Is there a “kosher” way to buy sexual paraphernalia such as whips, vibrators, harnesses and other items that could make a dead man blush? At least two Orthodox (sort of) sex emporiums are now on the Internet suggesting exactly that.
“Kosher Sex Toys” (koshersextoys.net) is operated out of the Orthodox enclave in Lakewood, N.J., by a self-described “pretty frum guy” named Gavriel (who asked that we not use his last name), a man who won’t go “mixed swimming” but has more than 400 sexual products for sale.
He says he got into the business, which opened last fall, because he and his wife were looking to buy sex toys and “we couldn’t find a place where we felt comfortable.” Too many sites featured “crude and disturbing pictures,” provocative models alongside the products and wording “that we normally wouldn’t read and would generally stay away from.” This site claims to only use “clean and clinical language.”
At Kosher Sex Toys, there are no photographs of people, and the product descriptions for items like a six-inch pair of “foxy stiletto heels” and thigh boots ($68.74), or a $45 “Red and Black 9-Tail Flogger” offering “a range of stimulation to the receiver,” are descriptive but not pornographic, he says.
For all his claims that what he’s doing is kosher, Gavriel nevertheless admits that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his sideline with guests at a Shabbat lunch, or at a kiddush. After all, “Just because there’s nothing wrong with it, doesn’t mean it’s the kind of thing you want to talk about in shul with your friends,” he says.
Yes, for “a pretty frum guy,” the site — featuring links to “Lingerie”; “Good Vibrations”; “Enrichment Product”; and “Women & Men’s Sex Toys,” is, he admits, “very unusual, but not strange in a bad way. If we can help even one or two couples improve their married life — and we’re helping many more than that,” so much the better. “We hope to help people who would otherwise be reluctant” to shop and buy these products otherwise.
Though “kosher,” the emporium does not have rabbinic supervision on the premises. According to the site, “We currently do not have an official rabbi who we consult about every product. We do however speak to prominent Orthodox Sex Therapists among them Dr. David Ribner who is also an ordained rabbi (we do not run every product by him or anyone else).”
Ribner, a sex therapist affiliated with Bar-Ilan University, and Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, who has done research on contemporary Modern Orthodox sexual ethics, are the co-authors of “The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy” (Gefen Publishing House), a sophisticated, and illustrated, guide for the perplexed.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who with Jewish Week Associate Editor Jonathan Mark authored “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” says it is a “chillul hashem,” a cheapening of God’s name and Jewish law, to apply a word like “kosher” to a site like “Kosher Sex Toys,” as it implies that other sexual therapies, toys and enhancements are treif, which they are not.
Kashrut, Westheimer added, is about food alone; there is no reason to think that excessively modest wording has anything to do with kashrut, particularly when the Talmud and rabbinic tradition are encyclopedic and at times explicit about sex, if you’re looking for something to make you blush.
Another site, ToGetHer Pleasure (togetherpleasure.com), also launched recently, does not make any claims to kashrut but features a Magen David and an extended sampling of quotes and rabbinic sources from the Talmud to the Seer of Lublin, regarding “The Torah’s Commandments of Sexual Enjoyment.”
The site’s CEO, Bruce Diller Verstandig, is identified as someone who is “committed to Judaism and is a member of an Orthodox Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” although he admits to “being thrown out of Ramaz in the seventh grade.”
Verstandig told The Jewish Week that “there’s a certain stigma, that [sex toys are] perverted or wrong, but quite the contrary. It solves problems,” just like getting reading glasses because you can’t see as well in middle age as you did when you were young.
Everything, he adds, is “geared toward sexual health and solving sexual dysfunction and keeping people connected in a good way. A $30 vibrator is lot cheaper than a $300,000 divorce,” he noted.