Allison Josephs is the founder and executive director of Jew in the City has been involved in the field of Jewish Outreach for over twenty years and is the Partner in Torah mentor to actress Mayim Bialik. She was named one of NJOP’s Top Ten Jewish Influencers and one of the Jewish Week’s 36 under 36. Allison has been quoted or written about in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, People Magazine, NYPost, Daily News, TMZ, The Daily Beast, and Hollywood Reporter. She has appeared on numerous television and radio networks including CBS, ABC, Fox5, TLC, Associate Press TV, and NPR; her articles have appeared in publications including The Washington Post, JTA, Jewish Week, Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and Kveller.
Pearson Education, the largest textbook company in the world, produced a video segment on Allison’s life for the Judaism chapter of their textbook. She is a sought-after international lecturer whose corporate clients include Con-Edison and NYU Langone and hosts a weekly podcast on the Nachum Segal Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in Philosophy and lives with her husband and four children minutes from the George Washington Bridge.
OK, so she paints with an enormously broad brush in her representation of the Catholic view of sex, but let’s let that slide because this is by no means her area of expertise, but then a couple minutes later she dumps ALL the pathology in Orthodox attitudes on sex on the *Catholics*? Because that’s where they supposedly “borrowed” it from? Uh…I really do not think so.
Consider the sex-soaked culture we live in today which the Orthodox remain largely uninfluenced by. But a couple of hundred years in Poland in the shtetl caused Jews to pervert their naturally healthy views of sex due to proximity to the Catholics in the next town over? First of all, even if it were true that the Church teaches that sex is only for reproduction (it doesn’t) that’s certainly not the way most Catholics approach it, and even if they did, it’s really hard to see how what the Catholics did in their bedrooms hundreds of years ago has resulted in Orthodox Jewish attitudes being screwed up today (although it seems to have had zero influence on the non-Orthodox population, for some reason). Come on guys, sometimes you just have to take ownership of your own problems if you’re going to solve them.
Thanks for your comment, Nancy. Jews have actually always been influenced by every culture we’ve been in. Our matzo balls, challah, and kugels are a whole lot like the food they eat in Poland. Sephardic Jews likewise eat schwarma, hummus, and falafel. When I went to Greece last year, and the synagogue’s layout, rabbi’s garb, and sounds of the prayers were extremely similar to Byzantine church practices. Jews have always adopted ideas and customs of the cultures we live in. Elisheva is certainly not an expert on Catholicism, but celibacy is considered the holiest way to live and upon a quick perusal of the internet, I saw several sites explaining how the medieval Catholic church tried to decrease pleasure in marital sex https://www.medievalists.net/2013/02/sex-in-the-middle-ages/ https://notesfromtheuk.com/2019/06/28/medieval-sexuality-and-the-catholic-church/
Maybe it was the medieval Catholic leaders who had lost their way and today’s Catholics are practicing a more authentic version of the religion. This is not our expertise or focus. Elisheva certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone, but it’s pretty clear that there was a strong message that sex between a married couple should not have too much pleasure during the Middle Ages and this is definitely different than that Jewish perspective which requires a husband to give his wife pleasure.
We could go way down the rabbit hole on this, which would serve no purpose, but if you look at actual history, vs. some article on the internet, you will see that late Medieval period in Europe glorified the romantic relationship between a man and a woman. This was the basis for the entire cult of “courtly love” which dominated Europe, or at least the nobility of Europe, at this time. Endless poems and plays are dedicated to romantic love — the passion of the man and the woman for each other. Consider any of the “knightly” tales from King Arthur (which predates the Norman conquest) such as Tristan and Isolde (“tell of love beyond compare, Tristan and Iseult the Fair”), or Guinevere and Lancelot. (Galahad, the only knight pure enough to find the Holy Grail, is the illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine, whose passion for Lancelot was so great that she tricked him into sleeping with her.) Or simply look at the paintings of women during this period, which unlike anything in Jewish or Muslim art, strives to make women look as beautiful and alluring as possible. (No matter what else is covered up, the bosom is always substantially revealed). It’s pretty hard to believe that this was a culture which distained sexual pleasure.
Theologically we have a slightly different issue. Early Christianity was an eschatological religion. It anticipated the imminent end of times. St. Paul argues that this is not the time to be involving yourself in the concerns of marriage and children (not because there is anything wrong with those things but because everything must be now be devoted to advancing the Kingdom) and therefore he advises all to remain single, but if that is not possible, then “he who marries does well.” This is the origin of the celibate clergy (not the belief that sex is dirty) and you probably could convince me that a celibate clergy did not have the greatest appreciation for sex, but that’s another story.
Christian marriage is prized so highly that it is indissoluble because, as the marriage ceremony explains, the two people have now become so tightly connected that they are effective “one flesh” so that the needs of the one are automatically the needs of the other. And the ceremony always includes the words from the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians that begins “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs”
Thanks for the additional commentary. It seems the matter is not a simple one – that there were conflicting voices in this area in historical times. Judaism has never promoted celibacy as a value and has always had giving pleasure to the wife as a Biblical commandment. So I don’t think it’s unfair to say that if celibate clergy were held in high esteem in history that that idea – whether or not it was misconstrued – could have made its way to the Jewish community. It is obviously on the Jewish people to have absorbed this idea – they shouldn’t have. But if we want to look for a possible reason why valuing celibacy could have entered the Jewish conciseness, I don’t think it would be wrong to say it came from Christian influence. The point in mentioning this wasn’t to blame Catholics. It was to explore how a possibly acetic mindset entered Jewish thought.
Hi I apologize if my remarks offended any Catholics. It did not occur to me that referencing chastity, celibacy, and immaculate conception as Catholic, rather than Jewish values, could in any way be construed as controversial. To me, the fact that the leaders of the Catholic church are individuals who express their devotion through abstinence seemed straightforward, but I suppose when it comes to religion, few matters are.