The Jew And The Carrot

Kosher Sex and Lure of Forbidden Fruit

By Emily Shire

  • Print
  • Share Share
sheeshoo

You don’t need to see the movie “American Pie” to know that there’s a complicated, but very real relationship between food and sex. Earlier this month, an Islamic cleric in Europe called for a ban on women touching the seemingly innocuous banana and cucumber, for fear that foods resembling male sex organs would arouse them.

Even innocent cookies have been linked to such wanton behavior. Loved by Girl Scouts and other s’mores aficionados, the graham cracker was originally developed by Reverend Sylvester Graham in 1829 as a way to stifle sexual desires. And if Islam and Christianity have complicated histories conflating food with sex and repressing the desires associated with both, then it’s not surprising that the religion behind both Sigmund Freud and the plump Hebrew National dog must, too.

Despite the ample evidence to the contrary in Woody Allen movies, Judaism has some pretty liberated views about sex, though usually when involving husband and wife. The Talmud specifies how often a man must have sex with his wife, and historically, if either spouse withheld sex, it was recognized grounds for divorce. Like sex, kashrut is well defined and controlled by regulations and prohibitions. And while who you sleep with and what you eat may seem like completely separate decisions, Jewish laws and culture suggest that these choices are intertwined.

For one, when it comes to food and sex, the hallmark Jewish guilt acts as a bridge over neurotic waters, connecting the two. We may be the People of the Book, but we’re also the People of the Hang-ups. There’s a lot regarding sex that is forbidden and about which we, of course, feel guilty. So guilty that we smother our derelict desires in a triple-decker pastrami-corned beef-chopped liver sandwich or a plate of latkes stacked as high as Mount Sinai? Well, maybe…

That’s at least what Isaac Rosenfeld would argue. A favorite among many New York Intellectuals, Rosenfeld took to the pages of Commentary magazine in 1949 to express his belief that the obsession with food in Jewish culture was symptomatic of larger issues with sexual repression. “Eat, eat, eat…. food is not food and it cannot satisfy a hunger that is not hunger.”, he wrote.

Rosenfeld was referring to the kind of hunger that no amount of hypertension-inducing treats could fulfill. After observing a number of Jews salivating at the making of Fry Beef, a kosher bacon alternative, Rosenfeld concluded that the spectators were in a “sexual trance” from witnessing the making of “kosher treyf.” Treyf, he explained, was not just a simple BLT, but rather “the whole world of forbidden sexuality, the sexuality of the goyim, and there all the delights are imagined to lie…”

Though Rosenfeld’s pronouncement may seem like a psychological stretch, it’s hard to argue with the lore surrounding treyf, and especially the king of kosher felonies, bacon. The apple may have caused Adam and Eve’s sinful fall from grace, but for Jews, the real forbidden fruit is bacon. For conflicted Jewish bloggers, there’s even the website “Pork Memoirs” to share their emotional experiences with the swine. Sexually-loaded expressions like “treyf virgin” and “lost innocence” abound when describing relationships with bacon. A Forward article discussed the tempting nature of the succulent meat, quoting one modern Jew as saying, “It’s like, oh boy — touch that bacon, you’ll eat anything!”

Anything, indeed. The consumption of bacon gives new meaning to the expression “loose lips sink ships,” especially if by “ships” you really mean the Jewish people. The OK Kosher Certification’s blog describes the kosher diet as “containing the spiritual nutrition for Jewish survival.” First it’s the side order of bacon with the lox omelet, then it’s the ham and matzo sandwich over Passover, and before you know it, you’re knocking boots with a Lilly Pulitzer-clad debutante in the bathroom of a Fisher Island country club. You won’t even remember where the Vineyard Vines boxers and your acceptance letter to Vanderbilt came from as you’re slurping down New England clam chowder.

Rosenfeld’s argument, however, was less about interfaith relationships and much more about exploring sexual possibilities outside the realm of Judaism. He saw Jewish sexuality as overwhelmingly constrained and stifled — he lived (and died) in a world before Philip Roth novels, Dr. Ruth programs, or Mila Kunis. Particularly with the practice of niddah, the prohibition of intercourse during menstruation, he saw a Jewish obsession with sterile separation. He believed that the division between milk and meat perpetuated an unhealthy sexual barrier between women and men. Thus, in his mind, a kosher home instituted this sexual separation and created the “most harmful form of repression.”

Now, calm down, Portnoy, before you start shouting “Amen, brother!” Rosenfeld is not the only member of the Tribe with a say on the kosher food-sex dynamic. Others have found the guidelines and, yes, even the restrictions in both of these activities to add meaning to daily life.

Professional Torah pundit Shmuley Boteach argues that observing Jewish laws on eating and sex is a way to show respect for these acts. “If we do it right, sex is a technique based on a profound understanding of ourselves, in much the same way that food may be kosher or unkosher,” he wrote in “Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy”. Boteach makes explicit the benefits of refraining from unrestrained consumption or overindulgence of either nature: “[I]n the same way a human does not stick his head into a trough the same way that a horse would, he does not and should not copulate the way animals do.”

Many modern Jews would take umbrage at the comparison of their sexual behaviors to those of a barn animal — and understandably so. Just as some Jewish scholars argue that kashrut is antiquated, so, too, is it argued about the laws governing sex. In Judaism, it seems, when it comes to food or sex, it’s never as simple as “I’ll have what she’s having.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kosher Treyf, Jewish Food and Sex, Kosher Sex, Isaac Rosenfeld

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.