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JERUSALEM – A how-to book translated into Hebrew to teach Israel's Orthodox Jews about sex, targeting an audience typically mum on the steamy subject.
The book, "The Newlywed's Guide to Physical Intimacy," was published in English more than a year ago in the U.S. The Hebrew version is set to come out this month, meant for Israel's Orthodox Jews, who make up about a quarter of the country's population. It appears be the first of its kind.
Under Orthodox Judaism, intercourse is permissible only after marriage and public displays of sexuality are taboo. Many Orthodox Jews do not even touch members of the opposite sex except their spouses and children. But sex is not considered shameful, and procreation is seen as a "mitzvah," or commandment from God. For this reason, large families are commonplace in Orthodox communities. Yet for many young newlyweds, romance and intimacy are mysteries.
The book's co-author, David S. Ribner, said it is meant to offer useful information to couples both before their wedding night, an emotional time when they are expected to consummate their marriage, and during their relationship leading up to that, when they might face a slew of unfamiliar challenges.
"If you've never seen a picture, if you've never talked about it, if you've never seen a movie, if you've never had a conversation with parents or friends, how exactly are you supposed to know the mechanics of that particular activity?" said Ribner, an American-born sex therapist whose Jerusalem clientele is made up of Orthodox Jews. Ribner's co-author is educator Jennie Rosenfeld.
Unlike secular Israelis, observant Jews are rarely given sex education until the weeks leading up to their marriage, where the prospective bride and groom are counseled separately on a variety of subjects, including the logistics of intercourse, the importance of communication and religious bedroom requirements and rituals.
Ribner said the content of the counseling is not always consistent, and couples don't receive all the information they need to enjoy a healthy sex life.
His book attempts to set out in clear terms the nitty-gritty of sex, from foreplay and kissing to mechanics, specifically aimed at young adults who are making the transition from a life where sex is taboo to marriage. It discusses concerns like erectile dysfunction and painful intercourse. It addresses Orthodox-specific issues, like the time during and after a woman's monthly period when the man is not permitted to touch his wife.
Ribner, an Orthodox Jew, called the writing "clear" avoiding euphemisms. The book itself has no pictures, but a sealed envelope attached to the back cover contains simple sketches showing three sexual positions and genitalia. A warning on the envelope declares the illustrations explicit, and says "each person should take this into account before viewing the drawings." Ribner said anyone opposed to their graphic nature "can just throw them away."
The English book has received positive reviews, but it is being sold mostly online because religious bookstores have been reluctant to carry such a sensitive book. The publisher, Gefen Publishing House, said "several thousand" copies have been sold.
Ribner said he is unsure how stores in Israel, or the Hebrew book's Orthodox Jewish target audience, will receive it. The authors have not sought any rabbinic approval because they wanted it to reach as wide an audience as possible and not limit its teachings to the followers of one rabbi or another.
Jonathan Rosenblum, an Orthodox Jewish commentator in Jerusalem, said the book is not likely to find its way to the strictest Jewish communities in Israel, though more modern Orthodox Jews might be accepting.
"In some of the more conservative elements, even terms like pregnancy aren't used, because children might ask their mom how she got pregnant," he said. "They might be uncomfortable just having this in the house."