A Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe’s View on the (Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the Hebrew Bible
August 31, 2001
by Reb Gershon Caudill, the Ecokosher Rebbe
This article was pulled from internet archives and was originally published in 2001. Some edits and updates have been made to the original text. It’s possible information this article treats as current is out-of-date and readers are encouraged to verify with more recent sources. If you believe an update should be made to this text, please let us know.
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 viewing texts.
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 behavior.
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 an abomination.
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 Torah permits.
If the Torah was referring to homosexuality in general, why would it just address only male homosexual activity and not also female homosexual activity?
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 marriage rituals.
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 their customs.”
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 of caring.
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 women.
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 any more 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 idolatrous.
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 abomination.”
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 simply incorrect.
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.