Sunday, April 29, 2012

The lie about “lying with a man” / Acharei Mot - Kedoshim


I am sick and tired of hearing people pontificate on how same sex marriage will degrade the institution of marriage. How could two men or two women who want to enter into a long-term, committed relationship degrade marriage? Sounds like a confirmation of marriage to me. I am also disgusted by the way certain political elements in this country work assiduously to make opposition to same-sex marriage the dominant domestic issue in political discourse, thereby distracting us from discussing what is truly important: poverty and economic justice, housing and homelessness, education, reproductive rights, biomedical ethics, crime and violence, campaign finance reform, health care, and any of a number of issues that affect the quality of life for millions of Americans.

I might as well jump in with two feet.  This week’s Torah portion includes the infamous verse Leviticus 18:22:  Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman (mishk’vei ishah); it is an abhorrence (to’evah). This verse, perhaps more than any other, has been misinterpreted and used to justify abuse of, and discrimination against, homosexuals. The presumed biblical prohibition against homosexuality has taken on a life of its own; its history is sordid and ignominious. You hardly need me to recount case after case of people beaten and killed because of their sexual orientation. The Torah is not to blame for all this abuse; human beings who misinterpret it and condone violence most certainly are.

What exactly does Torah prohibit? The honest answer is that no one is entirely certain. First a few questions:
  • If homosexuality is an “abomination,” why does Torah say nothing about lesbian erotic relationships?
  • Verse 22 is phrased differently than most of the other verses in chapter 18, which begin: Do not uncover the nakedness of… -- why is that? Verse 22 has an unusual phrase: Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. Why is it included with these other prohibitions?
  • What is a to-evah (often translated “abhorrence” or “abomination”)?
 
Leviticus in the Septuagint, an early Greek translation

Taking these questions in reverse order:

“Abomination” and “abhorrence” are strong words; the English terms evoke strong emotions. But what is a to’evah? Generally, a to’evah is an act that is learned and volitional. Deuteronomy 14:3 says: lo tokhal kol to’evah, generally translated “You shall not eat anything abhorrent.” But it is not the animals we are not permitted to eat that are abhorrent. They are part of God’s creation. It is the act of eating them that is abhorrent. Similarly, Deuteronomy 7:25, 26 speaks of idolatrous images that threaten to ensnare the hearts and minds of the Israelites: to’a’vat Adonai Elohekha hu (“it is abhorrent to the Lord your God”). It is clear that what is abhorrent to God is the activity of worshiping other gods. Torah dismisses the idols and images of the people of Canaan as meaningless objects; it is their worship that offends God. Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us: Six things the Lord hates; seven are an abomination (to’evah) to him: a haughty bearing, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a mind that hatches evil plots, feet quick to run to evil, a false witness testifying lies, and one who incites brothers to quarrel. Each of these is learned and volitional -- either immoral acts in themselves or leading to immoral acts.

What then is the to’evah in Leviticus 18:22? It has only recently (in the span of human history) been widely acknowledged that homosexuals are homosexual from birth. It is not a “choice” to become homosexual any more than it is a choice to become heterosexual. Leviticus 18:22 does not condemn homosexuality as an innate component of one’s biology. If it did, we would expect to find a similar prohibition against lesbian eroticism, but there is none in Hebrew Scripture. Yet Leviticus 18:22 does condemn a particular act. What is that act?

Many interpreters have offered the opinion that Leviticus 18:22 prohibits anal intercourse between men. (See, for example the commentary in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, p. 692, edited by Eskenazi and Weiss, and the responsum authored by Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner for the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee for Jewish Law and Standards.) I am inclined to accept this interpretation and add that as I read it, the prohibition is limited to one sexual act, and one sexual act alone: penetration. But I am not comfortable stopping there, because the Torah describes it most particularly as mishk’vei isha - as one lies with a woman. The entirety of Chapter 18 is addressed to men and all the sexual partners they might take. The problem with taking a male sexual partner is not homosexuality, but rather that a man puts another man in the position of being a woman: the weaker, inferior partner who lacks male prerogatives in a patriarchal society. I note that Leviticus 20:13 condemns both to death. Why would this be? The man who receives, and the man who penetrates, both participate in emasculating the receiver, in confusing the separation between male and female that is so strongly emphasized in Genesis chapter 1 and throughout Torah, which is often occupied with classifying and categorizing plant and animal species, and which time and again expresses concern over the blurring or crossing of these boundaries.

Now, in the 21st century, we should ask: Does a homosexual relationship demean one partner? Clearly the answer is no. Am I dancing out on the edge of a limb with this approach? Consider this: Many congregations still prohibited women from receiving aliyot and reading Torah because of this teaching in the Babylonian Talmud:

Our rabbis taught: All may be numbered among the seven [who are called to the Torah on Shabbat for aliyot] -- even a minor and even a woman. But the Sages said: A woman may not read from the Torah on account of k’vod ha-tzibbur (the dignity of the congregation). (Megillah 23a)

Women should be permitted to bless and read the Torah in public, but k’vod ha-tzibbur, the dignity of the community mitigates against it; in other words, women may not have aliyot or read Torah lest men be embarrassed that a woman can read Torah while they cannot. That is a social situation that no longer pertains. In a world where men are taught by female professors in college, and use female doctors, lawyers, and consultants, we need not worry that their dignity will be impinged upon by a woman blessing or reading Torah. In the same way, the Torah’s apparent concern about a man being put in the “position of a woman” no longer pertains either.

I will not dignify the claim that homosexuality is “unnatural” with a response, but there is one objection that is worth considering, and it is found in the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 51a). Ben Kappara drashes to’evah as to'eh atah vah (“you stray thereby”), an interpretation based entirely on the sounds in the word. Rashi and Tosafot explain that a man who devotes all his energy and attention to a sexual relationship with another man may abandon his wife and family. This would have dire consequences for the family and the community. Here, too, there is no problem because homosexual couples can, if they choose, establish households and raise families, participating in the life of the community and blessing it with their presence.

My personal view is that the government should get out of the business of marriage altogether. Government should do no more than register civil unions. Let religious and other groups define marriage in any way they like, and confer whatever status and ceremony they choose on the couple. Meanwhile, let us welcome families -- whether homosexual or heterosexual -- into our communities and support them all in their endeavor to enjoy the blessing of marriage, raise the next generation, and contribute to society.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman
Samaritan version of Leviticus

17 comments:

  1. how do homosexuals and lesbian procreate... the blessing on Adam and Eve was to reproduce and multiply... the same blessing on Father Abraham multiply... you can not procreate with male and male, female and female

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    1. First of all, in this day and age OVERpopulation is our concern. Besides that, I know a great many homosexual couples who are happily and successfully raising families. I, myself, was a surrogate carrier of twins for a gay couple.

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    2. Actually overpopulation is not a concern any more. There are many opinions that say that declining population may present more of a problem. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/01/world_population_may_actually_start_declining_not_exploding.html

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    3. Considering there ate a great many straight males and females that cannot have babies based on biological factors, straight couples also have "problems" procreating. It is NOT just a homosexual issue.

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  2. We live in a society and by getting a legal Civil Marriage License this provides the children legal rights. A marriage in the name of God alone is fine but documents are necessary in this life. Just my opinion!

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  4. The Torah doesn't say that homosexuality is an abomination. It says that a man lying with a man is an abomination, which it is.

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  5. Actually the animals eaten are the toevah. The eating of them is a sheqets.

    The reason Leviticus 18:22 bans specifically male with male anal intercourse is because it is by penetration from the male that creates one flesh. When two men pervert Jesus' creation of male female one flesh it is toevah to Him. Two woman can't penetrate and become one flesh.

    They are both put to death because it is consensual sex in reference. Demeaning one partner is what humans have added to it by interpreting through weak history guidelines.

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  7. Actually the animals eaten are the toevah. The eating of them is a sheqets.

    The reason Leviticus 18:22 bans specifically male with male anal intercourse is because it is by penetration from the male that creates one flesh. When two men pervert Jesus' creation of male female one flesh it is toevah to Him. Two woman can't penetrate and become one flesh.

    They are both put to death because it is consensual sex in reference. Demeaning one partner is what humans have added to it by interpreting through weak history guidelines. Both are shameful.

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  8. Actually the animals eaten are the toevah. The eating of them is a sheqets.

    The reason Leviticus 18:22 bans specifically male with male anal intercourse is because it is by penetration from the male that creates one flesh. When two men pervert Jesus' creation of male female one flesh it is toevah to Him. Two woman can't penetrate and become one flesh.

    They are both put to death because it is consensual sex in reference. Demeaning one partner is what humans have added to it by interpreting through weak history guidelines. Both are shameful.

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  9. I believe being a Lesbian is not wrong for a few reasons. I think that the Torah specifically dictates all laws of Hashem, and with that being said, women with women is not mentioned as a sin. Why? because the physical is a direct representation of what is to come in the future marriage of the Messiah and his bride. Yeshua is the only husband, however, there are many brides. This is why David and Solomon had many wives, but wives cannot have many husbands. Also, the same way all mankind is considered the bride and we fellowship with each other is a picture of how a woman is allowed to be with a woman. However, there is only one husband, therefore, man is not to lie with man. Many often wonder too why the wicked burn in the end. Well, according to Torah, if the daughter of a priest becomes a prostitute (mixes herself with the doctrines of men and forsakes her father), then she must be burned. HaShem is the original high priest and we are all his daughters and his only son is Yeshua. The wicked will burn and the righteous will live. That is my belief. Shalom.

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    1. Question: "What does the Bible say about being a lesbian? Does the Bible mention lesbianism?"

      Answer: Some are under the assumption that, while the Bible condemns gay sex between men, it nowhere condemns being a lesbian/lesbianism. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 mention men having sex with other men, but say nothing of women having sex with other women. In the Sodom and Gomorrah account in Genesis 19, the men of the cities wanted to gang rape other men. First Corinthians 6:9 mentions effeminate men, very likely referring to homosexuals, but does not mention lesbians. So, does the Bible in fact condemn male homosexuality, but not lesbianism?

      Romans 1:26-27 puts this invalid assumption to rest: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Clearly, this passage puts lesbianism on equal ground with male homosexuality. Lesbianism is described as women exchanging natural relations (with men) for unnatural relations (with women). According to the Bible, being a lesbian is just as sinful as being a homosexual male.

      There’s an implication in Romans 1:26 that lesbianism is even worse than male homosexuality. Notice the phrase “even their women.” The text seems to suggest that it is more common for men to engage in sexual depravity, and when women begin to do it, that is a sign things are getting really bad. Men usually have much stronger sex drives than women, and so are more prone to sexual deviancy. When women commit unnatural sexual acts, then the degree of immorality has truly become shameful. Lesbianism is evidence of people being given over to “the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:24).

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  10. You are wrong. Question: "What does the Bible say about being a lesbian? Does the Bible mention lesbianism?"

    Answer: Some are under the assumption that, while the Bible condemns gay sex between men, it nowhere condemns being a lesbian/lesbianism. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 mention men having sex with other men, but say nothing of women having sex with other women. In the Sodom and Gomorrah account in Genesis 19, the men of the cities wanted to gang rape other men. First Corinthians 6:9 mentions effeminate men, very likely referring to homosexuals, but does not mention lesbians. So, does the Bible in fact condemn male homosexuality, but not lesbianism?

    Romans 1:26-27 puts this invalid assumption to rest: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Clearly, this passage puts lesbianism on equal ground with male homosexuality. Lesbianism is described as women exchanging natural relations (with men) for unnatural relations (with women). According to the Bible, being a lesbian is just as sinful as being a homosexual male.

    There’s an implication in Romans 1:26 that lesbianism is even worse than male homosexuality. Notice the phrase “even their women.” The text seems to suggest that it is more common for men to engage in sexual depravity, and when women begin to do it, that is a sign things are getting really bad. Men usually have much stronger sex drives than women, and so are more prone to sexual deviancy. When women commit unnatural sexual acts, then the degree of immorality has truly become shameful. Lesbianism is evidence of people being given over to “the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:24).

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  12. I'm rather curious, having heard many rumors on the Greek translation of this "man shall not lie with man", saying that this was misinterpretation, or that the real translation was lost along the way. Many rumors say that the Greek translation instead said, "man shall not lie with boy", instead of "man shall not lie with man", meaning Pedophilia.

    Is this correct?

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  13. I think the romans had real things to do, they wanted tax's to pay for them.
    They did not care what you looked like, who you loved, how, what or if you worshipped,
    Where you lived or your business or your family. As long as you did not upset the Order or committ crimes & Paid your tax's- Then they left you to be! Not quite that simple but an honest general opinion. It takes a lot of resources to regiment people's lives.
    People can become so hateful of OTHER, has that ever helped anything?? ✌🏾

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