Kosher Sex by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was the first book I read about Judaism, so it should have seemed natural that when I was converting I had a big talk with my Rabbi about sex. Instead it came as a big surprise—to my rabbi, to the man I was dating at the time, and to friends I shared the advice with.
Rock N Roll, as I like to call him, and I met online—where else? He was 15-25 years older than me (I never quite pinned down his age) and pretty eager to get our sex life started. I was split—yes, he was a sexy man with skills in the bedroom that I hadn’t seen before. But making the change from secular Christian to religious liberal Jew left me confused.
I was 27, taking on a whole new value system. What did my new value system have to say about sex? In my pre-Jewish life, the decisions were up to me. Did I feel like having sex with this guy? It was based on no strict prohibition, simply how I felt.
I already had a meeting scheduled with my rabbi to check in with my studies. “Are you having any problems?” “Well there is one thing. I know how I used to make decisions but now I don’t know how to make them jewishly.”
He thought I was being a bit vague and asked for clarification. “Um, yeah, sex. I’m seeing someone new and I don’t know how to decide about sex with him in a Jewish context.”
My rabbi was surprised, but then gave me a great answer. “Judaism,” he said, “is not a puritan religion about prohibition. Questions about sex isn’t about inside or outside of marriage, but about a subject/subject relationship.”
He went on to explain that if Rock N Roll and I each treated each other like a subject, like a human, then it would be fine to have sex. However, if one person treated the other like an object, then it is not Jewishly correct. As long as we were each emotionally present and treating the other as a subject, not an object—we had permission.
Fresh with this information, I went on our fourth and final date. Rock N Roll made sure that I felt like an object that night. I realized that it did not matter to him that I was Leah, just that I was warm and a woman. Lucky for me, I got the lesson on objectivity without having sex with him.
We agreed to stop seeing each other the next day—we had different priorities and needs. I moved forward with a much better idea of what I want from a relationship and how to pursue it Jewishly. I might have made my rabbi blush, but the lesson was worth the awkwardness.
Originally published January 2006, Shebrew.com