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Z,a 38-year old man “with a Chasidic background” says his mother instilled in him a desire for kink—bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism, better known as BDSM.
“She did give me her share of potchkes (Yiddish: spankings),” he said.
What do you say to a guy who blames being a spanko—a person who likes to be spanked—on his mother?
Z is among a large, diverse group of “Jewish kinksters”—as some have self-mockingly called themselves—who are interested in the connection between religion and this sexual “practice” (his word). I was struck by this, and wondered if this was, if not a trend, let’s say, a thing: Jewish kink. I was researching a book on kink when I began interviewing dozens of Jewish kinksters in New York and Chicago. Some of the people I spoke with had thought deeply about the subject and worked hard to bridge religious and sexual identities. Still, many have remained in the closet, ashamed and worried that kink was not good for the Jews. Everyone had a lot to say about how kink affected them.
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I found the comfort level split along generational lines: Baby-boomers were most at ease, discussing their sexual preferences quite openly. Laura Antoniou, 51, the author of books of kinky erotic fiction, and a convert from Greek Orthodox, speculated that for Jews, “there is not the same amount of taboo around talking about sex as Christians have.”
Gen X Jews seemed less interested in including kink in their public life than thinking about it as something lost in the diaspora. Ayo Oppenheimer, 32, founder of Jewrotica, a Jewish website devoted to sex, said. “Jewish people absorbed the surrounding values, shame, and modesty of other cultures.”
Many millennials I spoke with believed that kink saved their life, the way my mother’s generation believed that feminism did. G, a short, kinky, conservative Jewish journalist, 23, was full of self-loathing until she understood that being erotically hypnotized— “hypnokink”—was her thing.
When I last spoke to G, she divided her time between her Jewish dominant, a 45-year old erotic hypnotist, and her Jewish age appropriate vanilla boyfriend, whom she is “ready to take it to the next level with.”
G and her dom are in love. They talk every day, see each other a few times a week. They do not have intercourse although they “do” other vanilla sex acts. They watch Firefly, order in take-out, and eat chocolate ice cream. He hypnotizes her and then drives her home.
G does not eat pork or play on Shabbat. She says she uses sechel—the Yiddish word for common sense. She finds solace in Michal, King David’s first wife, the only woman the Old Testament describes as loving a man. “She’s supposed to be defined by a man, but she’s not.”
KinkyJews.com is an organization devoted to Jews like G. According to my last count, the KinkyJews discussion group on Fetlife—a social network for the BDSM community—has 2,396 members, making it the biggest religiously oriented discussion thread on the site. It has also spun off regional groups like Kinky Philadelphia and Kinky DC metro area. It is like an information bazaar: Should you cover your head in the dungeon? Are Tefillin, which are worn during Jewish prayer, kinky? Does anyone know a kinky version of “Dayenu,” the Passover holiday song? Does anyone have a circumcision fetish? Or looking for Jewish trans men? The list erupted when someone posted something that seemed anti-Semitic: “I love big Jewish cocks.” Or: “Arab slave, looking for a Jewish mistress to take ahold of me.”
Rachel Kramer Bussel, 40, DAME’s sex columnist, who identifies as bisexual and grew up as a Reform Jew said that KinkyJews flourished because “there is a community connection to being Jewish, even if the religious aspects aren’t important.”
But Gil C’nan, 31, a kinky party planner in Philadelphia speculated that Jews gravitate toward kink because they can feel like they belong. “I feel like less of a minority in the kink and fetish world than a lot of other worlds.”
Some Jews may seek out kink because they feel like outsiders. Others want to be out, at least for a few hours. The Orthodox make up 70 percent of clients of pro-dommes, one told me, adding that she saw them at Parthenon, a kinky club in the same building as Levine’s Books and Judaica, and at Paddles, or Suspension, a monthly party. Women sometimes accompanied their husbands, she said.
C’Nan said that at week-end kinky events, a “small but strong” Orthodox contingent requested Shabbat-compliant rooms or practiced kinky Shabbats where they dripped hot wax and lit candles, and wore chain-link yarmulkes.
I met a number of kinky Orthodox Jews, most of them men. Y, 40-ish, arrived at the interview with his curly haired dominatrix, Mistress Blunt, 24.
Y—thickset, married with kids—ordered matzoh-ball soup, and Mistress Blunt ordered mint tea. In a thick Yiddish accent, Y said he discovered kink on a trip to Atlantic City with six other guys and two women after he became “OTD, that’s ‘Off the Derech,’ or off the proper way.” He now sees dominatrices once or twice a week at about $350 a session. “I have $15,000 to $20,000 a year to spend on entertainment,” he said.
“The Bible is kinky, said Blunt, who grew up Reform and is out to her parents. She started started domming in college at La Domaine Esomar, an upstate dungeon. “There is shame and humiliation in it. Abraham was kinky. There’s cutting, washing feet, temple slaves, ritual, devotional trance.”
Some of Y’s fantasies appear to be influenced by Judaism. One involves the harvest: He wants to be a human bird feeder, Blunt said. He tweeted Blunt weekly parshas, portions of the Torah, which she incorporated into the scenes they did. She covered Y’s eyes on the Sabbath so he could feel the way he used to feel while praying.
Others were … Blunt pulled out her phone and flashed a photo of a penis wrapped in tzit-tzit, or prayer fringes.
I asked Y why he frequented a professional dominatrix. “I don’t need to understand how the chicken soup is made,” he said, slurping.
Among the ultra-Orthodox, kink likely does not count as adultery since it’s technically not sex and may not be destroying anyone’s marriage, said Rabbi Robin Podolsky. “The feeling is go and sin—disguise yourself in a black cloak rather than disgrace your community.”
What community was being disgraced if a Jew renounced kink? That was the question Naomi D, 38, the founder of KinkyJews.com, was asking herself. Tall with a round face and long, straight hair, Naomi founded KinkyJews.com in 2005 in part because she believed that Jews are drawn tokink due to “our additional perspective when we relate to the concepts of bondage, slavery and redemption of the Passover story— common themes in our relationships and sexual expression.”
Naomi designed many KinkyJews events including the chocolate Seder, where Jews whipped each other with chocolate Twizzlers. She created a kinky Haggadah she hoped to sell on the internet.
“If she only dressed in leather/Bright and shiny patent leather/If she only dressed in leather/Dayenu.”
But in 2009, in a piece in The Forward, the Jewish sexpert Shmuley Boteach said that “the notion of a kink-themed Seder is disrespectful to both the sanctity of marital relations and to the Passover holiday.” Naomi dialed back KinkyJews. She worried: “I might want to have a family. How can I be a mother? … What if no one finds me to be a suitable wife?”
When I told Bat Sheva Marcus, an Orthodox sex counselor recently profiled in the New York Times about Naomi, she was not surprised. “Kink and a white picket fence do not go together,” she said.
And David Dunn Bauer, 55, the director of social justice at Congregation Beit Shalom Temple (CBST) in Greenwich Village, known as New York’s LGBT synagogue, said that in Judaism, “there is enormous pressure put on family and that is why Jews don’t do kink.”
If you are comfortable with yourself as a sexual outsider, figuring out how the rest of your life fits in is easier, Laura Antoniou, the gay writer, said. She has put her kinky editing jobs on her day-job résumés since the 1990s. A few years ago she came out at her shul, Congregation Beth Emmet.
Antoniou hosts a kinky Seder and she also has written a kinky Haggadah, she said, adding that at her Seder there is a kinky version of the Sephardic tradition of beating each other with spring onions. Antoniou buys “the biggest baddest leeks” she can find.
Punishment and slavery came up a lot. Sarah Beth Landau, a Chicago-based kinky Jew who used Antoniou’s Haggadah this year said. “Maimonides in The Guide to the Perplexed instructs fathers on how to construct Seder. You point to a household slave and see we were slaves in Egypt like him,” she added, explaining that since she literally has slaves, this has special meaning.
Hayyim, 61, who worked in disaster relief in New York, lived his life mostly as an Orthodox Jew and was largely out of scene, said something similar about how kink illuminated religious texts. “God in the Bible is harsh, cruel, jealous. The prophets often lambast people. They are punitive.”
I suddenly thought of of the most unsettling kink I had heard of in this world— , a kind of role play recreating Holocaust scenes— and I asked the kinky Jews I knew what they thought about it.
Lolita Wolf, 61, the manager of the BDSM boutique, The Purple Passion, in Chelsea, said some of her father’s family died in a forced labor camp. Wolf, who has been profiled in the New York Times, conceded that “some kink is viscerally upsetting” to Jews. Like Nazi play—role play where people dress up as Nazis. “I would prefer that not take place near me.” But she would not stop others who wanted to do it consensually, she said
Oppenheimer said Jews were bound by Jewish law. “A tasteful collar, why should that person have to change to come into that synagogue?” However “bringing floggers into the synagogue is over the line.” She added that some kink seemed forbidden. “You can’t do multiple person scenes.” Also, “it’s very Jewishly problematic to cause physical violence.” Still “you could find justification for anything. But, “a rabbi would be endangering her pulpit by talking about this.”
Mistress Blunt showed me one photo in which she wore a bra and panties and had wrapped a Tefillin around her foot. In another, she posed, similarly garbed, with Mistress Arabesque, a Muslim fin domme—financial dominatrix, a subspecialty where the dom gets the client to pay her without providing any physical sexual service.
Arabesque, who is Egyptian, has a sub-sub-specialty—Jewish blasphemy fin dom. This involves anti-Semitic ranting. “How does it feel to be humiliated by an Egyptian, whose ancestors kept you rightfully enslaved for generations?” was one line from her script.
Arabesque latched onto Jewish blasphemy a few years ago when an Orthodox guy asked her to insult him “because of what the Jews had done to Palestine.” None of her clients were willing to talk to me, including the one she said was a professor of Jewish Studies.
I don’t know what I thought I would learn by seeing a Jewish kinkster in session. But Troy, a (non-Jewish) dominatrix I knew invited me to one with “Downlow,” her Jewish slave.
Downlow, a married, reform Jew who was in finance and lived upstate, wore chinos and a blue striped dress shirt. He was in his 50s, with a soft chin and a few tufts of sandy-colored hair. Troy wore large diamond studs, a diamond ring, a silver necklace, and a long black T-shirt.
Troy undressed Downlow until he stood there in black jockeys and dress socks. She stroked his arms. Then she slipped a hood over Downlow’s head and then belted him onto a chair, put in a ball gag, laid him on the ground and tied him up, put him in the pound, slow danced with him, and gave him an electric shock. They were laughing the whole time.
After that, we went out for a drink. “I’m conservative,” Downlow said. “Reform is loosey-goosey.” But he attended the dungeon more than the temple.
Robin Podolsky, the rabbi, said: “On the surface kinky practices push people’s buttons with respect to human dignity—Kevod Habriot.”
Then she asked: “Can you do those practices and explore those erotic appetites in the context of a respectful Jewish relationship? The idea [in Judaism] is that you don’t instrumentalize other people. People might get off being treated as objects but they’re not. No one is put on Earth to be an instrument of someone’s pleasure. Are you allowed to pretend like you are?”