Advice

Sex Advice From Rabbis

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Q: "What's the best piece of relationship advice from the Torah?" A: "Don't read it."

Rabbi Marci Bellows, 33

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Some people don't realize that rabbis can get married. What's your relationship status?
I'm single, and I do date. But it's challenging to find someone who can see me in a three-dimensional way and who's not intimidated by the fact that I'm a rabbi.

Have you ever seen a man go from interested to uninterested as soon as he hears the r-word?
Yes! I actually did this experiment on JDate where I put down that I was a rabbi. I wanted to see if anyone contacted me. Only one guy did — he was asking for rabbinic advice. But I was like, "I don't want to be your rabbi. I want a boyfriend." Then I did an experiment where I changed "rabbi" to "Jewish educator," which is technically accurate. I got contacted, but in the chatting or emails, I'd mention I'm a rabbi. Things would pretty much stop there.

But you've got a lot of great "unrabbi-ish" qualities and interests.
Right. I do improv comedy, where I'm silly and obscene. Some of my congregants and I went to see Lady Gaga. We dressed up and sprayed our hair different colors and everything. I'm a recovering karaoke addict.

What qualities does a man need to be with a female rabbi?
I think it takes a confident man who's comfortable with himself to date any strong woman, whether she's a lawyer or a rabbi or whatever. I didn't know this would be an issue when I become a rabbi. I think male rabbis might have it easier, because it's more socially acceptable for men to have positions of power. I started rabbinical school engaged, but then that broke up because he didn't want to be with a rabbi. Then I was in a four-year relationship throughout rabbinical school, but the same thing happened.

Beyond the gender issue, it does take a special person to date a religious leader.
Right. I need someone who's comfortable working the room and making small talk during services and who doesn't feel threatened by my work. People also assume they have to be super-Jews, but that's not the case. I don't need to be with someone who's particularly observant.

What if you found the perfect guy for you, and he was Christian?
For our seminary in the Reform movement, you have to promise to marry someone Jewish. But I'd hope that if I found the perfect person who wasn't Jewish, he'd be willing to convert. Judaism is such an important part of my life that I'd want him to be part of that.

What do you think is the best piece of relationship advice from the Torah?
The first commandment is the Torah is "Be fruitful and multiply." We should be having sex. Never mind the fact that sex is pleasurable, and we're not supposed to be an ascetic people — it's okay to enjoy life. My most favorite teaching is the idea that everyone's made in the image of God. There's something divine and unique about each person, and that should translate into love, caring, and reciprocity.

My boyfriend's Jewish, and I'm a gentile. I'm not particularly religious, but he says he wants to have a Jewish family with a Jewish woman. We love each other and aren't thinking about marriage at this point, but are we wasting each other's time?
Some of the most dedicated families in my synagogue are interfaith families. Sometimes the non-Jewish partner converts or sometimes the couple just agrees to raise the children Jewish. You should talk about the religious aspect. If you do end up getting married and having kids, I'd just encourage raising children in one religion. Trying to do both is complicated. A lot of kids feel conflicted. They feel they have to choose between their parents, not just between religions.

My girlfriend says her mom is her best friend and tells her super-intimate details about our relationship. I've asked my girlfriend not to share so much — especially after her mom has brought certain issues up with me — but she says this is just the way things are. How should I deal with my girlfriend's meddling mom?
The girlfriend needs to see that she and the boyfriend are the new nucleus, even if they're not married. If the boyfriend isn't comfortable with what the girlfriend tells her mom, she needs to meet him halfway. There are things that need to be just between the two of them. Otherwise, he'll start censoring himself or closing himself off.

I'm a gay man. I've had strong feelings for a guy at my workplace for awhile. We flirt and get along great, but he has a boyfriend. Lately, he's begun confiding in me that the relationship isn't working out so well. What should I do?
As long as you're not encouraging the coworker to cheat on his current partner, I think there's nothing wrong with building that friendship. You can reach out without an ulterior motive to let your co-worker know you care. If there are sparks that are meant to develop, then the other relationship will run its course. But don't force it, since you don't want to be the other man, or know that your relationship started that way.

I love everything about the man I'm dating except having sex with him. We're just not that sexually compatible. We've been together a long time, but I know I've had better sex with other partners. Is this a dealbreaker? 
I would hope not. Sex is a very important part of a relationship, but so much more goes into a successful, loving partnership, like caring, support, and devotion. If there's a technique issue, that can be worked on. If there's a chemistry issue, that's a little more complicated. But I'd hope that a person recognizes all the other things a partner brings and that two people who are otherwise happy with each other would see a therapist and work on their sexual relationship.

Rabbi Robert Barr, 56

www.ourjewishcommunity.org

What's your relationship status?
I'm married, but I don't talk about my marriage publicly. That's the deal I made with my wife thirty years ago.

Were you already a rabbi when you got married?
We got married when I was in rabbinical school. I've been a controversial figure over the years. It's one thing for people to call me up and yell at me about it, but she shouldn't have to go through that.

Is it harder to date after you've already been ordained vs. when you're in rabbinical school?
I'm not sure. When I was ordained, it was still mostly men. There weren't really second-career rabbis, either. Times were different, too. Back then, people went to college and often got married in graduate school. Now people wait longer. Both partners have careers. It's more complicated.

Surely there have always been people uncomfortable with the idea of dating a rabbi, though.
Right. Because we're holy? It's bizarre. It's sad that the notion of a religious person is an ascetic. Rabbis are regular people, but they're in public professions. People have this idea that a rabbi's personal life is different from any other person's personal life. It's really not the case.

Why are rabbis better lovers?
Because they're perfect! That was a joke. One would hope people who go into the clergy are self-reflective and able to listen and empathize. A person like that will probably do better in a relationship. That being said, lots of people could have these skills.

What do you think is the best piece of relationship advice from the Torah?
Don't read it. It's the myths and legends of our people. The relationships in it were defined by incredible sexism and homophobia. We've evolved from this.

My boyfriend's Jewish, and I'm a gentile. I'm not particularly religious, but he says he wants to have a Jewish family with a Jewish woman. We love each other and aren't thinking about marriage at this point, but are we wasting each other's time?
I would ask this girl why she's dating this guy. I find his comment offensive. If he wants a Jewish woman, why isn't he dating one? If a woman is okay to date, how could she not be okay to consider marrying? He could ask if she's willing to adopt Judaism, but saying she'll never be acceptable to him is inappropriate. She deserves better.

I've recently started dating this guy, but there's one problem: I've led him to believe that I'm way more sexually experienced than I actually am. How do I come clean without him thinking he can't trust me?
It's time to take a step back and say, "I think I misled you, and I'm sorry…" If this person wasn't being manipulative, then it's fine to explain that this is a highly sexualized world. We think there are these expectations of our experiences, and it's not fair.

What about the opposite — what about lying and saying you're less sexually experienced that you actually are?
People don't tell the truth about these things, because they're embarrassed. Good relationships are built on honesty, and it's best to be honest from the beginning. I'd clear up any misgivings right away.

Should you share the number of partners you've had?
What does the number even mean? Is it vaginal sex? What about oral or anal sex? What about having an emotional relationship? I find conversations like this almost juvenile, because they reduce relationships in this competitive way. There's no emotional context. You don't need to share a number, but you should be open about your experiences and emotional context.

I love everything about the man I'm dating except having sex with him. We're just not that sexually compatible. We've been together a long time, but I know I've had better sex with other partners. Is this a dealbreaker?
Sex is not separate and distinct from the relationship. I'd ask if there's something else in the relationship preventing good sex. Or if someone is afraid to say, "This is what I'd like. This is what feels good to me." That needs to be an ongoing conversation. As much as we live in a sexualized world and think we've moved past this, it can still be really difficult to honestly talk about sex with our partners.

You know, my editor was wondering if I'd have the chutzpah to ask a rabbi about anal sex…
People have used all the orifices of the body to enjoy pleasure, and I think that's a wonderful thing. I think people still view anal sex with a certain lens of homophobia. We shouldn't suggest that some form of sex is better or more acceptable than any other form of sex. My concern is that people don't do a good job talking about the implications of sexual behavior. People need to be safe.

Rabbi Laura Baum, 32

www.ourjewishcommunity.org

What's your relationship status?
I'm single.

What's it like to date a rabbi?
Some people are intimidated by it, some think it's cool, and some are neutral. I know I'm just a normal person, but some people don't see that. They think I read the Torah all day. They're surprised I watch 30 Rock and liked The Hangover. Sometimes when I'm out, I tell people and they go, "Oh, I didn't know women could be rabbis." Or, "Oh, I didn't know rabbis could drink beer." Or, "I didn't know rabbis could date." But what they're basically saying is, "I didn't know rabbis could have sex."

So you'd say most single rabbis have had pre-marital sex?
I would say yes in the liberal Jewish community. It's probably about the same as in the general population. Judaism isn't a religion where people think sex is bad or unnatural.

Do you think the dating scene is different for male rabbis vs. female rabbis?
I do. The wife of a male rabbi is traditionally called a rebbetzin, which is historically someone who bakes cookies for the synagogue and takes care of everyone. Obviously, that's changed. Not all women who marry rabbis are like that now. But a lot of men don't know how to think of themselves in that role. Some male rabbis really want to be with women who want to be with rabbis, if that makes sense. They want someone to really be into the Jewish community, but that's not necessarily what I'm looking for. I just want to be with someone who's supportive and okay with me being a rabbi.

Do rabbis ever get together?
You see that a lot. But that has its challenges, too. A couple has to find two rabbinic jobs in the same city. If you both work in a congregation, then you don't really get to spend holidays together.

Why are rabbis better lovers?
Well, I certainly wouldn't say that's true of all rabbis. I represent a more liberal branch of Judaism, so I'd say rabbis are open-minded. Rabbis also understand a lot about relationships.

My boyfriend's Jewish, and I'm a gentile. I'm not particularly religious, but he says he wants to have a Jewish family with a Jewish woman. We love each other and aren't thinking about marriage at this point, but are we wasting each other's time?
I don't think you're wasting each other's time, as long as you're both open with each other. In this case, it sounds like no one's being misled. If both partners can enjoy the relationship now for that it is, then that's great. When one person's ready to transition to something long-term and they agree it's not going to work, then it's time to end the relationship. I also know that views about this sort of thing change a lot. The important thing is to talk about it.

My girlfriend says her mom is her best friend and tells her super-intimate details about our relationship. I've asked my girlfriend not to share so much — especially after her mom has brought certain issues up with me — but she says this is just the way things are. How should I deal with my girlfriend's meddling mom? 
Oy. I can see why it would make someone uncomfortable. The first step is to express to the girlfriend that it bothers you. If she's not going to change it, that's not a relationship that should continue. A couple has to agree on boundaries.

Do you see a lot of these cases of the stereotypical Jewish mother in your work?
I can't say that I do. Lots of moms are really good at meddling and guilt. We don't have the monopoly on it.

I love everything about the man I'm dating except having sex with him. We're just not that sexually compatible. We've been together a long time, but I know I've had better sex with other partners. Is this a dealbreaker?
First of all, I'd encourage you to explore whether this is really about the sex or something else. Perhaps this couple needs to get help together through a counselor or sex therapist. You can't get everything you need from your partner. Some provide better sex; some provide better friendship. What do you want from your partner? How important is sex with this partner? Could you potentially be with your partner and find sexual fulfillment elsewhere?

Nearly six months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend, who had previously been my long-term platonic best friend. In hindsight, I wish we'd never dated, because now everything's awkward and we don't speak. How can we rebuild our friendship?
I would hope that it's possible to rebuild a friendship, but it's difficult. Once you move a relationship from platonic to intimate, it inherently changes the relationship. I don't think you can ever go back to where you were before. You can't recreate the friendship from the past, but you can try to rekindle something. It could take years, and some topics of conversation should probably remain off-limits. Your ex doesn't want to hear about your dates.