Seekers of Meaning 2/18/2022: Noam Zion, Author of “Sanctified Sex”

On this week’s episode of the Seekers of Meaning TV Show and Podcast, Rabbi Address chats with Noam Zion, author of the new book, Sanctified Sex: The Two-Thousand-Year Jewish Debate on Marital Intimacy.

Sanctified Sex draws on two thousand years of rabbinic debates addressing competing aspirations for loving intimacy, passionate sexual union, and sanctity in marriage. What can Judaism contribute to our struggles to nurture love relationships? What halakhic precedents are relevant, and how are rulings changing?

The rabbis, of course, seldom agree. Underlying their arguments are perennial debates: What kind of marital sex qualifies as ideal—sacred self-control of sexual desire or the holiness found in emotional and erotic intimacy? Is intercourse degrading in its physicality or the highest act of spiritual/mystical union? And should women or men (or both) wield ultimate say about what transpires in bed?

Noam Sachs Zion guides us chronologically and steadily through fraught terrain: seminal biblical texts and their Talmudic interpretations; Talmud tales of three unusual rabbis and their marital bedrooms; medieval codifiers and mystical commentators; ultra-Orthodox rabbis clashing with one another over radically divergent ideals; and, finally, contemporary rabbis of varied denominations wrestling with modern transformations in erotic lifestyles and values.

Invited into these sanctified and often sexually explicit discussions with our ancestors and contemporaries, we encounter innovative Jewish teachings on marital intimacy, ardent lovemaking techniques, and the art of couple communication vital for matrimonial success.

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About the Guest

Noam Sachs Zion

Noam is now emeritus at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where since 1978 he has been a senior research fellow and educator. He earned a graduate degree in general philosophy at Columbia University and the Hebrew University, while studying Bible and Rabbinics at JTSA and the Hartman Beit Midrash.

His popular publications and worldwide lecturing have promoted Homemade Judaism — empowering families to create their own pluralistic Judaism during home holidays — Pesach, Hanukkah and Shabbat. His most popular publications include: A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah; A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah; A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home; The Israeli Haggadah: Halaila Hazeh; and A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices (published together with his son).

His educational study guides for day school teachers include multidisciplinary analyses of family conflicts such as Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, Hagar and Sarah, Abraham’s Calling, Rachel and Leah, Ruth and Naomi, and David and Batsheba. Each unit includes art, poetry, commentary and literary analysis.

His most recent academic research encompasses a trilogy on the intellectual history of philanthropy entitled Jewish Giving in Comparative Perspectives (2013) and a nine-part series on Talmudic Marital Dramas (2018). In 2021 Jewish Publication Society published Sanctified Sex: The 2000 Year Jewish Debate on Marital Intimacy.

Outstanding moments in his personal biography include: growing up as a rabbi’s kid in his father’s Conservative synagogue in Minneapolis (where the Coen brother’s film “A Serious Man” was filmed); going on a student mission to meet Soviet Jewry in 1968 (that ended with interrogation by the KGB and expulsion from the USSR); participating in the Columbia University protests (1968, 1970); and making aliyah during the Yom Kippur War (1973). His Dutch wife Marcelle, the Lamaze teacher, gave him her last name “Zion” (in place of Sachs) and five children and twelve grandchildren.

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