Rabbi Smuley Boteach, Counselor and Relationship Guru [classic article]

The author of Kosher Sex says sex doesn’t sell as he’s selling it to you.

Rabbi Smuley Boteach is the 33-year-old former wunderkind of Oxford University and author of many books about sex, including the best-selling Kosher Sex. He’s in high demand, having just graced the cover of a truly repulsive New York magazine cover story on “New Age Jews.” Boteach is the worst sort of name-dropping cynic, his overarching goal to create a version of Learning Annex Judaism that offends no non-Jews and attracts religion-of-the-month celebrities like Michael Jackson. It sickens me. But Boteach is plenty bright and has something to say.

When I reach Boteach, he is in the midst of the car pool from Hell (I know, rabbi, we Jews aren’t supposed to believe in it) with some of his 6 kids. We conducted our interview over the screams of what sounded suspiciously like “3 Little Monkeys Jumpin’ on the Bed.”

I was struck by many things: how he didn’t comment on the Biblical/sexual origin of my name, straight from the chapter in Genesis where Tamar “dresses like a harlot to seduce her father-in-law, Judah”; how unfunny he is when there are no TV cameras around; and how he didn’t want to delve into any depth about his work. He says that he does battered women’s counseling. If I had to go to him in that traumatic situation, I’d have eaten a .38.

BOTEACH: Who is this? Who told you to call me? Am I supposed to be talking to you?

GREEN: Yes. I set it up with your publicist. So, how old are you?

You wanna know how old I am?

Well, if I may.

I’m 33.

You’ve appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Tell me more about the unusual gigs you’ve had that are atypical of most rabbis.

Didn’t you see me on Fox this Valentine’s Day? I debated Larry Flynt. I also debated Helen Gurley Brown. And, Roseanne had me look for husbands for her daughters.

How’d that work out?

One actually worked out for a few months. It was a distance thing, though. He was in London.

You joke in your books that writing is not making you rich, yet you left the post at Oxford. What’s the scoop?

After 11 years, I wasn’t their age. I started when I was 21. But, I became interested in relationships and they were still 18. To tell the truth, I wish my books made more money. If a book is a best-seller, and my last two books are, they can bring $100,000-$150,000 after expenses. But, I didn’t get a great deal from Kosher Sex. I was on the verge of a vanity publishing of the book — it took four years to get it published, but I believed in it.

Does sex sell?

A lot of it doesn’t. Look at Body of Evidence with Madonna naked. It tanked. And, there was Striptease with Demi Moore. It also tanked. We are at a point of sexual saturation. There are tons of books with sex in the title that don’t sell at all. We have to get back to the basics.

You are probably the most famous rabbi in the world …

Who, me?

Yeah, you. You are known to people of all faiths, and you have a marketing team. Should other preachers be like you to get their message out?

Look, I don’t want to get into what other religious people do. I don’t want to get into the controversy.

What about the marketing?

Human ambition has enthralled me. I have just written a book called, Kosher Ambition. Can rabbis be ambitious? I say yes, but a certain kind of ambition. There are three kinds of ambition. The first kind, like with Presidential elections, where they’re willing to kill their children, that’s ambition at all cost. That’s not acceptable. The second kind is where you are aligned to a noble cause, like an ox harnessing. This category is where I may be. If the cost of promoting Judaism is being more famous, that’s fine. Actually, I’m too self-effacing . . . it bothers the PR people. My publicist tells me to shave, which, of course, I will not do. Being a religious Jew, I have never shaved a day in my life. The third category is an identity completely submerged for a cause, like a soldier who fights for his country. Few people attain this.

The prerequisite to a relationship is loneliness. If you have a full cup, you can’t fall in love.

We pause for intermission. No, actually, the rabbi asks me to call him back in 20 minutes, so that he “can take some computer equipment in.” I call him back, but it takes another 20 minutes to get someone to answer the line again. One hazelnut latte and some frantic calls later.

Are you surprised that more preachers don’t have relationships as part of their message?

I’ve already answered that.

You’ve written that we should “date like peasants, not aristocrats.” It’s only recently that people married for love, only in the last 100 years. Is this better?

People don’t need to marry for money. People don’t need to marry to prevent themselves from starving. We are so arrogant; nobody is good enough. The prerequisite to a relationship is loneliness. If you have a full cup, you cannot fall in love. We get satisfaction these days from careers, not love. We have shopping. What good is it for a man to be President, when their family, the ones who are supposed to love them the most, think the least of them?

What do you think of people spending big money on computer dating services and matchmakers?

I already talked about this for New York magazine. It’s very positive. Some people are just in it for the money. But I say, it’s a positive thing to spend your money on. It’s worth it, just don’t go overboard.

What do you think of the upscale market for Kosher and Judaic products? Like fake bacon and designer blond wigs? Do you and your wife buy this stuff?

It’s great! It’s very good if women beautify themselves for their husbands. Physical appearance is always important, just not the most important thing.

Are rabbis required by Jewish law to live a life of poverty?

Not at all. You can do Godly work and be wealthy.

People think your job is all fun and love and sex. But, what percentage of your day is devoted to Scripture?


How much time do you spend reading Scripture?

Well … I’m religious, so I pray 3 times a day. I try to read, study. I do what I can. I guess I get in a half-hour to an hour . . . I also counsel.

What charities do you contribute to?

Charities? Hmmm . . . people come to me. Individuals. I do work for domestic violence. Also, for L’Chaim [the Jewish education organization he founded while at Oxford].

What do you like to treat yourself with?

I love techno stuff, laptops, gadgets.

Is there anything that you wouldn’t spend money on?

Like what?

Some people won’t buy certain brand names. My dad won’t buy a Mercedes, for example.

Oh. Well, I wouldn’t buy a German car now. But I might in the future. All the cars are German now, even Chrysler. They should have changed their company names, the organization, after the war. We’re not fancy-fancy people. We like good quality. I get my wife nice jewelry, but my family’s in the wholesale business!

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