Q: So this is a true watershed for American Judaism?
Absolutely. It forces us to put down all the weird self-loathing about Jewish bodies and all the Woody Allen-Phillip Roth routine about the fact that the Jewish mind of Jewish men, of course, are superior...but it's hot gentile bodies that we want.
And, of course, part of what's important about getting past that is...is it's actually not just bad for what it says about what Jews feel about ourselves; it's also implicit there that Gentile women are essentially objects to be used.
That's the whole thing. I don't know whether you've ever heard this before, but growing up, like in Jewish camps and Jewish youth groups, it was always kind of a joke that "shiksas" were for practice. And in all honesty, I don't want to be part of a community that can think that way. And there is a direct line between saying, "Jewish girls shouldn't be in Playboy" -- subtext: it's okay for Gentile girls -- and raising a whole generation of Jewish men who think shiksas are for practice.
So in that way, yeah, I think it's a real step forward. When you can go to Yad Vashem [,the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem,] and see [photos of] naked Jewish women who really were thought of as vermin and then you can open up Playboy and see a beautiful Jewish body that's actually being fantasized over by millions of men. I absolutely understand this is not the highest level to reach, but it is the next level in our development.
Q: Is it emblematic of the fact that Jews have finally reached mainstream sex appeal?
I think that's definitely a part of it. There's no question that it's a part of it. What's powerful about it here is that people who would recognize the normalcy in which Jews can be, you know, in sexy ads usually don't imagine that happening with Jews who are as traditionally grounded as this woman is. They don't usually imagine that with a woman who talks about going to synagogue and wanting to read Hebrew and being very concerned about marrying a Jewish guy.
Q: Shouldn't Jews be concerned that, right now, when average Americans are asked to think of a Jewish woman today, they're likely to think of Monica Lewinsky...or Lindsey Vuolo? That Jews are not offering up better women role models to the media?
We do have a whole variety of other women up. There are Jewish women doing all kinds of things. But we're more interested right now in [Vuolo] because she got naked and we have a culture that has some very weird ideas about sex.
The biggest problem with the Playboy centerfold for me, you know from the Jewish perspective, is with the staples. By which I mean that a picture of someone that you clip into something and stare at should never be the thing you aspire to. What you aspire to are real face-to-face encounters in which people connect intellectually, spiritually, and physically.
It's not backing away from the sexuality. But it's making a claim that sexuality in the context of a relationship ought to be richer than sexuality without the context of relationships. That's not just true for Jews. That's why I think I got so upset about this. In the end, none of these so-called Jewish leaders were ever concerned about what Playboy means when you're trying to raise sexually healthy people in American culture. They got upset because a Jewish girl did it. And that's what's off here.
What we need is a Jewish take on human sexuality that would be a resource to all people. Not people using Jewish tradition to beat up on a Jewish woman who, in every other way, fulfills so much of what the organized Jewish community wants.