Scriptures and Theology
A Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe's View on the (Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the Hebrew Bible
Rebbe Gershon Caudill
By Reb Gershon Caudill, the Ecokosher Rebbe
I have received e-mail from persons who object to my method of looking at
the traditional Hebrew texts in relation to the subject of homosexuality,
because I choose to wrestle with the texts to show that it is possible that
the traditional method of viewing them is not the only legitimate method of
It is interesting that there are those who choose to pick out various
texts from the Torah because they suppose that the texts support a certain
form of fundamentalist bigotry that is current among the supposedly more
religious element of our population. These people ignore any texts, or
traditions, that would mitigate or dissolve that bigotry.
For centuries some fundamentalist Jews and Christians have taught that
the Torah supported slavery, the subjugation of women to the role of mere
property, the murder of women who were suspected of being witches, and now,
the oppression of gays and lesbians.
Just as today's Christian and Jewish theologians point out that the Torah
NEVER EVER supported slavery, the subjugation of women or the murder of
witches and sorcerers, so too will tomorrow's theologians tell us that those
who were casting the first stones at gays and lesbians today "were not the
true Christians (or religious Jews)." And they will be RIGHT, just as they
are right when they tell us that the Crusaders who marched through Europe
burning and murdering Jews "were not the true Christians" though they were
being led by pious priests and bishops of the Church who were telling them
that the killing of Jews was what Christ wanted of them. Today, it is hard
for us to look back and tell who really were the "true" Christians. What will
we see from the perspective of tomorrow?
I say let us do that which is right, and not be guilty of bringing
oppression upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, even if we who are
not gay or lesbian do not understand totally the reasons for that form of
Modern genetic science has shown that homosexuality is the natural state
of being for some human beings. If that is truly the case, and I believe that
it is, based upon the scientific studies posted upon the Internet by actual
genetic scientists connected with prestigious Universities, then it is God
who is responsible for the condition of homosexuality just as it is God who
is responsible for the condition of heterosexuality. To say that
homosexuality is deviant behavior is to say that God made a mistake.
Rabbi Ted Alexander (Conservative) says that "This is the way God has
created them, and if God has created them this way, I'm willing to give them
the blessings. Furthermore, anyone who has any hesitation to give blessings
to same-sex people should not say the Sabbath Psalm, 'How great are Your
works, oh God,' because that includes everybody."
Within the Torah parashiot of Achare Mot-Kedosheem is found the verses
that have been used for at least two thousand years, by Jews and Christians,
to persecute a portion of the human population. These are:
Leviticus 18: 22 states: "V'et zachar lo tishkav mishk'vey eeshah
toeyvah hee." Do not lie with a male as you would with a woman, since this is
This verse, and Leviticus 20: 13 (in Parashat Kedosheem) are verses in
the Hebrew Tanakh (Bible) that are supposedly thought to mention a possible
form of male homosexual activity.
One thousand years after these verses were recorded in Leviticus, during
a period of historical time when Jews were in contact with a European Greek
culture that had an openly promiscuous sexual modality, the very first
Talmudic references to homosexuality as a perversion are recorded.
The question is, is this referring to homosexuality as a form of an
expression of love between two males who live in a monogamous relationship
together? Or, is this referring to homosexual liaisons between men who
basically are not in a committed relationship, but are just being sexually
permissive? Or, is our text referring to PRIESTLY, and not to the everyday
rank and file Israelite's sexual practices? Or, is the text referring to an
inability of a person to control their sexual urges by telling them to "get a
hold of your emotions, control your bodily functions?"
Like all indigenous peoples, the Jews were not overly concerned about
male homosexuality, where two men lived together in a monogamous, sexual
relationship. As a rule, it did not get any notice.
The Talmud does not record a single instance of a person being brought
before the Sanhedrin on the charge of homosexual activity.
All Jewish halakhic authorities agree that nowhere in the Torah does
Torah prohibit homosexual sexual acts by women.
In the 3rd century CE, the Talmud records that Rabbi Huna (the miracle
working rain making Rabbi) tried to legislate against lesbians being able to
marry a High Priest, a Cohen, but his colleagues ruled against him (BT
Yevamot 76a). They said that it was not permissible to prohibit what the
If the Torah was referring to homosexuality in general, why would it just
address only male homosexual activity and not also female homosexual
In March 2000, the 111th Convention of the Central Conference of American
Rabbis, representing The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, (Reform),
passed a Resolution On Same Gender Officiation whereby they resolved to
support a Reform Rabbi that would perform same gender marriage rituals. They
also supported the right of Rabbis to choose not to perform same gender
As a Jewish Flexodox Rebbe, I commend the Reform Rabbis for taking this
important step towards full Jewish religious equality in our communities. I
pray for the day when the other communities of Jewish thought; Conservative,
and Orthodox, also follow suit.
In the San Francisco area, and, I suppose, other areas of intellectual
progressive thinking, some Rabbis belonging to the Conservative movement have
begun performing same-sex marriages. Rabbis of the Renewal and Flexodox areas
of Jewish thought are also performing same-sex unions.
In the following article, I intend to record my reasons for my belief
that the two prohibitions in the Torah that have been thought to prohibit
homosexuality, do not in all probability do so, despite reams of Rabbis
writing in support of the prohibitions.
Rabbi Hayyim Palachi writes that: "...the Torah gave permission to each
person to express his opinion according to his understanding.... It is not
good for a sage to withhold his words out of deference to the sages who
preceded him if he finds in their words a clear contradiction.... A sage who
wishes to write his proofs against the kings and giants of Torah should not
withhold his words nor suppress his prophecy, but should give his analysis as
he has been guided by Heaven."
Rabbi Palachi notes that even though Rambam wrote with Divine
inspiration, many great sages of his generation criticized his work. There
are numerous examples of students refuting their teachers: Rabbi Yehudah
ha–Nassi disagreed with his father; Rashba disagreed with Ramban; The
Tosafists disagreed with Rashi. Respect for the authorities of the past does
not mean that one cannot arrive at an opposing opinion. (See Hikekei Lev,
vol. 1, O. H. 6 and Y. D. 42.)
Rabbi Marc Angel (an Orthodox Sephardi Rabbi, and past President of the
Union of Sephardi Congregations, and past President of the Modern Orthodox
Rabbinical Council of America) writes: "Diversity of opinion is a reality
well recognized in Jewish tradition.
The Talmud (Berakhot 58a) records the ruling that one is required to make
a blessing upon seeing a huge crowd of Jews, praising God who is Hakham
ha–razim, who understands the root and inner thoughts of each individual.
"Their thoughts are not alike and their appearances are not alike." God
created each individual to be unique; He expected and wanted diversity of
thought." Seeking Good, Speaking Peace.
Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, and Rabbi Yaakov Emden both gave their
opinions that "a student should question their rabbis' teachings as best
they can. In this way, truth is clarified." (See Aseh Lekha Rav, 2: 61 and
She'elot Ya'avetz, 1: 5)
Rabbi Halevi further quotes Rambam (Hilkhot Sanhedrin 23: 9), who states
the principle that En le–dayan ella mah she–enav ro'ot – "A judge has only
what his eyes see." In other words, a judge must base his opinion solely on
his own understanding of the case he is considering. No legal precedent
obligates him, even if it is a decision of courts greater than he, even of
his own teachers."
In Judaism, we teach that ALL the Torah was given to Moses at Mount
Sinai, and that even the most future Responsa of a future Rabbi was included
in that Revelation.
We do not change the past teachings arbitrarily, but examine the present
needs, look at all the past teachings on the subject, closely inspect the
inner–meanings of any textual materials that are relevant to determine if we
can deduce a new and "the true" meaning of the texts, and with a prayer
towards the concept of unifying the Jewish people so that they last on into
the coming generations, we do what needs to be done.
The Torah records the injunction against adding to or taking away from
the intention of the Covenant relationship, (Deuteronomy 4: 2 & 13: 1), lest
the nature of the Covenant relationship take on different meaning. The Rabbis
needing to make sure that every ruling and judgment hang on at least a thread
of Torah Law, strive to keep the ruling within Torah halakhah (the way).
In relation to this, let us examine the text of Leviticus 18: 22 "V'et
zachar lo tishkav mishk'vey eeshah toeyvah hee." Do not lie with a male as
you would with a woman, since this is an abomination.
First, on the basis of the teaching in the Sifra, on Leviticus, (Baraitha
d'Rabbi Ishmael), "Rabbi Ishmael says: The Torah is interpreted by means of
thirteen rules (Rabee Yishmael omer: B'shalosh esrey midoth haTorah
nidrasheth)," I am not convinced that the biblical passages (here in
Leviticus 18: 22 and also in Leviticus 20: 13) refer to homosexual activity
that is within a monogamous, stable, and loving relationship. I am not
convinced that the Levitical text is referring to homosexuality at all.
Rabbi Ishmael states as his fourth method of Torah exposition: When a
generalization is followed by a specification, only what specifies applies
("Miklal u'frat"). The generalization is the text "A man shall not lay with a
man...." The specification is the text "...as you would with a woman." Thus,
I am of the opinion, based upon the location of the prohibition within the
biblical text and the content of the texts themselves, that the texts have
been grossly misunderstood.
I think the texts are really referring to sexual promiscuity, which is
the use of others, including relatives, animals, and members of the same sex,
to satisfy the animal urges of sexual lust, not sexual activity in a positive
modality. The clue is the words "...as you would with a woman" and it's
relationship within texts prohibiting incest, and sex with animals.
It is not the normal homosexual practice for one man to lie with another
man as though he were laying with a woman. In fact, if a man was thinking of
his sexual partner as though he were a woman, and not a man, it would not be
a homosexual relationship, as one of the parties involved is PRETENDING that
the person he is laying with is a woman. It is actually a permissive sexual
situation where in the first man does not have control over his sexual
emotions, but uses others to satisfy his sexual desires. The Torah warns this
kind of person that certain types of sexual behavior are not permitted.
Secondly, the Torah begins chapter 18 by having YHVH–God state "I am
YHVH your Creator–Force! You are not to follow the practices of Egypt where
you lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow any of
What were the "homosexual" practices of the people living in Egypt and in
Canaan in the 14th century BCE? The practices being referred to are those of
cultic promiscuous sexual behavior.
According to Philo (1st century CE Alexandria, Egyptian Jewish
philosopher); "They (the temple priests) would apply themselves to deep
drinking of strong liquor and dainty feeding and forbidden forms of
intercourse. Not only in their mad lust for WOMEN did they violate the
marriage of their neighbors, but also men mounted males.... Then, little by
little they accustomed those who were by nature men to submit to play the
part of women...." (On Abraham, Chapter 26, pages 134-136). This is, again, a
substitution of the male body for a female body in male to male sexual
activity. It is not homosexuality.
The passage in Genesis 19 that is used to give the nomenclature of sodomy
to homosexual sex, (from the 17th or 18th century BCE) actually does not
refer to an act of consensual sex or even to homosexual sex at all, but to an
act of sexual degradation and male rape, as also does the passage in Judges
19: 22. These are acts of violence that are committed by parties seeking to
show their hatred for those they are degrading. It is not an act of love or
The male prostitutes of I Kings 14: 24, 15: 12, II Kings 23:7 (proscribed
in Deuteronomy 23: 18) are described in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 54b) as
providing homosexual sex. However Targum Onkelos reads the text in a way that
shows they provided sex to the FEMALE visitors to the Idolatrous temples.
Thus, there is some question in the Targum Onkelos if these male prostitutes
were providing homosexual sex or if they were providing heterosexual sex to
In any case, the male rapes of Genesis and Judges, and the promiscuous
male sexual activity of I & II Kings does not describe monogamous, loving and
caring homosexual relationships anymore than the case of Lot's daughters
incest describes monogamous, loving and caring heterosexual relationships.
Now let us look at the internal evidence, the words "toeyvah hee,"
translated as "an abomination" or "a disgusting perversion."
The word toeyvah is used to describe three categories of actions in the
Torah as "abominations" or "disgusting perversions." These are laws around
idolatry (as in Deuteronomy 17: 4), laws around the eating of forbidden
animal species (as in Deuteronomy 14: 3), and laws around the male sexual
prohibitions, (as in Leviticus 18 & 20), which include incestuous
relationships, bestiality, and same sex substitution.
I found the word toeyvah (or a form of the word) used over 100 times in
the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh).
It is used 26 times in the Torah; 2 times in Genesis; 1 time in Exodus; 6
times in Leviticus; 0 times in Numbers; and 17 times in Deuteronomy.
It is in the Major Prophets 57 times. 5 times in 1 & 11 Kings, 3 times in
Isaiah, 8 times in Jeremiah, 1 time in Malachi and 41 times in Ezekiel. It is
not found at all in the Minor Twelve Prophets.
In the Writings, it is found once in Psalms and 25 times in Proverbs. The
rest are scattered in Ezra and II Chronicles.
Now, as to the laws around idolatry, considered a toeyvah in Torah, there
are many in the Jewish community that see in the depiction of the Christian
Trinity idolatrous views, but they represent a minority opinion. Most
Rabbinical halakhists do not see the Christian concept of Trinity as
Even the Mormon–Christian view of God as having a body of flesh and bone
does not qualify them as idolaters in the eyes of most halakhic authorities.
There are certainly no authorities within mainline Judaism that would
consider any of the Christian or Moslem faiths as "a disgusting perversion or
The eating of forbidden animal, bird and fish species, as well as eating
a kid cooked in it's mother's milk is considered toeyvah in Deuteronomy 14:
4, as well as the eating of blood (forbidden even in the early
Jewish–Christian community, see Acts 15: 20 & 29. It was changed in the early
Christian community by virtue of a "revelation" from the leadership of the
group. Seventh Day Adventists and many other biblically food observant groups
would disagree that the Vision of Peter was intended to annul the laws
prohibiting the eating of certain meat and fish species. Their opinion is
considered the MINORITY OPINION).
However, we Jews do not obligate any other religion to the observance of
the Torah laws, which were given specifically to the Jewish people and their
descendants, including converts. This is with the possible exception of the
seven Noahide Laws, and there is dispute among the halakhic authorities as to
which seven laws non-Jews need observe IF they are indeed required to observe
any Torah laws at all.
Actually, It is a shame that some unenlightened people use the passage in
Leviticus to "prove" homosexuality is wrong, since the rabbis in the gemara
(tractate Yevamot) specifically say that that passage refers to an
androgynous - not to male-male sex.
Since the rabbis' interpretations are the basis of halakhah, anyone
claiming that Judaism is against homosexuality based upon that passage is
Among Jews, none in the Reform, Renewal or Reconstructionist communities
would say of those who do not observe the biblical Kosher laws, that they
were doing an act that was "a disgusting perversion," even if it was an act
of eating pork or shellfish. (At least, they would not say it publicly). More
of the Jews in the above movements would be likely to refer to the eating of
any animal, even a kosher animal as a disgusting perversion, due to their
misplaced missionary zeal for vegetarianism.
Our second parashah Kedosheem, includes the verse that the Nazareener
Rebbe, Jesus, called "The Second Commandment" (Matthew 22: 39), "You must
love your neighbor as yourself, I Am is YHVH (God)." (Leviticus 19: 18b).
If you don't wish a thing done to you, do not do the same thing to
another. It creates karma that is returned to you eventually.
How you judge others is the same measuring stick that becomes the judging
stick of yourself. It is easy to judge according to strictness. It is judging
with love and leniency that is difficult.
Rabbi Hillel stated it in this manner to a proselyte, "Whatever is
hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole teaching of the
Torah, all the other words are commentary on this verse."
Rabbi Akiba declared that "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' is
THE fundamental rule of Torah."
Rabbi Ben Azzai said that this "Law of Love" is the fundamental rule of
the Torah provided that it is lived in conjunction with "This is the Book of
the Generations of humanity. In the day that God created humanity, in the
likeness of God created God human kind." (Genesis 5: 1) As all of human kind
are created in the intellectual Image of the Divine God, they are entitled to
being treated with love and respect.
In fact, verses 34 & 35 (of this same chapter 19) states that "The
stranger that resides with you shall not be treated differently than the
home-born of your own people. You shall love him as yourself; for you were
once strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not use a different set of
rules to judge him by, nor will you differ in your measurements and weights."
With these verses as our guide, I cannot understand why Jews cannot live
with Arabs in Israel; why the so-called "Religious" cannot live with Gays and
Lesbians in respect; why Americans cannot live with Central American migrant
workers and other "resident aliens" in our midst. Can we not see the rainbow
of humanity of which we are a part as One Human Race? Can we not understand
that we are part of a rainbow of religious paths that are all a part of the
Oneness of God? (Micah 4: 5).
This chapter 19 of Leviticus also forbids us to oppress our neighbor, or
to rob him, or to hold his wages past the day he is supposed to be paid.
See the "Writings of the Ecokosher Rebbe" at his homepage: home.earthlink.net/~ecorebbe