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Save Me from the Nothing I’ve Become

February 11, 2010


By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

St. Martin’s Press, 2008

Men suck. Men suck because their wives don’t do anything about it. Men suck, and its all women’s fault for being married to them. Men suck because women are too independant. Men suck becase their wives are too bound up in them. One of these is the message of a tome by Michael Jackson’s personal rabbi, the author of Kosher Sex, Shalom in the Home, Hating Women (surprisingly not a how-to guide), Kosher Adultery, and The “Shalom in the Home™” Cookbook and Feng Shui Desk Calendar: It’s The Broken American Male by Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson’s personal rabbi (a name he drops every 50 pages or so).

So what would Shmuley do? Well, get men married, for a start. While Boteach takes pains to note that broken American males’ wives are not at fault in their husbands’ brokenness—”one sinking ship cannot save another,” he says—he’s very clear that it is a wife’s responsibility to fix her husband. A wife has quite a few responsibilities to her husband, in fact, and a rather hard life overall, which is why it’s puzzling that he seems to find a woman leaving her husband (as is the case, he notes, in two-thirds of divorces) to be a fundamentally selfish act (particularly given his stated sympathy to feminism in general). His idea of “leaving” may be different from yours and mine; he seems to suggest that Hillary Clinton has done it, for instance, on what authority I know not; I tried to check but for some reason the State Department wouldn’t return my calls.

Now, as with many books of this sort, it tells us more about the author than about society in general. Boteach’s bête noir seems to be money. He is openly, obsessively jealous of rich people, and seemingly unable to imagine himself, or anyone, having enough money, and according to him everyone else feels the same way. Any man who’s self-pitying, emotionally unavailable, depressive, or otherwise troubled is beating himself up for not being Donald Trump (including Donald Trump himself, cited twice as “the most broken man in America”). This is what causes divorce, this is what causes drug use, this is what caused the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. I’m not sure the last one is quite the same thing; I’d say the Collier Township gym shooting is a better example. One wonders what Boteach would say about that. In fact, I did wonder. Answer: nothing anyone ever mentioned to Google. Then again, that shooter’s problem wasn’t money, and Boteach’s problem isn’t social maladjustment.

His other problem is with porn, although of course he knows nothing about it (he even uses the phrase “or so I’m told” nearly verbatim). I can readily believe he has no experience of porn, actually, because he describes it the way PSAs in the 1980s described drugs. Just as those spots were made by people who had never used drugs, knew only the bad about drugs, and didn’t understand why people did drugs—and were consequently unconvincing—Boteach’s approach to porn is that it’s a horrible, disgusting, anti-erotic thing that no one could possibly enjoy (ignoring the fact that millions of people do enjoy it). I know this because he says it over and over and over. I suspect his knowledge of porn comes almost exclusively from people for whom is is a problem, and so naturally he can only conclude that it too is a problem for everybody.

Now, I don’t think I’m nearly as jealous of my peers’ financial success (or their success in general, except Jessica Valenti’s, a high-school classmate) as Rabbi Boteach thinks I am. I’m not trying to display my virtuousness here—you’re not as envious of your peers’ success as he thinks you are either; I suspect my experience is closer to normal than his is. I’d say “good on him for recognizing that Avarice is his particular vice” (mine’s probably Wrath, or perhaps Sloth) except I don’t know that he does. He clearly thinks he has normal levels of avarice. It’s worse than the psychiatrist who declares “everyone’s neurotic” based on a sample consisting of their patients; Boteach declares “everyone’s overly materialistic” based on a sample consisting of Shmuley Boteach.

Don’t get me wrong, he does more than carp. In fact, roughly the last half of the book is his solution. I think. I’m sitting here trying to remember what the solution was and . . . I got nothing. And the book’s actually in my lap (nonetheless, I’m certain it’s halfway in, both because it makes logical sense and because that’s where the chapter “A New Definition of Success” begins). Perhaps it’s me; after all, as noted, his new definition of success looks a lot like a lot of people’s current definition of success. Still, after diagnosing most American men as emotionally withdrawn, American women as unloved career women, and American children as brats who need love (Boteach endorses the so-called “helicopter” approach to parenting), he offers very little in the way of a concrete solution.

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