This week I plan, God willing, to formalize my candidacy for New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. This candidacy will be squarely focused on a new set of American values, informed and influenced by universal Jewish values.
I have long railed against American values being hijacked by gay marriage and abortion. But even I did not foresee that contraception would join to create a trifecta of social sexual issues that utterly dominate the American values and political discourse. God Almighty. How long are we going to do this?
Let me tell me you just how destructive this is. While we obsess over gay marriage, heterosexual marriage has gone off a cliff. A front-page New York Times article just reported that half of all births in the United States to mothers under thirty years of age are outside of marriage. The divorce rate among baby boomers has surged over the past two decades by more than 50%. In 2010, a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or never married compared to just 13 percent in 1970. Then there's the sexual famine in the American marriage that I addressed in my book The Kosher Sutra, whereby up to a third of marriages are platonic. Fifty percent of first marriages, 60% of second, and 70% of third marriages end in divorce. And get this: people in conservative voting states actually have higher rates of divorce than those in liberal voting states.
All this has happened while, to cite just one example, evangelical Christianity in the US has moved from humble beginnings about a hundred years ago to a movement that now boasts approximately 25% of America's population.
So how's it possible that the more religious America becomes the more the institution of marriage crumbles? A huge part of the problem is that we are mired in religious distractions that take us away from focusing on core issues. The same applies to other urgent campaign season issues that seriously challenge the United States, like unemployment, a bad economy, ballooning debt, and the threat from Iran. How was it all reduced to a discussion about Rush Limbaugh and free contraception?
It's time to once and for all expose the lie that morality is principally about sexual issues. There are Ten Commandments. Only one is about adultery and sexual immorality. The other nine concern themselves with not worshipping gods made of gold (hear that Wall Street?), honoring parents, having a weekly Sabbath so as to strengthen family and community, respecting one another's property (a good lesson for some in Washington who believe that what we earn belongs to government), and not coveting another's success (a good lesson for Hollywood which wants us to live vicariously through celebrities).
My Christian brothers and sisters point out that homosexuality is singled out with particular opprobrium in the Bible with the word 'abomination.' But of the 103 times "toeva" is used in the Hebrew Bible, it appears only twice with regards to homosexuality.
Furthermore, the Greek word used for abomination, "bdelygma," appears only four times in the entire New Testament, two of which are merely using a quote from the book of Daniel in which he describes "the abomination of desolation." The other two references are found in Revelation 21:27 which says that anyone who practices abomination will not enter Heaven, and Luke 16:15 where Jesus implies that the love of money is an abomination. This teaching is echoed earlier in the Hebrew Bible where love of money that leads to dishonest business practices is decried in four different verses as an abomination. But where is the discussion of runaway materialism and American greed in our discussion of values?
I wrote Kosher Jesus primarily to influence my Christian brothers and sisters with the Jewishness of Jesus as found in ancient Christian scripture and thereby influence Christian values. The fixation with sexual morality to the exclusion of nearly everything else results in large part from the depiction of Jesus as celibate and, in Catholicism, of the virginity of the Mother Mary continuing throughout her life, so much so that classical Catholicism seemingly contradicts even the New Testament's statements of Jesus having brothers and sisters, James, Joseph, Judah, and Simeon. Adding significantly to this theme is Paul's emphasis on his own celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7, "...Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations... But I wish everyone were single, just as I am... So I say to those who aren't married and to widows -- it's better to stay unmarried."
The net result is a view of sex that seems incompatible with holiness and needs to therefore be redeemed. Hence, the strong Catholic emphasis on sex for procreation and the ban on contraception. This is further reinforced by Jesus seemingly banning divorce in Mark 10 which has lead many to believe that marriages are to be based more on fulfilling God's directives than on love and pleasure.
But as I wrote in my book Kosher Sex, the Hebrew Bible in many places lauds the powerful feelings and close bond that can be found between a man and his wife: "And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her;" "And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her;" "...but he shall be free at home one year, and shall make happy his wife which he hath taken."
President Obama should of course not mandate that Catholic organizations provide free contraception which is an issue of freedom of religion. Nevertheless, if social conservatives and pro-family advocates want to really heal the family, then one of the first steps we need to take, beyond expanding the values discussion as I have consistently argued, is embrace a new approach to sex where it is not primarily about procreation, but intimacy.
Here is where we can make headway in our confrontation with modern secular culture and women who promote views about sexuality like Sandra Fluke. The solution is not found by legislating sexual ethics but by appealing to people's deepest sensibilities and desires. What men and especially women want from today's relationships, immersed as they are in a fragmented, cyberspace universe, is a sense of connection and oneness. This is especially true of sex. Sex is the motion that leads to emotion. It represents the sewing together of two strangers as bone of one bone, as the Bible says so beautifully: Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24)
But its adhesive becomes diluted when it is used recreationally and the people who get hurt most in situations like these are usually women. As I wrote in Kosher Sex, "Sex is an intensely unifying moment in which man and woman experience a spiritual epiphany. But this is true only when the interests of pleasure are sublimated to become a tool of unity." Hence, the growing feeling even in secular society that sex is something that should be preserved for a committed relationship, especially marriage.
Shmuley Boteach, 'America's Rabbi,' was the host of TLC's Shalom in the Home, which won the National Fatherhood Award. The author of many bestselling books on love, marriage, and relationships, he has just published his newest bestseller, Kosher Jesus. He is currently for Congress from New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. www.shmuleyforcongress.com
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley
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