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Editor’s note: The following commentary discusses matters of a sexual nature. Parental discretion is advised.
One of America’s biggest hit comedies is HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” starring Larry David, the co-creator of TV’s “Seinfeld.” Since David is unashamedly Jewish, the show often prominently features Jewish themes. A few weeks ago, in the penultimate season finale, the show revolved around the idea that Larry, who was afforded a 10th anniversary present by his wife allowing him to have sex with a stranger only once, chose a Hassidic Jewish woman as his partner. But before meeting her, he is told by his other two Jewish friends to make sure to bring a sheet with hole in the middle, because it is well known that orthodox Jews all have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle.
Through countless lectures that I have delivered around the world, I have discovered that the vast majority of people actually believe this to be true: that orthodox Jews do indeed have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle. Indeed, many films have portrayed this to be true, most notably the thoroughly repugnant film, “A Price Above Rubies,” that starred Renee Zellwegger. So it’s time to set the record straight.
Actually, the Jewish law allowing a couple to have sex with a sheet with a hole in the middle is a very lenient rabbinic position, and is mostly practiced by reform Jews. The truly orthodox usually don full body armour before sex (the modern orthodox often substitute football pads and helmet), while the Hassidic community takes it a step further and mandates that the husband and wife be in separate rooms while having sex through a hole in the wall. Still other rabbis further to the right insist that husband and wife be in two different cities and have sex by fax and e-mail. As for those couples who do actually use a sheet with a hole in the middle, the law maintains that there be a flashing neon arrow saying, “Insert here,” to ensure that everything goes smoothly in the carnal act. Rashi adds that the size of the hole, of course, is variable, depending on the needs of the individual user.
Alright, I’m kidding.. But do you really expect me to respond to this “hole in the sheet” nonsense with a serious rejoinder? It’s one of the most ludicrous slanders against Jews, and yet hundreds of millions of people believe it.
(As an aside, not only does Jewish law not mandate that a sheet be used, it wouldn’t allow it even if the couple desired it out of a misguided sense of piety. Jewish law does not allow any articles of clothing to be worn during lovemaking. Sex, in Jewish thought, entails an all-encompassing intimacy that precludes any articles of clothing serving as a barrier to flesh pressing against flesh. Indeed, even condoms are prohibited as a contraceptive because of the artificial obstruction it imposes between husband and wife, and the pill or a diaphragm should be used instead, once the couple has had a boy and a girl.)
The point about the “hole in the sheet” may seem trivial, but I mention it to prove a point. Throughout history the Jews have been accused of some pretty weird stuff. Yet, amazingly, the world always seems to believe it. First, we were accused of having killed God. Then, that we poisoned the wells of Europe during the Black Death. After that, that we tortured the crackers of the Eucharist in an effort to cause suffering to Jesus, whose flesh was embodied in wafer. Next, we were accused of slaughtering Christian children and putting their blood in our matzos. And finally, that our elders gathered together to plot the conquest of the world. In each of these cases, ridiculous and harebrained as the accusations might seem, they were still believed by hundreds of millions of people the world over.
Fast forward to the year 2004 and the majority of the world believes that tiny Israel with 6 million Jews is the major cause of strife in the Middle East and is oppressing 300 million Arabs. Indeed, in a debate I conducted at Oxford University just over a year ago against one of the leading Arab newspaper editors, he stated plainly that Israel’s “treatment” of the Palestinians is what brought Saddam Hussein to power. His point baffles me still today. But hundreds of the most intelligent students in the world who were in attendance believed him.
Just a few days later, I found myself at dinner with an 18-year-old student at Eton.
Him: Don’t you think it’s wrong of Israel to send bulldozers in to knock down whole Palestinian villages, throw out the residents, and replace them with settlers?
Me: Israel would never countenance doing such a thing. Settlements are built only on barren land, or land that has been bought from Palestinians.
Him: But even that’s wrong. It’s their land.
Me: Israel has more than a million Arab citizens. Why should the West Bank have to be empty of Jews? Besides, the West Bank was part of the original Jewish homeland designated by the Balfour declaration, as well as part of ancient biblical Israel. Never in history was it part of a Palestinian state. Wherever Jews have settled in those lands, they have raised the standard of living for all the inhabitants, something that Arafat has failed at miserably for his own people.
Him: Do you call torturing Palestinians giving them a good life?
Me: In fact, the Israeli Supreme Court has expressly outlawed torture, something that the courts of most Western countries have yet to do.
Him: That may be true, but you and I both know that Israeli soldiers are trained to break the arms of Palestinian youth.
I should add that the young man in question was congenial in every respect and could in no way be characterized as anti-Semitic. While he was trained by one of the most prestigious schools in the world to use logic and critical scrutiny in understanding the world around him, when it came to Israel he was prepared to believe any lie that was fed to him.
Which leads me to the following conclusion. Hardly a week goes where serious new allegations aren’t hurled against Israel by its enemies. The latest is that Israel’s anti-terrorism wall being built in Judea and Samaria is really an attempt to fence in all the Arabs in a giant prison cell. To us Jews, of course, this is a preposterous Arab lie, like all the rest of their lies, and – like the myth of sex with a sheet with a hole in the middle – should require no serious rejoinder.
Indeed, Israel chose not to even send a delegation to the hearing about the wall at the International Court of Justice in the Hague in order to make the point that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Fair enough. But Israel is fooling itself if it thinks most of the world doesn’t already believe the lie that the wall is a giant Alcatraz.
Israel is correct in not empowering an international body to determine how it should best defend its citizens. But it is making a grave mistake if it does not always seek to sway the far more important court of international opinion. The time has come for Israel to adopt the policy that each and every lie – without exception – will be convincingly rebutted rather than dismissed as being beneath contempt.
Jews may not use a sheet with a hole in the middle for lovemaking. But they do need a wall without any holes to stop suicide bombers from venting their hatred against civilians. And unless we can persuade the rest of the world of the justice of our cause, they will continue to throw barriers in the path of our barriers.