Guardian of the 11th commandment

'Thou shalt do anything for publicity.' Thus speaks 'super Jew' Rabbi Shmuel Boteach. James Rampton met him

Rabbi Shmuel Boteach - known universally as Shmuley - sits in his car outside the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He looks down at the camera and explains why he is there promoting his book, The Jewish Guide to Adultery: How to Turn Your Marriage into an Illicit Affair, during a Jewish festival. "God gave 10 commandments at Sinai," he says, with a smile playing across his lips, "and the 11th commandment, which they expunged but which has come down orally, is 'Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition'."

Boteach has spared no effort in fulfilling this commandment. He even retains the services of one of London's top publicists for the purpose. At the age of just 29, he has written seven books (the other six are more academic than Adultery), and founded the Oxford University L'Chaim Society, which in eight years has become the second largest society in the history of the University (after the Union). Boasting more than 2,000 members - half of whom are non-Jewish - it has hosted lectures by people as diverse as Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Yitzhak Shamir, Boy George and Diego Maradona, whose speech was reported by 78 news agencies worldwide. The latest log to be hurled onto the bonfire of publicity for Boteach is Moses of Oxford, an in-depth film portrait of the man, which opens a new series of Everyman on Sunday.

Whether posing in scuba-diving gear and calling himself "Super Jew - come to save the world from immorality, indecency and sexual perversion", or telling mother-in-law jokes in a T-shirt proclaiming "Adultery - do it with your spouse" at the launch of his book, Boteach is a serial attention- seeker.

But he is gloriously unabashed about it. "I don't want to be famous for how much money I made," he protests, "but as someone who inspired others to lead a goodly life." In the film he contends that "rabbis should be as ambitious as everyone else... They should seek to be in demand as impresarios, able to organise fascinating events that portray Judaism in an aggressive and competitive light."

Over a cup of coffee in his north London sitting-room, surrounded by leather-bound books, religious wall-hangings, computers, faxes and constantly ringing telephones, he treats me to a two-hour command performance on his life and works. A magnetic man in a skull cap and a white shirt and tie, he talks 99 to the dozen - squared. It is easy to see how this man persuades business to part with the pounds 300,000 a year needed to run L'Chaim. Brought up in Miami and educated in Jerusalem and New York, he is charismatic to the very tip of his long flowing beard. "He engages people right away. He refracts Judaism without being stereotypical," opines Peter Getzels, co-producer of the Everyman film. "He's an Orthodox Jew with an unorthodox persona."

Boteach's publicity-grabbing has not endeared him to everyone. Sections of the community attacked him, for instance, when he invited Maradona to speak at the Society. "They said, 'Typical, it's just L'Chaim trying to get headlines'. But I reject that. Just because a man kicks a football, why can't he teach intellectuals something? We live in a society that just wants to tear down heroes."

Now getting into full-on lecture-mode, he continues, "I subscribe to the teachings of Maimonides, one of the two or three greatest Jewish thinkers. He said, 'Embrace truth regardless of its source'. That's why we're not afraid of debate. I'd like L'Chaim to be a light unto the nations."

He was also savaged for the Jewish Guide to Adultery. "I didn't write that for publicity," Boteach sighs. "I could have got publicity by streaking naked in the street. The aim of the book was to show that married people have a far better physical life than single people."

Obviously well-versed in defending himself, the rabbi is braced for more incoming fire over the film. "There is every possibility that people will be up in arms," he admits. "But my response to criticism is that unless anyone can point to anything we're doing outside Jewish law, then all they're saying is that we're transgressing community protocol."

Getzels concurs. "It's not just controversy for controversy's sake. The motive is to see Judaism compete in the marketplace of ideas. He feels it's not necessary to apologise for being Jewish. In that respect, it'll upset people who just want a quiet life."

As he approaches the grand old age of 30, Boteach shows no sign of wanting a quiet life himself. There is talk of a film about him and a friend being made by Barbra Streisand. The New Oxford University L'Chaim Society Jewish Student Centre will open with an address by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel next month.

In May, Boteach is also holding a meeting of the Holy Smoke Society, an elite Kosher Cigar Club. He proudly shows me his collection of Cuban cigars, lovingly kept in a humidor on his sideboard. This is one cleric who doesn't major on self-denial. "Religious people used to say, 'we'll give up everything because we live for higher things'. But religion has to reflect social trends or it risks becoming an irrelevance," he maintains. "People do want spirituality, but they don't want to sacrifice anything in its name. So we try to make religion spunky. We want Friday nights at L'Chaim to be as much fun as going to the most popular nightclub in Oxford."

As he prepares to dash off to Grand Rapids, Michigan for one night to give a lecture, we shake hands and he laughs. "If on Monday, I've gone missing and 10,000 protesters are outside my house, you'll know the film didn't go down well."

'Everyman: Moses of Oxford', Sun 10.20pm BBC1

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering