A Hebrew version will be released this month, targeting Israel’s Orthodox Jews, who make up about 25% of the population. Co-written by educator Jennie Rosenfeld and David S. Ribner, an ordained rabbi and sex therapist with a primarily Orthodox Jewish clientele, their English version hit American shelves last year.
Sex is a taboo topic: many Orthodox Jews refrain from even the most basic physical contact with the opposite sex, excepting their spouses and children. Unlike secular Israelis, until the run-up to their weddings Orthodox young people are rarely exposed to sex education.
Absent any training in the courtship department, romance and intimacy are shadowy concepts to newlyweds who have been protected from a lifestyle (and mass media) where physical love is exhibited. Ribner suspects that premarital counseling is inconsistent, leaving couples without basic information prerequisite to a healthy sex life.
“If you’ve never seen a picture, if you’ve never seen a movie, if you’ve never had a conversation with parents or friends, how are you supposed to know the mechanics of that particular activity?” Ribner told The Boston Herald.
His book is for people transitioning from a life where sex is off-limits to marriage where procreation is seen as a commandment from God, or mitzvah. It begins with an explanation of how male and female bodies differ, and explains various positions that couples might try, once they’ve mastered the basics.
Orthodoxy doesn’t consider marital sex shameful; so there are sections on foreplay, kissing, and other techniques. It discusses erectile dysfunction and painful intercourse, and addresses Orthodox-specific issues, like the time surrounding menstruation when sex is prohibited.
In a nod to conservatism, there are no photographs.
A sealed envelope attached to the cover contains simple sketches which offer discrete direction for sexual positions and images of genitalia. The envelope warns readers that the images are explicit and advises that, “each person should take this into account before viewing.” Ribner said anyone opposed to their graphic nature “can just throw them away.”
“We wanted to give people a sense of not only where to put their sexual organs, but where to put their arms and legs,” Dr. Ribner told the Daily Beast.
The English version received positive reviews, and Gefen Publishing House reports several thousand copies have been sold, mostly online and not in religious bookstores.
Ribner is unsure how stores in Israel, or the Orthodox target audience, will receive it. The authors have not sought any rabbinical approval.
Jonathan Rosenblum, an Orthodox Jewish commentator in Jerusalem, said it’s unlikely to find its way into Israel’s strictest Jewish communities, though more modern Orthodox Jews might be accepting.
“In the more conservative elements, even terms like pregnancy aren’t used, because children might ask their mom how she got pregnant,” he said. “They might be uncomfortable just having this in the house.”
Woody Allen once said, “The difference between sex and death is, death you can do alone, and nobody laughs at you.” Perhaps this tome will help cut the comedy and help couples conquer stage fright.
Image of ultra-orthodox couple by Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com