What makes a sex toy kosher was question number one after The Times of Israel received an invitation to visit a kosher sex shop that opened its doors recently in the heart of Tel Aviv.
Established by Chana Boteach, daughter of America’s polarizing celebrity Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who authored books like “Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy” and “Why Can’t I Fall in Love: A 12 Step Program,” the store at 25 Montefiore Street in Tel Aviv has nothing sleazy about it.
In fact, approaching the shop was initially confusing. The sign on the window said “Kosher Sex” in black and purple letters but at first glance all that could be seen from the outside was clothing.
“The clothes help ease the way in” for customers, said the 28-year Boteach, dressed in black jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt.
Her friend Christina Dickens, who designs and reworks vintage clothes, was also planning to open up a store, and the two women decided to set up shop together to make it less daunting for customers seeking out the sex aids, Boteach explained. Thus the joint name of the store: Foreign Denim X Kosher Sex.
“They browse through the clothes and then peek” at the other stuff, said Boteach.
The “other stuff” is modestly placed on a round coffee table on one side of the shop, and on shelves on a wall. To the right, closer to the window, are accessories such as blindfolds, silk handcuffs, feathers, body jewelry, candles, nipple tassels, perfumes and oils. There are also games of chance in which couples toss dice and get instructions about what to do next.
To the left are the more hardcore accessories, though they were innocent in appearance. The light pastel colors and gentle lines made them look more like houseware by tasteful Italian designer Alessi — salt cellars, bottle openers, kitchen roll holders — than sex toys.
“We have a range of very different products and I make sure that everything is body safe and good for the environment,” Boteach said. “Nothing is vulgar. Sexuality is complex. These are all things that can be used with a partner to create further intimacy.”
Among the items on display are a soft silicon battery operated vibrator called the Zen; a finger vibrator called Fin that is USB rechargeable and becomes an extension to the finger; a rechargeable hands-free vibrator — a light-pink egg-shaped device with arms that can hug a pleasure point; and a “magic-wand” rechargeable vibrator. The Minamo, a light-blue pulsating soft silicone gadget, is designed to gently fit the contours of the female body.
So, what makes a toy kosher? It is the purpose of the toys, Boteach explained. The sex aids are meant to “help married couples create intimacy in a relationship.”
“These are things that should be used with a partner to create further intimacy,” Boteach added. “People marry and stay in a relationship for a long time. Aids can help people spice things up between them. It is very hard to maintain lust and novelty in a long-term relationship. You need to rediscover intimacy between two people, and to do that you must learn something new all the time, and these aids can help you do that.”
Boteach said she is not worried about backlash or getting approval from rabbis. “My dad’s a rabbi,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll take his approval.”
She adds that a rabbi recently walked into her store and told her that what she was doing “is very important.”
“Judaism has so much to offer,” she said. “Sexuality is not taboo. It talks about marriage and holiness and what you should have in a relationship. A man is commanded to please his wife. There is so much wisdom in Judaism,” and this message should be spread.
Her father’s “Kosher Sex” books are on display and for sale at the store, to give customers a fuller perspective into their sex life. At her desk Boteach also has small boxes with Shabbat candles, to hand out to women to encourage them to light candles on Friday night.
The store, which also sells online, opened at the end of June, and Boteach is still in the process of getting the necessary approvals from the Health Ministry and the Standards Institute for the products she imports.
“I have a ton of stuff I still want to bring,” she said, including products to help pregnant or menopausal women and to ease the pain some people feel during sex. “Anything that can help people,” she said.
Boteach, who immigrated to Israel in 2011, said the store was part of her mission in life.
“Judaism is the center of my life, but I also live in a modern world,” she said. “I want to reconcile the two. This is my way of bringing the light of Judaism into this world.”
As Boteach speaks, 42-year old Merav, who prefers not to reveal her surname, walks into the store. She is a secular woman and a customer. She had purchased a Zen vibrator when the store opened, and was coming in now to have another look.
“I’ve been to many sex stores before,” Merav said. “But Chana makes you feel like you are buying something you need, without the shame. She explains to you how to use a vibrator just as she’d explain to you how to put cream on your face.”