‘Sacred Secrets: The Sanctity of Sex in Jewish Law’ by Gershon Winkler

Nobody has ever translated Rabbi Jacob Emden‘s memoir into English because it is so raunchy.

It’s time somebody breaks this boundary.

A reader posts to Amazon.com:

This mischevious little book gathers excerpts from all over the Jewish legal codes on such topics as masturbation, nudity, looking at your partner in the nude, variations in positions, etctera, etcetera, all with the aim of demonstrating that the rabbis of sainted memory weren’t as prudish as their tzaddik portraits make them appear. Winkler is a provocateur par excellence, sifting through centuries of rabbinic literature to find minority opinions permitting nearly everything that contemporary ultraorthodoxy now notoriously prohibits. The jewel in the crown is a translation of Jacob of Emden’s 18th-century responsum defending the halachic validity of concubinage (an non-marital arrangement between a man and an unmarried woman that can be terminated at will). Concubinage has long been legislated out of existence, but Jacob of Emden’s dissenting opinion holds that as long as an unmarried woman is (a) using the mikveh, and (b) monogamous, there should be no problem for her to have relations with a man (married or unmarried) under concubinage laws. Rabbis who disagree, like Maimonides, who holds that such a woman would be a kedesha (prostitute), or Nachmanides, who holds that concubinage is a perogative for kings only, don’t get much airtime here. This book is all about stirring the pot.

So who is this book intended for? Unmarried Torah Jews aren’t going to suddenly start sneaking off to the mikveh, and why would anyone else need a heter for what they are going to do anyway? I’m puzzled about that one. But then I read the book, so what can I say.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Winkler interprets "turning over the table" in Nedarim 20b as a variation in sexual position. Traditional interpretation actually holds that this passage refers to something considerably raunchier. And, yes, even black-hat rabbis agree that it’s permitted.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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