The Rabbi Selling Kosher Vibrators (*Yikes!) – JerusalemOnline
Rabbi Natan Alexander carries a box containing kosher sex toys near his home in Elazar, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The rabbi is careful not to expose his small children to the products sold by his e-commerce business, Better2gether, which adheres to Orthodox religious rules by banning nudity, sexy clothing, or any other suggestive imagery.
Within ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture, physical contact between unmarried men and women is forbidden, as is viewing sexually suggestive imagery of any kind. A ban on pornography is a given, but even a Victoria’s Secret catalog is off limits for devout followers, who are typically seen wearing black coats and long dresses. Sex is one of the religion’s most taboo subjects, something couples might discuss quietly among themselves or with a rabbi—and no one else.
Religious leaders aren’t usually the best advisers on how to spice things up in the bedroom, but Orthodox couples struggling to sustain passionate marriages are finding a savior in Rabbi Natan Alexander. Men and women dissatisfied with their love lives are making pilgrimages to the Judaean Mountains near Jerusalem, where Alexander may prescribe them a Sqweel. The device, he explains in incrementally hushed volumes at a winery by his home in the Gush Etzion settlement, is a sex toy of rotating silicone.
Alexander, a boyish-looking 34-year-old, says ultra-Orthodox women who grew up secular often come to him hoping he’ll encourage their husbands to go the extra distance between the sheets, to do things they were accustomed to before becoming religious. Alexander readily gives his blessing, but ultra-Orthodox men don’t always listen. The rabbi is a self-described religious nationalist, meaning he’s devout but accepts most aspects of modern life, and that makes some ultra-Orthodox people, or haredim, as it’s referred to in Hebrew, skeptical of his authority. “Of course, I could find them rabbis, but these women come from serious haredi families, who aren’t going to listen to a religious nationalist,” says Alexander, sitting among fellow yarmulke-wearing patrons. “Instead, I offered to find her the right product that replaces the man.”
Despite numerous religious restrictions on intimacy—including, for one subset of ultra-Orthodox called Ger Hasidic, a ban on kissing each other’s bodies or intercourse after midnight—most sex toys are kosher. The shopping experience usually isn’t. Stores that carry such products often have posters or packaging featuring scantily clad models, and the websites can be even more risqué. Alexander saw an opportunity, and last year he started an online sex toy marketplace that God would approve of. You won’t find any racy images or vulgar language on his website, Better2gether. He personally approves each product the store sells to make sure the package and contents are free of anything that may be offensive to the Orthodox eye. The name of the site and its listings promote spousal intimacy, because, as Alexander puts it, “It’s not aboutmy orgasm. It’s about our orgasm.”
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population is a significant and growing market, making up about 11 percent of the country’s 8.3 million people. The community is expected to comprise about 18 percent of Israel’s population within 15 years, according to government statistics. Consumers around the world spent $22.8 billion in 2014 on sexual wellness products, which include contraceptives, lingerie, lubricants, and sex toys, and sales are projected to grow to $32 billion by 2019, according to market-research firm Tech Navio. Shopping for a vibrator has become slightly less awkward since Wal-Mart Stores and other mainstream retailers began stocking them a few years ago. The products have struggled to catch on in conservative communities around the world, however, partly because of the stigma associated with buying them. If Alexander’s model proves successful in Israel, it could one day translate to potential buyers in conservative sectors of other religions.