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June 4: Dr. Ruth

Lawrence Bush
June 4, 2010

Dr._Ruth_Westheimer_by_David_ShankboneDr. Ruth Westheimer (Karola Ruth Siegel) was born on this date in 1928 to an Orthodox couple in Wiesenfeld, Germany. She lost her parents but survived the Holocaust in an orphanage in Switzerland. In 1945, she emigrated to Palestine, where she joined the Haganah, trained as a sharpshooter, and “first had sexual intercourse,” she says, “on a starry night, in a haystack, without contraception.” That kind of frank talk eventually led her to become America’s favorite sexual advisor in the 1980s and ‘90s, building upon the pioneering work of another sex-positive Jewish therapist and media star, Dr. Joyce Brothers. Westheimer, who was seriously wounded during Israel’s War of Independence, was educated at the Sorbonne, the New School, Columbia Teachers College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She speaks English, French, German and Hebrew and has an accent, says the New York Times, that “only a psychologist could have.”
“I certainly believe that part of my being able to talk so openly about issues of sexuality is because I’m Jewish, and because in the Talmud it says that a lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained . . .” —Ruth Westheimer

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.