Sex and Jews: it’s academic

By Dana Gloger, March 13, 2008
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Is there such a thing as ‘Jewish sex’? Just about, says a lecturer behind a new book on the subject.

HE may be a mild-mannered academic, but Nathan Abrams has sex foremost in his mind. To be precise, he has become one of the country’s foremost experts on Jewish sexuality after editing a new book on the subject.

Dr Abrams, who lectures on film at Bangor University in Wales, has made it his business to investigate what is distinctive about Jewish people and their sexuality.

So what is it, then, that makes us different?

“Well, not that much, actually,” is the somewhat disappointing answer.

Abrams, originally from Muswell Hill, North London, explains: “We are not different to anyone else when it comes to sex, but I’m not sure how open we are. I think we throw a veil over these things, particularly the more seedy side of sex.”

He cites an example of his time at JFS as a teenager. “It was during the time when Aids had hit the headlines, but we never learnt about Aids or how to put on a condom. There was the idea that a nice Jewish boy doesn’t do that.”

His book, Jews and Sex, contains essays on issues including lesbian Yiddish poetry, Barbie’s Jewish roots, sex on the American Jewish stage and Jews in porn, among others.

“We do pride ourselves on being more liberal than some other religions, though,” he says.

“Once we are married we are encouraged to have as much of it as we can within the boundaries. It’s for both enjoyment and procreation, and we have no ideal of celibacy in Judaism.”

He adds that one of main recent changes in Jewish sexuality is the increase in representations of the Jewish male body and sexuality in film.

“There are now several films, such as Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, in which the main object of attraction is a shlabby Jew,” he notes. “That’s celebrated now and it’s happening more and more. I think it’s partly down to a greater cultural confidence about being Jewish.”

In terms of better-known Jewish figures linked with sex, he cites Woody Allen; Annie Sprinkle — a self-confessed “porn star and prostitute turned sex guru and performance artist”; porn star Ron Jeremy; and Eytan Fox, director of Yossi and Jagger, a film which looks at homosexuality within the Israeli army. “Maybe we need to see more of this kind of thing,” he suggests.

Abrams adds there are also many contemporary examples of Jewish writers engaging with sexual themes, such as Naomi Alderman, Linda Grant, David Baddiel and Howard Jacobson. “Who would have thought we would have a book about lesbianism within the Orthodox community?” he asks, referring to Naomi Alderman’s novel Disobedience. “It’s a very interesting time.”

Of the increasing number of Jewish women writing sexual memoirs, such as Belle de Jour, Suzanne Portnoy and Zoe Margolis, he says: “Kola kavod [well done]. If women want to be more open about their sex lives, that’s great. The fact these books are out there is evidence that things are changing,” he adds.

But he questions whether this is down to a change in the Jewish community or new attitudes within the wider community, which he says is becoming more “sexualised”.

“As Jews, we also have the pressures of mainstream society. The Orthodox community is probably more closed, and I do not speak for them as I think they have more restriction. But within other [sectors] of Judaism, there is still the attitude that it’s OK to sleep with a non-Jew as long as you don’t marry one.”

But overall, he says, Jews are now “pushing the values of sexual freedom with more confidence”.

Jews and Sex is published by Fig Leaves Publications, priced £12.99

    Last updated: 9:48am, June 3 2008
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