Lust is kosher, believe me

By Shmuley Boteach, February 27, 2014

When I was a young rabbi, sent by the [Lubavitcher] Rebbe to Oxford, I used to spend many a Shabbat speaking at Woodside Park and it’s an absolute delight to be invited back, especially to deliver the world premiere of my book Kosher Lust.

Marriage and long-term relationships are on the decline throughout the world as is marital sex, which has been reduced, in the United States, to about once a week for seven minutes at a time (which includes the time he spends begging).

Why is marriage dying and sex evaporating? Because it is based today on the Christian concept of love rather than the Jewish concept of lust.

The New Testament condemns lust. Love, by contrast, was seen as lofty. St Paul famously argued that “God is love” and that all marriages should be based on the comforts of compatibility, friendship, and shared experience.

Judaism rejects this and believes that marriage must be built on deep desire and covetousness. The holiest book of the Bible, Song of Solomon, is an erotic lust poem that describes the burning yearning between a man and a woman: “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies… Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit’.”

For us, lust is hot, sexy, and holy.

The tenth commandment is clear: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” which means you ought to be coveting your own. About 80 per cent of husbands who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives, but lust for another woman has trumped that love. Lust is, quite simply, much stronger than love. So why aren’t we using this powerful tool in our marital arsenal?

And this is true for women as well as men, as is exemplified by the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Why are liberated, educated women reading a book about a woman who voluntarily submits to being a “dominant” billionaire’s “submissive”? Because the essence of the novel is a man who lusts after a woman so mightily that he wants to have her above all else. And for most married women who feel loved but not desired, the novel became a form of wish-fulfilment.

How do we recapture erotic lust? By focusing on its three laws. The first is frustrated desire and erotic obstacles. Lust is enhanced through an inability to attain the object of your longing. It’s the reason that the Torah makes a wife sexually unavailable to her husband for 12 days out of every month (laws of niddah), so that sexual hunger may increase. But it’s also true of every other area of life. The fare in every fast-food restaurant always tastes bad. The reason: nobody made you wait for it. But in an upscale restaurant they purposely delay your food, even if you ordered the ready-made special of the day, because appetite is enhanced through denial.

The second law of lust is mystery. Lust is enhanced in darkness and shadows. Ironically, the more the body is covered the more one lusts after it. The third law of erotic lust is sinfulness. You’re walking along a beach. You see beautiful women in bikinis. Is that sexy? Perhaps. Is it erotic? Definitely not. What do most men do at a beach? Either fall asleep, or play Frisbee.

But now you’re walking home. A woman has accidentally left the blinds to her bedroom open and she’s walking around in her undergarments. Same amount of clothing as a beach, exposing the same amount of flesh. Except this time it’s not a bathing suit, it’s her underwear. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Where’s my Frisbee?
Why is the second scenario so much more erotic? Peering into the privacy of a woman’s bedroom is forbidden. Now you know why the Torah made a wife sexually forbidden to her husband for a portion of every month, thereby injecting erotic sinfulness into marriage.

The “love marriage” is based on closeness and constant intimacy. The “lust marriage” is based on separation, renewal, and a measure of distance. If you want to hear more you’ll have to come to Woodside Park.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will speak at Woodside Park Synagogue on March 3 at 7.30pm

Last updated: 1:05pm, February 27 2014