Sex with the Rabbi #3: Drew Kaplan

Sex With The Rabbi

[Editor’s Note: This is the third post in our Sex with the Rabbi series. Each column profiles one rabbi’s response to an assortment of sexuality and Judaism-related questions. Rabbis from across the denominational spectrum are invited to participate. Our series kicked off with Rabbi Rachael Bregman of Atlanta, Georgia and continued with Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe of Austin, Texas.]

DrewBio: Rabbi Drew Kaplan enjoys sharing his thoughts, whether blogging or in his *loving* to research and write about Talmudic topics in his almost non-existent free time. A resident of Long Beach, California, he has been married for over five-and-a-half years and is the father of two children. A Gahanna, Ohio native, he is a 2009 graduate from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York City. Having served as the rabbi and director of SoCal Jewish Student Services since November 2009, he also is the rabbi and director of SoCal Jewish Young Adult Enrichment since January 2013. He has been involved with and taught at the last four Jewlicious Festivals and received his BA in Jewish Studies from Indiana University in December 2003. He also enjoyed being part of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders fellowship in 2011-2012. Follow Rabbi Drew on Facebook and Twitter.

Rated PGWhat’s the most common sex-related question you get from your community members?

Since most of my constituency are either college students or young adults, I think there’s a reticence to talk about their non-marital sexual activities with a rabbi. That is, except when I hold classes on sex issues, they’re a bit more forthcoming. What I’ve found is that the notions of young Jews (maybe this goes for non-young Jews, as well) about sexuality and Judaism is largely tied up in how they think religion views sexuality. However, the dominant religion in America, Christianity, views sexuality differently than the views found in Judaism. I think the biggest challenge for Jews and sexuality [in America] is to un-learn what they think they know about religion and sex and then to learn about how Judaism *actually* views sex.

What story from the Torah do you think has the most to teach us about sexuality?

As stories go, I think Genesis 2:18-25 has the most to teach us about sexuality in that it is a very fundamental understanding of how men are incomplete and lonely and recognizes their need to attach themselves to a woman (and not to animals). It also does one other very important thing: it gives us a model of God to emulate, that is, seeking to help people find their helpmate so that they don’t feel lonely.

However, as non-stories go, I think both Leviticus chapters 18 and 20 are fascinating in that they recognize limits of sexuality, and that they enable us to achieve holiness.

What’s the best way to keep a relationship vibrant?

Wow. I read Rabbi Bregman’s and Rabbi Blumofe’s responses and don’t know how I can answer this anywhere approaching their wisdom. (Also, I can imagine my wife laughing at me trying to think about and respond to this question.) But here goes my attempt!

I think the best way to keep a relationship vibrant is to keep in mind Hillel’s wisdom: “If I am not for myself? Who will be for me?” We have to not ignore ourselves in the relationship; we have to keep our own sense of self and desires, wishes, etc.

But, “If I am for myself, what am I?” Even if we are still aware of our own needs, etc., we need to look out for the interests, desires, wishes, feelings, etc. of other people. In this case, we need to be aware and sensitive to the needs of the other person. Taken together, one needs to strive towards the impossible ends of achieving a balance in one’s desires and the feelings of the other.

Lastly, Hillel wisely advises us: “And if not now, when?” (Avot 1:14). I don’t know how others relate this line to their relationships (and I still struggle with this), but, in my experience, when my wife asks me to clean up, do the dishes, fix something, it is better for our relationship (read: her experience in our relationship) for me to do it forthwith.

What do you think is the biggest sexuality-related problem for the Jewish community right now?

Definitely getting young Jews married. However, unlike a grandparent-aged Jew, I am not worried about the survival of the Jewish people (we’ve been around this long). I am actually concerned about the loneliness of the young people. Part of this has to do with getting young Jews together who can potentially meet each other. Another is once they do find someone, then what? Hopefully, they can find a way to achieve being of one flesh together (Gen. 2:24).

What’s your favorite Jewish book on sexuality?

My favorite Jewish book on sexuality is Daniel Boyarin’s 1993 book, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture. I, like, Rabbi Blumofe enjoy the Talmud’s approach to sexuality, perhaps which is why I enjoyed Boyarin’s book that came out twenty years ago, which explores sexuality in the Talmud, with a contemporary literary approach.

Any other thoughts?

Although it’s important for people to consider sex and relationships, especially since Judaism offers a great wellspring of wisdom on these matters, I think that the people interested in one area should learn about the other. Stereotypically, women seem to be interested in relationships and sort of sex, while men seem to be interested in sex and don’t even know that relationships exist. I think it would be wise for men to be given guidance about relationships and for women to be given guidance about sex.

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