Can a Non-Jewish Woman Write Frum Erotica?

When I saw a tweet referencing an “Orthodox Jewish BDSM erotic romance” while waiting on line at a bakery just now, I immediately knew that this would be a Sisterhood post. I had so many questions! And still have plenty; this was about an hour ago, so I can’t say I’ve (yet) read the book in question.

What I can say: The book is Craving Flight, by Tamsen Parker, found via (and reviewed by) Rachel Kramer Bussel. It’s a novella about a 37-year-old newly-Orthodox Jewish woman, Tzipporah Berger, who, going by the descriptions, enjoys a steamy romantic life with her butcher husband with an “intimidating size,” which, in the summary’s context, seems to suggest he is a taller, larger man.

To save you the Googling: No, Parker is not Orthodox. Nor is she Jewish, period.

There are, I suppose, reasons to find this premise problematic. Is it Orientalist to eroticize a closed-off minority religious community you’re not a part of? Almost definitely. (Imagine the equivalent, but about religious Muslims.) It doesn’t take delving into contemporary discussions of literature and cultural appropriation to see why the bare-bones facts here might merit a huh.

And yet, I — a secular Jew — am not finding myself troubled by this book’s existence, or its author’s identity. As Parker notes in the above-linked article, she received assistance from “a friend who is Orthodox Jewish, and a romance author in her own right,” KK Hendin. A sensitivity reader, then, or at least someone to help with background details. It sounds like she did plenty of research. And — and this is what we need to be thinking about, where literary diversity is concerned — it doesn’t sound as if Parker’s frum BDSM novella is diverting attention from other, Jewish-authored frum BDSM novellas. And if Shosha Pearl approves, it’s fine by me.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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