Colorful photo collage of art objects from the exhibition.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Online Feature on the Exhibition Sex: Jewish Positions

In recent years, movies, series and TV shows like Unorthodox and Jewish Matchmaking have reached millions of viewers, drawing attention to the subject of Judaism and sexuality. These media portrayals influence our ideas of Jewish sexuality, though instead of illuminating the topic, they often reinforce simplistic stereotypes.

In the Jewish world, too, the way and extent to which the topic of sex is discussed publicly is changing. The exhibition Sex: Jewish Positions offers space for these new voices on the meaning of sexuality in Judaism – in the exhibition and online.

Colorful photo collage of art objects from the exhibition.

Sex: Jewish Positions: Features & Programme

Exhibition Webpage
Sex: Jewish Positions: Exhibition, 17 May to 6 Oct 2024
Accompanying Events
From Orthodox to Queer. SEX – Jewish Positions in Film: 23 Jun 2024
JMB Bookclub: Let's read! The Song of Songs, 26 Jun 2024
JMB Bookclub: Let's read! Portnoy’s Fear of Flying, 24 Jul 2024
Publications
Sex. Jüdische Positionen: Catalog accompanying the exhibition, German edition, 2024
Sex: Jewish Positions: Catalog accompanying the exhibition, English edition, 2024
Digital Content
Letʼs Talk About Sex: Online feature accompanying the exhibition
What do the artists say? Interview series accompanying the exhibition
Listen to the exhibition’s soundtrack: Playlist on Spotify
The Song of Songs. Between Literal and Allegorical Loves: Essay by Ilana Pardes
“Sex Is A Force”: Interview with Talli Rosenbaum
Androgynous Characters in I.B. Singer’s Literary Shtetl: Essay by Helena Lutz
Jewish Places: Find information about Jewish sites related to the exhibition on our interactive map
Tours & Workshops
Public tour: Tour with fixed dates, in German
Public tour: Tour with fixed dates
Public tour: Tour with fixed dates, in Hebrew
Bookable tours: Tours for groups
Sex: Jewish Positions at the JMB library: Public guided tour through the museum’s library
Hey you! Flirting without Sexism: Workshop for students with drama-pedagogical elements on the exhibition
Duty and Pleasure: Workshop for adults
See also
Jüdisches Film Festival Berlin | Brandenburg: Film series in cooperation with the Jewish Museum Berlin

What do the artists say?

Artistic perspectives on the meaning of sexuality in Judaism play an important role in the exhibition. Our interview series lets the artists speak for themselves. New interviews will be added throughout the duration of the exhibition. 

Gender in Judaism

The Israeli artist Gil Yefman, whose work Tumtum is featured in the exhibition, explores the question of what gender identities exist in Judaism: 

“The Talmud and Mishnah distinguish six and seven gender categories respectively: male, saris (two types), tumtum, androgynos, aylonit and female.”

Tumtum describes a person whose sex organs are hidden or covered, Yefman explains, while an androgynos individual has sex organs that are neither clearly male nor female. 

“Of these, tumtum – someone with hidden or covered sexual organs – and androgynus – someone whose genitalia cannot be distinguished as male or female – stand independently as different sexes, furthest from either male or female. To this day, there is still a great deal of debate among rabbinic authorities about what to do with a person who is a tumtum or an androgynus.” 

A large ball of crocheted body parts hangs from the ceiling of the glass courtyard. The ball consists of pink, purple, brown and white crocheted eyes, penises, breasts and bones.

Tumtum by Gil Yefman in the glass courtyard of the Jewish Museum Berlin; Courtesy of the artist, photo: Jens Ziehe, produc­tion made possible by THE FRIENDS OF THE JMB, supported by Asylum Arts at The Neighbor­hood and Artis – www.artis.art

What significance does LGBTIQ* have in Judaism?

The acronym serves as a convenient way to bring together different forms of desire, gender concepts and lifestyles. Debora Antmann, a Jewish Museum Berlin staff member, uses her article to turn the tables and examine every letter through a Jewish lens. 

Read Debora Antmann’s article 

 

What is LGBTIQ+?

LGBTQI+ (acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, and inter) encompasses a wide spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, and diverse ways of life; the plus sign acknowledge the incompleteness of the list

Read more

Gender and Sexuality

According to Jewish law, gender plays a critical role in sexuality. Male and female sexuality are seen as innate and clearly distinct from each other. Sexual desire generally needs to be controlled, but it is also associated with very specific duties and expectations for men and women. 

Rabbinic literature, which is always directed at a male readership, only deals with female sexuality in the context of a husband’s duties to his wife. Women, on the other hand, are reduced to the biological fact of their menstrual cycle. In terms of gender relations, women’s primary responsibility is not to lead men into temptation.
 

The Female Body

Today, artists like Gabriella Boros, Nechama Golan and Hagit Molgan continue the discourse on sexuality and women’s desire by using their female gaze to examine the many rituals and texts created by men that have defined and controlled women’s bodies over centuries. 

Halachic texts, such as the Talmud, serve as the basis for their artistic explorations. These texts systematically avoid directly writing about the female sex organ, the vulva. The individual terms used reflect male ambivalence toward this important and yet uncanny place: the vulva is referred to as a location, breath or grave. This picture gallery shows works by Jewish artists in which they deal with how the female body is described in the Talmud. 
 

Eroticism and the Divine

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, / for your loving is better than wine . . . / poured oil is your name”

These are the opening words to Shir ha-shirim, the Song of Songs. They set the tone for what follows. The song is an exception within the Hebrew Bible, as the collection of erotic love poetry contains no religious or legal instructions. 

In fact, God is never even mentioned. With its overtly erotic language, the Song of Songs celebrates physical pleasure – yet it belongs to the biblical canon and is read aloud in synagogue every year during Passover.

What is
Shir ha-shirim?

Hebrew for Song of Songs; also referred to as Song of Solomon; a collection of erotic love poetry in the Hebrew bible that is read aloud every year in the synagogue during Passover

What does the Song of Songs sound like?

Shir ha-shirim has been set to music countless times – and there is plenty of music by Jewish composers in Yiddish, Hebrew and other languages that is more or less explicitly about sex. You can find a selection in our exhibition playlist.

Listen to our Spotify playlist

 

Let’s Keep Talking About It

What books, movies and series revolve around sex and Judaism? We’ve put together an initial list. Think something is missing? Write to us. 

Books

English

  • Aciman, André, Call Me By Your Name, New York 2007. 
  • Alderman, Naomi, Disobedience, New York 2006. 
  • Grjasnowa, Olga, All Russians love birch trees, New York 2014. 
  • Jong, Erica, Fear of Flying, New York 1973. 
  • Lamb, Sacha, When the Angels Left the Old Country, Hoboken 2022. 
  • Levithan, David, Wide Awake, Toronto 2006. 
  • Masad, Ilana, All My Mother’s Lovers, New York 2020. 
  • Menasse, Robert, Don Juan de la Mancha or an Education in Pleasure, London 2009. 
  • Rosen, Roee, Sweet Sweat, Antwerpen 2009. 
  • Roth, Philip, Portnoy’s Complaint, New York 1969. 
  • Salzmann, Sasha Marianna, Beside myself, New York 2019. 
  • Shalev, Zeruya, Love Life, London 2001. 
  • Shalev, Zeruya, Husband and Wife, New York 2002. 
  • Singer, I.B., Enemies, A Love Story, London 2012. 
  • Wallach, Yona., Wild Light: Selected Poems, New York 1997. 

German

  • Pressler, Mirjam, Für Isabel war es Liebe, Weinheim, Basel 2002. 
  • Shalev, Zeruya, Nicht ich, trans. by Anne Birkenhauer, Berlin 2024. 
  • Vowinckel, Dana, Gewässer im Ziplock, Berlin 2023. 

Hebrew

  • Ben-Menachem, Rina, הדווקאים, Tel Aviv 2018 (1960).
Films and TV shows

Comedy 

  • Shiva Baby, directed by: Emma Seligmann, USA/CA 2020, 77 min 
  • Kiss Me Kosher (Kiss Me Before It Blows Up), directed by: Shirel Peleg, DE/IL 2020, 106 min 
  • Amy’s O, directed by: Julie Davis, USA 2001, 87 min 
  • Kissing Jessica Stein, directed by: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, USA 2001, 97 min 
  • American Pie, directed by: Paul Weitz, USA 1999, 95 min 
  • Torch Song Trilogy, directed by: Paul Bogart, USA 1988, 119 min 
  • Eskimo Limon (Lemon Popsicle), directed by: Boaz Davidson, Israel 1978, 92 min 
  • Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), directed by: Woody Allen, USA 1972, 85 minFunny Girl, directed by: William Wyler, USA 1968, 149 min 
  • The Graduate, directed by: Mike Nichols, USA 1967, 106 min 

Drama 

  • Make Me A King directed by: Sofia Olins, UK 2021, 16 min 
  • Tahara directed by: Olivia Peace, USA 2020, 77 min 
  • Fig Tree directed by: Alamork Davidian, ET/FR/DE/IL 2018, 93 min 
  • Disobedience, directed by: Sebastián Lelio, USA/GB 2017, 114 min 
  • Einayim Pekukhoth (Eyes Wide Open), directed by: Haim Tabakman, IL/DE/FR 2009, 91 min 
  • The Bubble directed by: Eytan Fox, IL 2006, 117 min 
  • Yossi & Jagger directed by: Eytan Fox, IL 2002, 65 min 
  • Aimée & Jaguar directed by: Max Färberböck, DE 1999, 121 min 
  • Kadosh directed by: Amos Gitai, IL/FR 1999, 116 min 
  • Eyes Wide Shut directed by: Stanley Kubrick, GB/USA 1999, 159 min 
  • The Governess directed by: Sandra Goldbacher, GB 1998, 114 min 
  • Antonia directed by: Marleen Gorris, NL/BE/GB 1995, 96 min 
  • Yentl directed by: Barbra Streisand, USA 1983, 134 min 
  • Fiddler on the Roof directed by: Norman Jewison, USA 1971, 181 min 
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday directed by: John Schlesinger, GB 1971, 110 min 
  • The Boys in the Band directed by: William Friedkin, USA 1970, 120 min 
  • Salomé directed by: J. Gordon Edwards, USA 1918, 80 min 
  • Cleopatra directed by: J. Gordon Edwards, USA 1917, 125 min 

Documentary 

  • Mini DV directed by: Shauly Melamed, USA 2022, 77 min 
  • Jude directed by: Helen Benigson, UK 2020, 25 min 
  • Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? directed by: Tomer Heymann/Barak Heymann, IL/GB 2016, 84 min
  • Trembling Before G-d directed by: Sandi Simcha DuBowski, USA 2001, 84 min 
  • TREYF directed by: Alisa Lebow/Cynthia Madansky, USA 1998, 55 min 

TV shows

  • Kulüp directed by: Seren Yüce/Zeynep Günay Tan, TR 2021-now, 2 seasons 
  • The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem directed by: Oded Davidoff, IL 2021-2023, 2 seasons
  • Transparent directed by: Joey Soloway, USA 2014-2019, 5 seasons

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