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Home > Singles > What's Jewish take on sex? Ask Dr. Ruth

What's Jewish take on sex? Ask Dr. Ruth

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 24 — Not many snipers in the Haganah go on to become one of the most famous sex therapists in the world.

``I never killed anybody but I was very well-trained," said Ruth Westheimer, speaking from her car phone. ``I was very badly wounded, on both legs."

The 4-foot-7-inch (``Put that in there," she urged) grandmother of three will be speaking at a dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose on Sunday. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose.

Westheimer was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1928, leaving as part of the Kindertransport in 1939. None of her family members survived. She was brought up in Switzerland, and then went to pre-state Israel in 1945, fighting in the War of Independence.

In 1951, she was sent to Paris to teach kindergarten at a Jewish school, where it was expected the families of her students would move to Israel. While there, she attended the Sorbonne.

Then she said, in a three-minute synopsis of her life, ``I came in 1956 to the U.S. on a visit, and they made me Dr. Ruth."

``Dr. Ruth," as she is known, still spends five to six hours a week in her private practice as a sex therapist. The rest of the time, she does her many public appearances, speaking engagements and commercials for products such as Clairol's Herbal Essence body wash.

Involved in many Jewish organizations, for the last nine years she has been the president of her local Jewish Y in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan, where she's lived in the same apartment overlooking the Hudson River for the last 35 years.

``I've never missed a board meeting," she said.

Talking about how the Y feeds 350 at lunch every day, she said, ``The Y is very important to me, both my children went to that Y. I'm very pleased that Washington Heights is having such a renewal."

While Dr. Ruth speaks at many charity events, she said she also frequently allows herself to be auctioned off, as a lunch companion. ``For a lot of money, but I won't say how much," she said, giggling.

``I do not ever have lunch with a couple, because I don't want to do therapy over lunch," she added. ``It has to be three or four people. But it's always very lively discussion. I'm a very good lunch companion, I never heard they were bored."

Now, it wouldn't be a conversation with Dr. Ruth if there was no mention of sex, right?

The author of 19 books points to the 1995 ``Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition," co-authored by Jonathan Mark, as one in which she learned a great deal about Judaism. Complimenting her co-author, she said, ``I could not have done it without someone who knows the sources."

So what did the Jewish sources have to say? Dr. Ruth said she wanted to save some of that information for her lecture, but she did say that ``the sages were very smart" in that they knew that great sex between a couple was an essential component to shalom bayit, or peace in the home.

Furthermore, she said, underneath the chuppah, men have to pledge to provide sexual satisfaction to their wives, in addition to food and shelter.

``The man has to provide sexual satisfaction even after menopause," she added. ``The sages were smart to know that a man has to speak softly to his wife so she will want to engage in sexual activity, and the importance of engaging in sex on Friday night because then it's a mitzvah."

When Dr. Ruth speaks to groups, as she will in San Jose, she takes questions from the audience, written on cards, in case attendees are too embarrassed.

The questions she fields usually fall into two categories, she said. ``They are either specific sexual questions about problems, like one party wants more sex than the other, or relationship problems."

Dr. Ruth has been keeping busy, with her textbook on human sexuality that came out in September, co-authored with psychologist Sandy Lopater.

``It's like a medical textbook with my flavor in terms of humor," she said. And then she goes from talking about sex to quoting the Talmud: ``A lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained."

At 72, Dr. Ruth shows no signs of slowing down. She recently published ``Dr. Ruth's Guide to College Life," co-authored with Pierre Lehu, and two books about grandparenting. ``My grandchildren are the best in the world," she added.

She remains active and in excellent health; she has a ski trip coming up.

Any plans to retire?
``God forbid.''

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