neutral, and it really depends on their application as to whether they are positive or negative,” he said.
“There is unkosher lust,” Boteach added, “like what a husband will feel towards a woman who is not his wife. Unkosher lust is the kind of lust that is generated by pornography and the objectification of women and demeaning women.” Kosher lust, however, “like the desire that a husband has for his wife and that a wife has for her husband, is a beautiful thing and a ‘kosher’ thing.”
His book contends that “women are as lustful as men are,” Boteach explained. “One of the central arguments in my book is that women are much more sexual than men, and female sexuality has been belittled in our time and prior to our time.” Women “lust in a uniquely feminine way … in a much deeper more emotional way,” Boteach suggested, while men “lust in a uniquely physical way, that is often very two-dimensional, very predictable, very monotonous and very boring.”
The book has received several positive reviews in mainstream media, but also a critical review in Haaretz, Boteach said. In his opinion, this is “no coincidence … because Jews are the ones who always have an issue with a rabbi giving them advice about sex, because so often we belittle our own religion.”
Boteach continued, “I am not looking to write specifically to a Jewish audience. I am writing to a mainstream audience…. Jews have to learn how to assert their Jewishness in the midst of a multicultural society. And that’s what I do … I’m promoting Jewish identity, which can be affirmed and asserted anywhere and everywhere. We can’t create ghettoized Judaism that is only affirmed in the presence of other Jews. But I also believe that the universal teachings of Judaism are universally applicable and, therefore, it’s not just for Jews.”
The prolific author – he has published 30 books to date – will continue to focus his writing on relationships, but he is also continuing his foray into television with a new pilot for a show to be broadcast in Canada on Vision TV.
Boteach will speak Jan. 17, 7 p.m., at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. Tickets are available online at harel.brownpapertickets.com.
Zach Sagorin is a Vancouver freelance writer.