The Pas­sion­ate Torah: Sex and Judaism

  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

Pornog­ra­phy, pros­ti­tu­tion, good sex” from a Jew­ish fem­i­nist per­spec­tive, gay sex, and sex between Jews and non-Jews are just a few of the top­ics of the arti­cles com­piled by Rab­bi Dr. Danya Rut­ten­berg in her anthol­o­gy, The Pas­sion­ate Torah: Sex and Judaism. These provoca­tive arti­cles are not meant to be tit­il­lat­ing but to shed light on top­ics often not viewed from a vari­ety of per­spec­tives. The pre­cept under­pin­ning all of the arti­cles is that sex­u­al­i­ty itself is a soci­etal con­struct wor­thy of exam­i­na­tion.” This belief, argues Rut­ten­berg, enables us to explore a whole new set of ques­tions” about our time-hon­ored tra­di­tions” which will speak to our ever-evolv­ing under­stand­ing of human potential.” 

The 18 arti­cles are orga­nized with­in the Mar­tin Buber par­a­digm of rela­tion­ships: I‑It” rela­tion­ships and I‑Thou” and a new cat­e­go­ry We-Thou” rela­tion­ships. The first arti­cles focus on those issues in Jew­ish learn­ing in which the oth­er per­son is treat­ed as an It,” such as in pornog­ra­phy and pros­ti­tu­tion. The sec­ond group of arti­cles focus­es on issues of IThou” rela­tion­ships in which mutu­al love and respect pre­vails, such as dis­cus­sions of mar­i­tal and non-mar­i­tal sex. The last group of arti­cles, We-Thou Visions,” offers a new non-Buber mod­el, which helps the read­er think about ways in which the com­mu­ni­ty as a whole might imag­ine a shared future” through a dis­cus­sion of such top­ics as new ethics around homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, androg­y­ny, sex­u­al desire, and Tzni­ut, or the Rab­binic view of modesty. 

The authors of the arti­cles are a diverse group: men and women, gays and straights, rab­bis (Reform, Con­ser­v­a­tive, Jew­ish Renew­al, Tra­di­tion­al), and aca­d­e­mics in the Unit­ed States, Israel, Cana­da, and Aus­tralia. Many of the authors are lead­ing crit­i­cal the­o­rists on gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty and Judaism. The thread that con­nects all their work is a com­mit­ment to social activism and human­ist and fem­i­nist views of sex­u­al­i­ty and gender. 

This book offers the rab­bi, the schol­ar, and the activist impor­tant ana­lyt­i­cal arti­cles. It also pro­vides the aver­age read­er with an oppor­tu­ni­ty to read short, inter­est­ing cut­ting- edge essays writ­ten in the lan­guage of fem­i­nist schol­ars who exten­sive­ly cite bib­li­cal, rab­binic, Tal­mu­dic, cul­tur­al, fem­i­nist, and queer studies.

Rut­ten­berg is the author of the 2010 Sami Rohr Prize final­ist, Sur­prised by God: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love Reli­gion, and edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jew­ish Fem­i­nism. She is also a con­tribut­ing edi­tor to both Lilith and Women in Judaism. She was ordained as a Con­ser­v­a­tive rab­bi by the Ziegler School of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Uni­ver­si­ty. Glos­sary, index of sources and sub­ject index, notes.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions