One who studied 100 times is not comparable to one who studied 101 times. (B. Chagiga 9b)
One of the reasons Jews spend so much time reviewing the Torah is that you never know when you miss something or the new insights you can clean from viewing the same text with fresh eyes. Speaking for myself, these “aha!” moments can be truly joyous at discovering a new approach, or frustrating in the, “how could I not have seen this before” sense. Today I’d like to discuss a recent example of the latter, one which will have profound implications for how Judaism, and indeed all biblical religions, ought to relate to homosexuals.
Note: I pre-apologize if anyone has already noted what I am about to write. My intent is not to present an innovative reading, but to demonstrate how easy it is to overlook the obvious.
A prevailing view among religionists is that according to Biblical Law, homosexuality (at least homosexual sex between men) is particularly abhorrent for it is called “an abomination” (Lev. 18:22), a designation not given to any of the other sexual prohibitions in the chapter. Indeed, here is the Artscroll commentary on that very verse:
An abomination – None of the relationships given above are described with this term of disgust, because they involve normal activity, though with prohibited mates. Homosexuality, however, is unnatural and therefore abominable.1
While I disagreed with the conclusion of the above statement, I agreed with the premise that “none of the relationships given above are described with this term of disgust” in that only Lev. 18:22 describes its specific act as an abomination, and indeed if we view the list of forbidden relationships in the chapter we note that the term “abomination” is noticeably absent.
- Lev 18:6 – No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
- Lev 18:7 – Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
- Lev 18:8 – Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.
- Lev 18:9 – Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
- Lev 18:10 – Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you.
- Lev 18:11 – Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
- Lev 18:12 – Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative.
- Lev 18:13 – Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative.
- Lev 18:14 – Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
- Lev 18:15 – Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her.
- Lev 18:16 – Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.
- Lev 18:17 – Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
- Lev 18:18 – Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
- Lev 18:19 – Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
- Lev 18:20 – Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her.
However, as I was preparing my current Sunday class, I reviewed the end of the chapter:
ויקרא פרק יח
כד) אַל תִּטַּמְּאוּ בְּכָל אֵלֶּה כִּי בְכָל אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם
כה) וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ
כו) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם
כז) כִּי אֶת כָּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵל עָשׂוּ אַנְשֵׁי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ
כח) וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם
כט) כִּי כָּל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְנִכְרְתוּ הַנְּפָשׁוֹת הָעֹשֹׂת מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּם
ל) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת מִשְׁמַרְתִּי לְבִלְתִּי עֲשׂוֹת מֵחֻקּוֹת הַתּוֹעֵבֹת אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשׂוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled, which I cast out from before you.
25 And the land was defiled, therefore I did visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land vomited out her inhabitants.
26 Ye therefore shall keep My statutes and Mine ordinances, and shall not do any of these abominations; neither the home-born, nor the stranger that sojourneth among you–
27 for all these abominations have the men of the land done, that were before you, and the land is defiled–
28 that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
29 For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them shall be cut off from among their people.
30 Therefore shall ye keep My charge, that ye do not any of these abominable customs, which were done before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
According to the end of the chapter, all of the aforementioned sexual transgressions are considered abominations before God. This does not only include “unnatural” acts – to use Artscroll’s terminology – such as homosexuality or bestiality, but more “normal” transgressions such as incest and adultery. That the Artscroll commentary accurately translates these concluding verses, only makes its earlier statement more appalling.
At any rate, from the end of the chapter it is clear that homosexual sex between men, while certainly prohibited by the Bible, is no worse than any of the other “abominable” sexual transgressions including sleeping with another man’s wife. The fact that religionists are more tolerant of one abomination over another speaks more to their personal biases than it does to the word of God.
1. Scherman, Nosson. The Stone Edition Chumash. Mesorah Publications. Brooklyn, New York. 2000. p. 653.