Shmuley Tries to Spice it up. Again.


Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion to Life
By Shmuley Boteach
256 pages. Harper One. $25.99.

George Costanza infamously tried to combine his love for pastrami sandwiches with his love for women, by marrying food and sex (with a little TV watching, too). The Kosher Sutra doesn’t advocate a Seinfeldian hybrid of deli meat and bedroom activities, but approaches sex through a different kind of kosher—a Jewish-inspired, passion-directed, perspective.

The Kosher Sutra tries to settle a seeming paradox: Even though sex has permeated television, magazines, sports and movies, author Shmuley Boteach claims that sex for most American couples is missing: in the bedroom. The facts, he says, appear to back up his claim, off the heels of CNN and New York Times reports seeming to together confirm that one third of all marriages are completely platonic. About 40 million of them.

“One of the reasons I wrote this book is from all of the letters I’ve received from women who tell me what it’s like to lie next to their husbands each night and he won’t even touch them. How painful is that form of rejection,” Boteach told

He says that the lack of passion in the bedroom extends to boredom in all facets of life, with people preferring to sit in front on the television than sit with their families.

As a Lubavitch rabbi, Boteach approaches the topic of sex from a religious framework, and brings in concepts of holiness and lessons learned from Adam and Eve.

Boteach has previously written about sex twice: in Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion (1998) and Kosher Adultery: Seduce and Sin with your Spouse (2002). At first glance, his new Kosher Sutra book seems a retread of his previous themes and ideas. In his past books, Boteach has advocated reigniting passion in the bedroom by learning more about sexual desire and increasing sexual friction between spouses. His latest volume repeats some of these important themes, and then adds new ideas.

He’s willing to share examples from his own family and love life—admitting that the morning after his wedding he was attracted to a saleswoman, an experience that led him to realize that he has to choose to commit to his wife anew every day.

Some of the lessons Boteach teaches seem to be good common sense. He advocates concentrating on the process of lovemaking and life in general, rather than being goal-oriented, whether toward orgasm or getting the brass ring. What he adds to the discussion is the belief that peaking in anything, whether it be sex or career goals, is hazardous to happiness. The focus should be on constantly increasing passion for life, not letting it peak and diminish, as this leads to the death of sexual tension in marriage and a midlife crisis for everything else.

He sees that even teenagers are overwhelmed by sexual advertising and engrossed in tawdry reality television, and men are increasingly addicted to pornography. Boteach pushes for honesty between spouses, and the sharing of sexual desires and intimate secrets. At the same time he advocates “zones of privacy,” things to keep concealed such as experiences with past lovers and personal hygiene.

He discusses a woman who feels burdened and ashamed by her promiscuous sexual history as she contemplates telling her fiancé about her history. Boteach recommends keeping her past private, and tells her that if she feels like she is a new person now who has left that past behind, then she is no longer the same person, and her new spouse needn’t know.

The motivation behind the advice is understandable, as it isn’t good to begin a new relationship by bringing the ghosts of old lovers into the bedroom. However, most of us would want to know everything about our new spouse, including things they’ve done that they now regret. It can be instructional to know what your partner has gone through in life, and how they’ve changed and improved themselves.

Some of Boteach’s lessons are marred by his use of spicy language—for example, using the term “erotic” to describe the development of passion for life. The use of racy terms, and descriptions of something akin to tantric sex, makes this book inappropriate for younger readers who need to learn some of these lessons in their teenage years.

Boteach’s descriptions of the causes and cures for boredom would be useful for teens, however. He describes it as not a lack of external stimuli, and gives examples of the Hollywood celebrities who have everything but walk listlessly through life, turning to drugs and alcohol for excitement. He finds that life becomes boring when people lose their passion for life and knowledge. This is a lesson that every teen needs to learn.

The lesson about renewing sexual desire in marriage by looking at your spouse through new eyes is a lesson first taught in Kosher Adultery, and explained further in Sutra. Boteach teaches that one of the main ways to reignite passion is to find novelty in your marriage. This is achieved by learning more about your spouse’s passions and desires, by seeing them as a sexual being desired by others, and understanding the way that men and women differ in their sexual responsiveness.

Further, he notes that eyes, indeed, can dial up the lust factor. There’s a suggestion to indulge in a sexy staring contest, meant to foster nonverbal communication.

“This book is all about lust and desire,” he told His advice on creating desire in the mind’s eye is to ratchet up titillation.

“The first secret is the sinful, the forbidden. Notice that one of the most written about themes in literature is the adulterous wife who does things she’s not supposed to: Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Tess, Lady Chatterly's Lover. We don’t have very erotic novels about the wife who does all of the right things. How do we bring sinfulness into marriage? That’s one of the things that this book deals with,” Boteach said.

Another component to re-igniting passion, according to Boteach, is to understand and harness the thrill we find in our pastimes, to find that which arouses us, and apply it to sex.

“In America we watch baseball and football. Isn’t it amazing that sports gives us an erotic thrill, but our wives don’t? Eroticism isn’t just a sexual idea,” he said.

“It’s a general idea. For me it’s defined as an electric curiosity for life. It’s a desire to peel back the external layers of existence. To get really deep into life. To feel as if life is magnetized; it draws you and pulls you. You’ve got this insatiable desire to know.”

Indeed, Boteach is quick to point out that it’s not necessarily what you know, or how much you know, about sex, but instead how best to leverage one’s passions.

“My argument in The Kosher Sutra is: what’s the point of knowing ten trillion positions [when] it’s all worthless if you don’t have the desire to implement them… The first step is you must have lust in your relationship. Notice that the Tenth Commandment is that you shall not lust after your neighbor’s wife. By implication, you sure as heck should be lusting after your own wife.”