At first sight, the store in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel, could appear to be a high-end boutique — until the door opens onto a selection of vibrators and dildos.
“Kosher Sex” shop owner Chana Boteach, the daughter of a well-known and controversial American rabbi, presents her collection of sex toys displayed on one of the walls.
Everything at the shop conforms to the laws of Judaism, from the products on sale and the advice given, to the overall approach to sexuality, Boteach said.
On the other side of the room, a close friend sells hipster-style clothes that could draw in customers who might be too intimidated to otherwise enter a sex shop.
Sex toys are authorized in Judaism, said Boteach, with long hair and in a white tank top, her cheeks slightly blushing as she grabs her bestseller: “Eva,” a vibrator that can be used without hands.
Among the “aphrodisiac” oils, candles and naughty games, the sex toys in pastel colors for married and other committed couples can easily go unnoticed.
“I don’t carry anything that I find obscene or too phallic,” she said.
On offer are necklaces that turn into small whips and adhesive tape for sadomasochism, but nothing that really hurts because “that is a bit problematic in Judaism, causing actual pain,” Boteach said.
At a time of record divorce rates and when loneliness is a common phenomenon, the 28-year-old said kosher sex — a reference to the traditional dietary requirements of Judaism — embraces sexuality based on Jewish values.
That includes sex in the framework of marriage, and Boteach emphasizes commitment.
“Married people are people that need these novelties the most,” she said.
“I did have a guy with a kippa [religious skullcap] in here one time and he bought handcuffs and a candle for his wife,” said Boteach, who said she otherwise sees few religious customers. “He was really shy about it, but it was a ballsy move.”
Boteach, who herself is unmarried, grew up in a family where sexuality was openly discussed.
Her father, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, has published a book on the subject, Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy.
He says in the book that sexual desire is more important than love and promotes practices perceived by some Jews as illicit.
Since then, he has authored about 20 books, including the latest with Pamela Anderson, the former Playboy centerfold and Baywatch star.
On a recent night in Tel Aviv, after having promoted his daughter’s store on Facebook Live, the rabbi followed up with a seminar in a bar overlooking the beach, steps away from bikini-clad swimmers.
“Judaism has always believed that sex is about intimacy and pleasure. It’s never believed that sex is about just having children and procreation,” said the 52-year-old father of nine children, sporting a blue suit despite the summer heat.
“The essence of non-kosher sex is sex that violates the intimacy of the relationship: adultery, pornography,” he said.
In the audience, Ari, in his 30s and with a carefully cropped beard, came to see and hear in person someone he had already followed on television and the Internet.
“I originally come from the ultra-Orthodox world” of conservative Judaism, he said.
“I walked away from it because of many of the issues that he [Shmuley Boteach] tackles, and I found someone who I’m impressed with because he is religious and yet he is open enough and honest enough to be able to say: ‘Guys, a lot of things that you’re doing in your world isn’t correct, isn’t right.’”
The rabbi’s positions are too liberal for some, particularly when it comes to homosexuality, but too conservative for others since he assigns different roles to men and women.
In her sex shop, Chana Boteach navigates between prejudices and taboos, such as the prohibition by some rabbis of oral sex.
She said that according to Jewish law, “women, whatever they want in bed, the husband is required to give to them.”
“So people say oral sex and all these things are forbidden, but actually anything that a woman wants is required. Her husband has to ensure that she orgasms, that she enjoys sex.”
Calling herself religious, Chana Boteach defends the niddah, or abstinence during menstruation.
“When a woman is menstruating, she has to separate from her husband for two weeks,” she said, adding that it allows for “a little bit of mystery.”
She said that she has only received a few nasty comments online since her shop opened in July — “‘this is not a job for a religious girl,’ weird comments, but no threats.”
Her next foray will be the US, she said, and maybe even Jerusalem, the city sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
“I would love to open it [a shop] there one day,” she said, but added: “It would have to be underground in Jerusalem.”
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