Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson, onetime Republican candidate for Congress and author of the best-selling “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus,” has a new book for Jews and non-Jews alike: “Kosher Lust.”
Its provocative subtitle: “Love Is Not the Answer.”
The answer, Boteach says, is lust, the God-given fuel for a healthy marriage. Love, he argues, cannot sustain marriage, but lust – what he calls the unfairly maligned member of the Seven Deadly Sins – can.
Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi married to his wife for 26 years, writes in the context of heterosexual marriage, rooting lust in the attraction of opposites. Gay spouses, however, may nonetheless find the rabbi’s advice relevant.
RNS asked Boteach to explain his lusty theology. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You say lust is a stronger foundation for marriage than love. Isn’t that a sad statement?
A: I’m not saying there shouldn’t be love in marriage. I’m saying that love should be subordinate to lust in marriage. People love their cars. People love their pets. People have love from their parents, and yet we all leave the cocoon of parental affection because we don’t want just love in life, we want – women especially – to be chosen.
Marriage for women is a profound risk. They take someone else’s name. They’re the ones having babies. Very often women are saddled with two jobs, one at work and one at home. Why would they do this if they already have love from their parents? There’s one thing that their parents cannot give them, and that’s what they crave most: to be desired.
Q: How do we know if we’re lustful enough? How often should a couple be having sex?
A: Let’s not make the mistake of making sex about quantity or quality. Couples who have an amazing sexual encounter, but only every six months, that’s woefully inadequate. Couples who have sex every single night, but it’s for the national average of four minutes – inadequate. It’s the degree of passion and the degree of connection that counts.
Sexuality is the soul of relationship. But our definition of sex is so goal-oriented today that I don’t want to answer the question with a number. We treat sex as a scratch that has to be itched, and it’s one of the reasons we have really bad sex. The answer to what constitutes a normal healthy sex life comes down to the degree that we really feel desirous of the other person. Is a husband really fixated on his wife? When he fantasizes erotically about a woman, is he fantasizing about his wife?
Q: So, Rabbi, what are your thoughts on orgasm?
A: For most people it’s sad. It’s “did it produce pleasure or not?” Maybe the pleasure is more intense than a great doughnut, but once you put it merely in the realm of pleasure it can be a solitary experience. A lot of men have sex with their wives and it’s about their own pleasure. Women complain about this all the time.
But the moment you see orgasm as a transcendent experience and one that can lead to mystical union, it’s truly transformative. We don’t know how to deal with orgasm in American sexuality. For us, it’s just something that proves that the sexual encounter is over. The whole experience of sex is a means to an end. It leads to bad sex and short sex.
Q: What do Christians misunderstand about lust?
A: Christian theology is much more about transcending lust, and I can’t embrace that theology. I don’t think it’s a real understanding of Christianity because every religion is about a lust for life. It’s about a lust for God. When you denigrate lust and you say it is of the devil, I think you’re condemning couples to marriages that do not provide for their core needs.
I don’t believe in lust for lust’s sake. I believe in lust for the sake of oneness, unity and connection. There’s a spiritual dimension to that lust.
Q: “Lust for God” – that idea is going to make some people uncomfortable.
A: I don’t think we should define lust so narrowly. Lust is intense desire. I think one of the reasons that Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) is becoming so successful and that Judaism as a system of faith is not growing is that Judaism teaches you to love God. Kabbalah teaches you to lust after God.
If you look at translations of the Song of Solomon, they’re often not literal because it’s just considered inappropriate. It’s a biblical book speaking about women’s breasts. But Kabbalah has never shied away from speaking of God in lustful terms. Kabbalah actually utilizes sexual imagery to connote and capture the intensity of the God-man experience. Maybe we have to overcome that uneasiness. But we’re not attempting to sexualize the relationship with God. That’s ridiculous.
Q: You say the 10th Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” helps prove your pro-lust point?
A: If it was a condemnation of lust, it would have said, “Do not covet any woman.” By direct implication, you ought to be coveting your own wife.