At a KinkyJews Seder, Pharoah Isn’t the Only One With the Whip

By Gabrielle Birkner

Published April 01, 2009, issue of April 10, 2009.

Forget the bitter herbs.

When about 100 Jews gather in Brooklyn on April 5 for a pre-Passover Seder, they will pay homage to their enslaved ancestors not with the traditional sinus-clearing horseradish, but by spanking each other with wands of chocolate licorice.

They will recount the story of Passover with a liberal dose of double entendre; they will break from the Haggadah reading to play a grown-up version of show-and-tell, in which guests showcase their “most-treasured kinky item” — be it a restraint, a whip or a pair of spiked heels; and they will sing a sex-positive version of “Dayenu,” with lyrics like, “If she only dressed in leather/Bright and shiny patent leather/If she only dressed in leather/Dayenu.”

The unconventional Passover meal, which will be held this year at the Brooklyn swingers spot Club Casbar, has become an annual ritual for the members of KinkyJews. The New York-based social organization caters to Jews drawn to outside-the-mainstream sexual behaviors, such as power-exchange relationships, sadomasochism and partner swapping. For the group’s members, the Passover story of Jews in bondage, and their hard-won freedom and escape, has special meaning.

“We don’t draw a direct comparison between our ‘bondage’ and the bondage of true slavery,” said Naomi, the yeshiva graduate who founded KinkyJews, and who asked that her last name not be published. “However, we do have an additional perspective when we relate to the concepts of bondage, slavery and redemption of the Passover story, since these are common themes in our relationships and sexual expression.”

Naomi, a 30-year-old nonprofit programming professional who has held jobs at a Manhattan synagogue and at a group that serves Jewish students, started KinkyJews on the social-networking site Friendster in 2005 “to create a safe and inclusive community for people who identify strongly with both Judaism and kink.” Ever since, the New York-based group has grown steadily, with the number of people who have registered as members on the group’s Web site surpassing 2,000, according to Naomi.

Another member of the organization, Dave, a 40-year-old who works in finance and also asked to be identified only by his first name, said that at its core, KinkyJews is about engaging those who might not otherwise participate in Jewish communal life. He said that when, as a young adult, he was first drawn to power-exchange relationships — sexual experiences that involve domination and submission — he worried that there was something wrong with him. “Initially, I had no idea that there was anyone else like me, let alone Jewish women who were actually into these kinds of things,” he said.

KinkyJews hosts about two events a month, ranging from holiday parties to happy hours, from film screenings to Lower East Side walking tours — complete with talks about the role of Jews in smut peddling and a stop at the sex toy store Babeland.

The sold-out Passover Seder, now in its fourth year, is the group’s largest annual event. Tickets are $60 for couples, $50 for single men, and $15 for single women. “It’s always easier to attract single men than single women,” Naomi explained. “Men are much more likely to come to events with sexual themes.”

Not every Jewish man who is interested in sexual themes, however, is equally excited by the Kinky Seder.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of “The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life” (HarperOne), said the notion of a kink-themed Seder is disrespectful to both the sanctity of marital relations and to the Passover holiday.

“Can you imagine the outrage if a group of people decided to commemorate African-American slavery by having an orgy?” Boteach asked. “This wasn’t a joke. Millions of God’s children were sold on the block, and here you are trivializing evil with this vulgar celebration.”

More broadly, he said that while it’s perfectly acceptable for a couple to indulge in a sexual fetish within the confines of a love-filled marriage, he disapproves of “kinky” group events such as the Kinky Seder

“To do this in the name of Judaism is especially unfortunate, when you take into account the very sexual nature of Passover,” he said, noting that, according to Passover midrash, Israelite women enslaved in Egypt would seduce their husbands, in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree against their procreation. “That was to ensure the future of the Jewish people. It wasn’t trivial.”

Unsurprisingly, KinkyJews has its share of critics who find the organization to be a bit of a shande. “I get hate mail,” Naomi said. “One person compared us to Jews for Jesus…. But we have no intention of besmirching Jewish tradition; we’re just celebrating ourselves in a fun way.”

Kinky Seder guests, who are encouraged to dress in “fetish attire” — no jeans, no sneakers, please — are likely to be disappointed if they’re expecting an orgy to break out at the Seder. While KinkyJews-sponsored events occasionally involve on-site sexual experimentation, the vast majority do not, members say.

“I grew up going to Seders that were so serious,” said a 24-year-old freelance sex writer whose pen name is Ginger Millay, and who will be attending the Kinky Seder for the first time this year. “It will be nice to go to one that’s based in the tradition, but is also fun and silly and hedonistic. If it devolves into something else, great; and if not, that’s okay, too.”

Contact Gabrielle Birkner at birkner@forward.com.



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