A new store in Tel Aviv is looking to revive intimacy and sex in relationships — while keeping it kosher, of course.
Chana Boteach is the daughter of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an American Orthodox rabbi best known for his 1999 best-seller “Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy.” In her own way, Chana is following the family tradition after recently opening a boutique sex shop in the heart of Tel Aviv.
“‘Kosher Sex’ is really about recapturing sex and reclaiming it as what it was supposed to be initially, which is to create intimacy between two people,” Boteach, 28, tells Haaretz. With the new store and her father’s teachings, she hopes to help people rediscover their sensuality according to the tenets of Judaism.
She offers the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, encouraging any activity that helps improve the world: “Sexuality has a lot to do with that. In one way, it can be the holiest thing you can do,” Boteach says. “And it can also be degraded, like we’re seeing in secular society today where sexuality is accompanied by scandal. People are associating it with pain.”
If she were to display a biblical quote in her store, she would choose one from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). “That’s true intimacy when you become one,” Boteach says. “That’s what we really promote.”
Although her store places an emphasis on married couples, Boteach stresses that all customers are welcome. “Anyone who believes in commitment and bringing love into this world and being intimate with someone and wants to learn — they’re welcome here,” she says. This applies to all couples, whether they are gay, straight or whatever.
While Boteach notes “it does say in the Torah that there are issues with homosexuality,” she counters that by saying she was “brought up with the idea that there are 613 mitzvoth [commandments] for everyone to keep, and if you can’t keep one, you [can’t] keep two or whatever number, you keep the rest. You do as much as you can — that’s Judaism.”
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Boteach says that since opening at the end of June, Kosher Sex has not had a “typical customer,” and that there have been a range of women young and old — and even men looking to buy gifts for their wives. One of her favorite examples was an 80-year-old religious man looking to buy a vibrator for his wife on their 50th anniversary. “I thought he was lost,” she recalls. “But no, he was in the right place. We have something for everybody.”
Boteach recounts that it all began when her father published his “Kosher Sex” book in 1999. It sold 65,000 copies in a week and developed into a full-blown enterprise. Last year, the father and daughter collaborated on a website with access to courses, articles and a podcast by Rabbi Shmuley himself. He also recently co-authored a book with a particularly strange bedfellow, “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson.
The celebrity rabbi, also known for his long friendship with American comedian Roseanne Barr, is set to visit the Tel Aviv store later this month. He will be delivering the “Kosher Sex” speech “that he’s been giving for 20 years,” his daughter says.
Promoting female sexuality
As a young, single woman with her own views on modern sexuality, Boteach says that some of her father’s ideas are outdated.
For example, in a July 2014 blog post titled “What Women Really Want,” he wrote: “Women are not looking just for love in a marriage; they are primarily looking for lust. A woman wants to be wanted, needs to be needed, desires to be desired. A woman does not go into marriage principally to be loved; she goes into marriage to be lusted after, to be desired, to feel that there’s a man who has a magnetic attraction for her. It’s an easy point to prove. If a woman wanted primarily to be loved, why would she ever leave the comfort of the parental home? No one’s ever going to love her more than her parents.”
In response, Aliza Worthington wrote “A Rabbi Tells Me What I Want!” This featured a full edit and grading of his essay, which she said was filled with “grotesque stereotypes,” “massive overgeneralizations” and was even an “endorsement of rape culture.”
But Chana Boteach’s own views on kosher sex are more empowering and feminist in nature, including her belief that Judaism promotes female sexuality. In the Torah, she says, “a man is commanded to pleasure his wife. He’s actually discouraged from taking long trips because he’s depriving her of her sexual needs.”
For her, the Jewish message about sexuality is a balanced one and offers a healthy perspective. “We have this idea that men are these aggressive sexual animals and women kind of put up with it. Or we yearn for it, we yearn to be desired. But really, women are actually much more sexual than men,” she says. “It’s a much deeper sexuality, and I think it’s time for it to be acknowledged.”
Although the two have faced criticism for their outspoken opinions on sex and religion, Chana Boteach says she has learned to blank it out after watching her father grapple with negative comments since she was young. And while she hasn’t received much negative feedback in the month since her store opened, she says the criticism has been to the effect of “This isn’t a nice job for a nice Jewish girl.”
She notes that most of her father’s critics are from the Orthodox Jewish community, due to the impression that “it had never been done by a rabbi before — which is not true because in the Talmud they talk about it all the time.” She finds it even more important for that community because Orthodox couples “get married young; they’re the ones that need to keep their sex lives exciting and electrifying.”
While there is currently only one Kosher Sex store, there are also plans to open more in New York and Los Angeles. The Tel Aviv store is set up modestly so no customer should feel discomfort. As you enter off the high street, toys and products for sexual pleasure are displayed on the right, while the left features clothing from Foreign Denim (a company owned by Boteach’s friend, Christina Dickens, that sells vintage and sustainable denim).
“I think the combination became a really good concept,” explains Boteach. Customers “don’t feel intimidated to walk in because no one really knows what [they’re] doing in here. You can take a glance at the clothes and then make your way over here and look around and ask questions.”
Although no religious products are on sale, Boteach says she hands out Shabbat candles to customers before the weekend.
“A vibrator and a candle — that’s all you need for a Friday night,” she laughs.