When 20-year-old Lindsey Vuolo decided to pose for Playboy, she worried that telling her parents wasn't going to be easy. Especially her father. "It was really hard," she says. "I'm his little girl."But as uncomfortable as she may have been about that conversation, she knew she was going to have to answer to perhaps an even higher authority: her rabbi.
Vuolo, Miss November, is Playboy's first self-proclaimed, synagogue-going Jew. In fact, on the "Playmate Data Sheet," where readers learn that she is five-foot-eight, has 34-DD breasts, and gets turned on by a sense of humor, is her bat mitzvah picture.
So she knew that sooner or later she'd have to talk to her rabbi in the Reform synagogue in the small Pennsylvania town where she grew up and still goes to services. The chat went better than expected. "He said there's nothing wrong with what I did. He was more intrigued than anything. He was like, 'How did the nice little Jewish girl I've known since she was a baby grow up to be like this?' "
But this week Vuolo will face off against a less forgiving rabbi at Makor, the Jewish cultural center on the Upper West Side, in a program officially billed as "The Effects of Pornography on Human Dignity and Relationships."
Vuolo's opponent will be the infamous Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of the controversial best-seller Kosher Sex and sometime spiritual adviser to flaky mega-celebrities like Michael Jackson. "She told me her rabbi said posing for Playboy was a good thing," says an incredulous Boteach. "That's crazy. There is an essential dignity each of us has as a person, and a central part of Judaism is teaching people to maintain it. I think posing for Playboy robs Lindsey of that dignity."
Make no mistake, Boteach is not squeamish about sex. My conversation with him and Vuolo included references to masturbation, penetration, and pictures of women peeing. "I'm a great believer in passionate sex," he says. But he argues that passion without intimacy is, ultimately, an empty physical act. His basic thesis is: Once you've had kosher sex, you'll never go back.
"Because Lindsey is, counter to the Playboy stereotype, smart, introspective, and surprisingly committed to her Jewishness," says Boteach, "she understands there are serious implications to pornographic images. Many men are incapable of being in a long-term relationship because they've never begun to look at women as an end rather than a means."
"Rabbi," Vuolo interjects, "Playboy is not pornography. You've been in Playboy." Indeed, the magazine did excerpt Kosher Sex -- a fact that raises an interesting forensic dilemma for Boteach. He argues that Vuolo's decision to pose nude is one that she will come to see does not represent her true inner desires. It was, he says, an ill-conceived shortcut to financial gain and perhaps some level of notoriety.
How does he know this? "I speak from my own experience," he says. (No, he has not bared all.) Boteach believes that his efforts to promote his book and his various celebrity associations have damaged his reputation. "When people hear my name," he says, "they immediately respond to this stereotype of me based on having seen me with Michael Jackson or on television or whatever. I've discovered first hand how much we all really want credibility. I know Lindsey does."
Vuolo, who is (yes) a communications major, counters that she's proud of what she's done. "I believe that the only regrets in life are the risks you didn't take. And once people talk to me, they realize I not only had the guts to take my clothes off but I'm intellectually prepared to defend myself."