The Passionate Torah

Sex and Judaism

320 pages

June, 2009

ISBN: 9780814776056



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Danya Ruttenberg is a rabbi and author of Surprised By God and editor of the anthology Yentl’s Revenge. She serves as contributing editor to both Lilith and Women in Judaism. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

All books by Danya Ruttenberg

In this unique collection of essays, some of today’s smartest Jewish thinkers explore a broad range of fundamental questions in an effort to balance ancient tradition and modern sexuality.

In the last few decades a number of factors—post-modernism, feminism, queer liberation, and more—have brought discussion of sexuality to the fore, and with it a whole new set of questions that challenge time-honored traditions and ways of thinking. For Jews of all backgrounds, this has often led to an unhappy standoff between tradition and sexual empowerment.

Yet as The Passionate Torah illustrates, it is of critical importance to see beyond this apparent conflict if Jews are to embrace both their religious beliefs and their sexuality. With incisive essays from contemporary rabbis, scholars, thinkers, and writers, this collection not only surveys the challenges that sexuality poses to Jewish belief, but also offers fresh new perspectives and insights on the changing place of sexuality within Jewish theology—and Jewish lives. Covering topics such as monogamy, inter-faith relationships, reproductive technology, homosexuality, and a host of other hot-button issues, these writings consider how contemporary Jews can engage themselves, their loved ones, and their tradition in a way that’s both sexy and sanctified.

Seeking to deepen the Jewish conversation about sexuality, The Passionate Torah brings together brilliant thinkers in an attempt to bridge the gap between the sacred and the sexual.

Contributors: Rebecca Alpert, Wendy Love Anderson, Judith R. Baskin, Aryeh Cohen, Elliot Dorff, Esther Fuchs, Bonna Haberman, Elliot Kukla, Gail Labovitz, Malka Landau, Sarra Lev, Laura Levitt, Sara Meirowitz, Jay Michaelson, Haviva Ner-David, Danya Ruttenberg, Naomi Seidman, and Arthur Waskow.


  • “It is not easy to conduct a serious and productive conversation about sex. keeps one foot in objective academic discourse, while the other pokes mischievously at sacred cows.”

    —Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

  • “It is not often that an academic title about religion stimulates other parts of the body as well as the mind. Yet that is what Ruttenberg, a rabbi, and the seventeen contributors to this collection of essays have accomplished. Ruttenberg, a wunderkind of Jewish feminism, leads the reader through an often racy reconsideration of what the sacred Jewish texts say about our most intimate relationships.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Both thought-provoking and fun. The wide variety of approaches to a terrific list of topics ensures that every reader will come away with some fresh perspective on the Torah and sex.”

    —Judith Plaskow, author of Standing Again at Sinai

  • “Living according to Jewish values means embracing a holy sexual ethic. Whether you are single, married, straight, or queer, this book is indispensable in teaching you why and how.”

    —Leora Tanenbaum, author of Taking Back God

  • “Ruttenberg, a dynamic young rabbi and memoirist, takes a different tack than her predecessors, including not only academics but also activists like Jewish Renewal stalwart Arthur Waskow and Orthodox feminist Haviva Ner-David. Ruttenberg groups the essays under rubrics of ‘I-It,’ ‘I-Thou,’ and ‘We-Thou’ relationships, which might sound a little kinky, but is really just her way of echoing Martin Buber and of suggesting how variously Jews in different times and places relate to their sexuality.”

    Tablet Magazine

  • “These essays were chosen to expand the reader’s sense of what Judaism has to say on the subject of sex. Our understanding of Jewish sexuality needs to become as complex as the realities are.”


  • “Danya Ruttenberg, a Conservative rabbi in her early thirties, is a leader of the effort to introduce the concerns of hipster Jews into the tradition.”

    Commentary Magazine

  • “Jewish thinkers explore the intersection of Torah and sexuality in modern Jewish culture.”

    The Jewish Advocate

  • “A compendium of essays from leading Jewish and non-Jewish academics on topics ranging from masturbation to modesty . . . Yet despite the academic credentials of the authors who penned most of the book’s essays, Ruttenberg said that she designed The Passionate Torah with ‘the intelligent lay reader in mind.’ ”

    The Harvard Crimson

  • The Passionate Torah contains an interesting and curious mix of articles.”

    The Reporter

  • "The questions that these distinguished authors raise are important for rabbis to ponder as they are precisely the questions and the discourse that many of our youth confront each day in academia."

    —Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

  • "The Passionate Torah brings together brilliant thinkers in an attempt to bridge the gap between the sacred and the sexual."


  • The Passionate Torah is not a guidebook to ‘kosher sex,’ as Chabad emissary turned high-profile media figure Shmuley Boteach called one of his best-selling books, but rather an assemblage of eighteen essays that apply cutting-edge scholarship to the way the Jewish sources deal with subjects like birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, niddah (the laws that separate a woman from her husband while she is menstruating), masturbation, and more.”


  • “Influenced by the existentialist philosophy of Martin Buber...this timely tome [is] devoted to uncovering consensual and opposing layers of Jewish thought on sex in relationship to self-being, to one another, and to the divine.”


  • “The vitality and, yes, passion in this assemblage of thought-provoking essays go beyond the ‘everything you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask’ mindset. The Passionate Torah is a vivid reminder that sexuality has had a long and distinguished, albeit controversial, place in the Jewish law.”

    Jerusalem Report

  • The Passionate Torah carries out its goal of starting a new type of conversation about Jews and sexuality in the contemporary age.”

    Midwest Jewish Studies Assocation