Judaisms position on sex: It’s a mitzvah

I’m going to Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon on a Tuesday night to listen to a local sexologist’s talk to Hadassah. You’re probably thinking what I am: sex and Hadassah? What’s the connection?

When I called Susan Schweit, the program organizer at Kol Shofar, she explained that Marin’s 100-member Hadassah Business and Professional Women is trying to attract a younger audience. So they’ve invited Danielle Harel, an Israeli clinical sexologist who resides in San Francisco, to share some “tips and practical ideas.”

When I arrive at Kol Shofar, there’s a buzz. About 25 women mingle over decaf coffee and cookies, giggling and hugging.

But I’m the youngest by over a decade.

Susan announces that it’s time to start. “Don’t be shy!” she says. “We need some of you to come and sit in the front.”

A few women move forward with me as Susan explains that “before the sex,” we’re going to be treated to an introduction about Hadassah and its roots.

“It’s the foreplay!” says one woman in the front.

Everyone laughs.

Penina Klein, Hadassah’s North Bay vice president, tells the group about her Zionist parents who came to Israel in the 1930s. She pushes a button on her laptop to begin her slide show — “Hadassah: From a Dream to a Reality” — but the screen freezes.

She reboots and we turn our eyes back to the front. Her laptop won’t connect to the big screen. All of a sudden, the computer crashes.

The women in the audience, including me, are fidgeting. No one bargained for this kind of foreplay.

At last, the computer reboots and Penina asks us to gather around her laptop so we can look at a series of photos as she gives us a 20-minute verbal history of Hadassah’s work in Israel.

An hour later, at 8 p.m., it’s time for sex.

When Danielle comes forward, she doesn’t fit my stereotypical image of a sexologist, with her black blazer, reading glasses and gold wedding band.

But she catches me off guard when she says, “Everyone stand up, please.”

We do. She instructs us to stretch our arms over our heads. “Do you feel any tension in your back?” she asks. “How about your neck?”

Then she asks us to swing our pelvises. “You don’t have to suck in your belly,” she says. “We’re all sisters here.”

Yes, the room is heating up now.

When we sit back down, the woman in front of me reaches into her bag and pulls out her knitting needles.

“Why is sex so important?” Danielle asks.

The knitting needles click faster. But no one raises her hand.

“Research shows that people who enjoy a satisfactory sex life live longer,” Danielle says. “Good sex brings people closer. And unfortunately, bad sex pulls people apart.”

She goes on to talk about post-sex endorphins and every kind of orgasm. The tip to good sex, she tells us, is “self love.”

This means “treating yourself as your own lover,” whether it’s having a private bubble bath or saying something nice to yourself in the mirror every day. Indeed, self love is the essence of our Hadassah evening.

If this talk has done anything for me, it has certainly made me more curious about the link between sex and Judaism. I’m still wondering: What’s the connection?

Hoping to delve a bit deeper, I pick up the phone the next day and call Charlie Glickman, the “after hours coordinator” at Berkeley’s Good Vibrations. This is my local sex shop, on the corner of San Pablo and Dwight, and I’m not ashamed to say that I love coming in here to browse.

Glickman and I have spoken a couple of times, and he once mentioned to me that he’s “a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey” who completed his doctoral dissertation at San Francisco’s Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in October. His topic? “Sex and Shame: Authenticity in Adult Education.”

When I ask him to expand on this theme, he tells me, “It’s considered a mitzvah to have sex on the Sabbath.”

Without a doubt, Judaism regards sex as being similar to eating and drinking. Eating and drinking, like sex, are natural and potentially beneficial bodily functions. Judaism, in contrast to some other religions, does not view sex as dirty or evil.

How fortunate! I feel lucky to be part of a religion that sees sex in such a natural light. Don’t you?