Tradition is a staple in Judaism — from generation to generation, you know? So it should come as no surprise that 20 years after publishing his book Kosher Sex, celebrity Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s daughter Chana Boteach is following in her dad’s footsteps with her very own Israeli sex store called, yep, you guessed it, Kosher Sex. L’dor vador!
Out of the 30 and counting books her father wrote, Kosher Sex is the only one Chana, 28, read (The Kosher Sutra and Kosher Lust didn’t make the cut). But it certainly left a lasting impression. Growing up in New Jersey, the Tel Aviv transplant says she always had a fascination with human sexuality and relationships — she was the girl that constantly talked about boys. “People would just come to me and they knew that I’d always be up to talk about boys,” she told me over the phone. “So I was like, I’m going to turn this into a business.”
And thus, two years after she conceived the idea to revitalize the sex positive message in her father’s decades old book, Chana opened the doors to her Tel Aviv shop in June.
Kosher Sex is way more nuanced than just a store lined with sex toys from high end companies like Lelo and the Jewish-owned Dame Products. It’s actually home to two enterprises: In the same building as Kosher Sex, Chana’s dear friend Christina Dickens sells reworked vintage clothing. The joint name of the business is Foreign Denim X Kosher Sex, and there’s a really sound reason for the unlikely collaboration: to make shopping for sex toys less daunting.
The entrepreneurs are well aware of how taboo and uncomfortable buying a vibrator in public can be, which is why the environmentally friendly store is lined with trendy clothing and inconspicuous pastel-colored sex toys to help erase the shame.
Chana keeps a box of candles on her desk to hand out to female customers to encourage them to light candles on Shabbat, but that’s not what makes the store “kosher.” What does? I caught up with the entrepreneur over the phone to talk about her new business, the sexual wisdom Judaism has to offer, and why female pleasure is inherently Jewish.
Did you always want to run a sex shop? What did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh definitely not, LMAO. I don’t think that’s something that kids dream about when they’re younger. I wanted to be a vet because I love animals, but then I wanted to be in the government. My dream was to be in the Knesset [Israeli parliament] and then I studied government and was like hell no. Thank God I studied it so I didn’t have to waste any more time.
How do you choose which products to carry?
I research each product and everything’s really curated. I steer away from anything that looks too phallic because I don’t want anything obscene in the store. If people are into that, you know, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, but they’re not in my store. What I love about companies that were made by women for women is that the technology they use and the form of the novelties are designed to really fit the contours of a woman’s body. It’s not just like a phallic-shaped product. It’s something that really compliments the body and hits all the right spots, and can be used together with a partner. Also, Christina’s company is sustainable and environmentally friendly so we’re very conscious and want to keep everything rechargeable and only use good materials.
So what makes the store “kosher?”
So the store name comes from my dad’s book published 20 years ago, and what we’re trying to emphasize with Kosher Sex is that sex is something that’s very kosher, especially in Judaism. It’s encouraged, and it’s something sacred and holy, but also something that’s natural and needs to be explored and expressed.
The kosher element is really to give the message that Judaism, as opposed to some other religions or the secular world, really believes that sex is something that brings people together, and enhances intimacy and connectedness. Everything [at Kosher Sex] is kosher, it’s allowed, and it’s encouraged and permitted. And it’s something that can save a marriage. So, I really just hijacked the book.
Ah, well, from generation to generation.
Exactly, we’re passing it down.
So what does Judaism say about female pleasure?
Judaism is actually very, very supportive of women’s empowerment and sexuality. A husband is actually commanded to please his wife, and discouraged from taking long trips so as not to deprive the woman from anything she wants. People think there are all these rules — and there definitely are guidelines of how to have a healthy sex life — but Judaism actually believes that women are much more sexual than men, and should have anything they want. Their innate sexuality is very deep and complex, and that’s something that’s supposed to be respected and awed. I think Judaism’s view on sexuality, and female sexuality specifically, is really healthy, balanced, empowering, and beautiful.
What type of feedback have you gotten so far about the store?
Honestly, thank God it’s been really positive. I’ll get the occasional nasty comment, but it’s been really nice and I think that shows that people are kind of gravitating towards this message. They’re craving it. It’s a very universal message that can be observed by Christians, Muslims, and atheists. At the end of the day, everybody wants meaningful relationships, and Judaism has a really healthy way of looking at sexuality. I think people are just tired of being lonely. Cigna did a study recently that shows Generation Z is the loneliest generation to date.
Right? I feel like everyone can relate because it feels impossible to meet someone. It feels impossible to be vulnerable and to let yourself give love and receive love. I think people are just looking for something to give sex the weight and the holiness that it has and let it still be hot.
I read in the Times of Israel that a rabbi came into your shop and said you were doing really great work. Can you tell me more about the response from your dad and the larger religious community?
Yeah, the rabbi was really nice. He said he read my dad’s book 20 years ago and that a lot of couples, especially young couples, come to him with so many questions; he said they have no outlet. They have nowhere to talk about these issues, especially men. We’ve been taught that men are unemotional, as opposed to women, and that they can just have sex and not feel anything and don’t want intimacy. But I really find that, especially in Judaism, men want intimacy and they want to connect with someone. It’s just they’ve been taught not to show it because it’s seen as weaker, which is ridiculous. So the rabbi said I was doing really important work, which was nice to hear from someone religious.
I think that people are finally seeing that this is something that’s needed. It’s not there to stir up controversy. It’s not there to make people feel uncomfortable. It’s there because it’s a huge part of life and Judaism acknowledges that.
How does your sex shop compare to others in Israel?
There’s a bunch of sex shops here but [Kosher Sex] is definitely the only one that has this certain style in line with our message. Everything is really tasteful, understated, and some of it is unrecognizable [as sex toys]. Like, you’d never know something is a vibrator. I actually had a woman come here the other day with her daughter who was 5, and she wasn’t even worried that her kid would ask questions. She wasn’t worried because there’s no way to tell.
What would you like Alma’s audience of Jewish millennial women to know?
I want them to know they have to follow me on Instagram. That’s number one. Secondly, what I found in the store is that so many women just want to talk. I think the secret to a better sex life is really giving sex the weight it deserves. You can just relax, have fun, and go with it, and it’s also okay to be emotional about sex and to want to be with someone. I would say we definitely support women’s wellness, sexual health, and knowing your body. Statistically, women who learn how to orgasm on their own have a way better chance of having an orgasm with a partner.
I also want to stress that I’ve tried to find a good balance, but it’s not easy because sex is very taboo, especially in the Jewish community. But as much as I’m trying to make sex more comfortable and open, I understand that sex needs to be something that’s still a little mysterious. Because that’s what sex needs to be. It’s important to give sex the significance and sacredness it intrinsically has and to also make it super fun.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Images via Kosher Sex on Instagram