Homosexuality in the Torah
by Reb Gershon Caudill, the Ecokosher Rebbe
This article was pulled from internet archives and was originally published in 2004. 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 It’s possible information this article treats as current is out-of-date and readers are encouraged to verify with more recent sources.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.
QUESTION – Rabbi Caudill, you claim that “homosexuality,” as we know it in today’s world, is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible at all. Many other rabbis and ministers, especially those who follow a more literal interpretation of the scriptures, would disagree with you. What is the difference in the way you look at the texts that the others use to declare homosexuality a major sin?
ANSWER – First off, the major difference in the way that I, a heterosexual rabbi, interpret the so-called “anti-homosexuality” texts is that my interpretation comes from the Talmudic place of rachamim, compassion. I base my decisions on the premise that because God “created humanity (adam) in Its image, in the image of God created It it, male and female created It them,” (Genesis 1: 27) and “God saw that ALL that It had made was found to be VERY GOOD,” (Genesis 1: 31) the basic instinct of humanity is to do good, and that this basic instinct was created by God in the beginning. It is obvious to me, in reading the so-called “anti-homosexual” texts that the religious fundamentalists put forth as God prohibiting homosexual relationships as an “abomination,” that these religious fundamentalists are already convinced that homosexuality is sinful behaviour. They are projecting onto God their own distaste and lack of understanding of the depth and sanctity of the love that homosexuals have for their partners.
QUESTION – What about the story in the Bible (Genesis 19) of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah? Was that not where we get the term “sodomy” for anal intercourse, homosexual sex?
ANSWER – Your question shows the depth of the misunderstanding of the original story and its teaching due to the preconceived bias of those who use it this way. The short answer to your question is YES, that is where we got the term “sodomy” to refer to anal sex. However, and most importantly, the truth is that the story of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexual sex. Read it for yourself and you will see that the story has to do with the desire of the entire townspeople to do an act of violent RAPE upon certain STRANGERS, due to the perception that these strangers were DIFFERENT from the townspeople. This is more in accord with a group of White townspeople seeing a couple of Black strangers go into a White home in a White township and their desire to rid the town of unwanted Blacks, even up to the point of raping them to show their hatred of them as strangers and OTHER.
According to the biblical prophet, Ezekiel, the story in Genesis has absolutely NOTHING to do with homosexual sex. In Ezekiel 16 : 49 (the entire chapter should be read to get the complete understanding), the ONLY sin of Sodom (and Gemorrah, and by inference, Jerusalem) is that of ARROGANCE! Read it for yourself and see that I tell you the truth. Arrogance is not a moral nor sexual behaviour, it is, rather, an attitude of superiority that is manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). In fact, using this dictionary description, the attitude of evangelical Christianity that all other religions are in error and thus in need of becoming Christians to be in line with God’s Will, is sheer ARROGANCE and thus the SIN OF SODOM, i.e. supersessionism; the act of seeing your people or group as superior to other people or groups.
QUESTION – What about the desire of the “men of Sodom,” in Genesis 19: 4-5, to be INTIMATE with the “men,” the strangers who were really angels, that were in Lot’s house, was that not a desire to perform an act of homosexual sex on them?
ANSWER – As I mentioned already, the intention of the men of Sodom was not to engage in loving, consensual, sexual relations with the “angels” but to engage in an act of violence and hatred; to show contempt towards these “strangers.” This is not the act of a homosexual person seeking a relationship with another homosexual person. What the Torah is addressing here in this chapter is how we are not to treat the OTHER in our society. We are not to act violently or arrogantly towards the stranger in our midst. This is a constant theme throughout the Torah. It is seen as the ultimate act of desecration; to desecrate the image of the Cosmic Divinity Itself.
QUESTION – What about the passages in Leviticus, especially in chapter 18, verse 22 and chapter 20, verse 13? Does not these verses specifically prohibit male to male sexual acts?
ANSWER – First, let’s take a look at the passages you are referring to; Leviticus 18: 22; which states: “V-et zachar lo tishkav mishkevey eeshah TOEYVAH hee.” (Do not lie (sexually) with a male as you would with a woman, since this is an abomination (TOEYVAH).
And, Leviticus 20: 13, which states: “V-eesh asher yishkav et-zakhar mishkevey eeshah TOEYVAH. Asu shenayhem mot yumatu dameyhem bam.” (If a man has sexual intercourse with a male person, in the same manner as with a woman, they have both committed a TOEYVAH (an idolatrous abhorence). They shall die by their blood being upon them).
These two verses are found in the book originally written as a handbook for the Priesthood of the Tribe of Levi, thus the name Leviticus. It was not meant, when written, as a rulebook for all Israelites until after the time of Ezra (5th century BCE). That said, to use it as ammunition against a loving, caring, homosexual relationship is to take it out of context.
Leviticus 18: 1-4, which is the beginning of this particular message, states: “Vaydaber YHVH el-Mosheh leymor: Daber el-Bnai Yisrael veamarta aleyhem” (verses 2-3) “Anee YHVH Elohaykhem!” (I Am is ADONAI your Creator God!) “Kema’aseh eretz-Mitzrayim asher yishavtem-bah; lo ta’asu” (You shall not imitate the cultic sexual practices of the land of Egypt where you previously dwelt) “ukhma’aseh eretz-Canaan asher Anee meyvee etkhem shamah; lo ta’asu uv’chukoteyhem, lo telekhu!” (or of the land of Canaan to which I Am is guiding you; you shall not follow after their laws.) “Et-mishpatai ta’asu veet-chukotai tishmiru lelekhet bahem. Anee YHVH Elohaykhem!” (My laws alone shall you observe, faithfulling doing them. I Am is ADONAI your Creator God!)
The rules that then follow are the rules that the Israelite Priesthood was not to follow in their cultic practices. According to Rabbi Jacob Milgrom, the translator and commentator of the prestigious Anchor Bible Series Translation of the Book of Leviticus, and the Jewish Publication Society Commentary on the Book of Numbers, these texts are referring to non-Israelite religious sexual and sexual abuse practices that Israelites were not to imitate when they came into the Land of Israel. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what we today term as being homosexual.
If we examine these texts according to the Talmudic methods of hermeneutics, we find that on the basis of the Baraitha d’Rabbi Ishmael in the Sifra, on Leviticus, written in the mid-second century of the Common Era, and recited EVERYDAY in our Daily and Shabbat Morning Prayers, Rabbi Ishmael says: “The Torah is interpreted by means of thirteen rules. (Rule Four is…) 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.
Based upon this earliest method of Jewish Torah interpretation, the biblical passages in Leviticus 18: 22 and also in Leviticus 20: 13, do not refer to homosexual activity at all as one of the males is heterosexual or perhaps bisexual, and is SUBSTITUTING the other male body for that of a woman in this cultic fertility ceremony. It is not the normal homosexual practice for one man to lie with another man thinking that his partner is a woman; 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 in which the first man is USING the body of the sexual partner as a SUBSTITUTE for a PREFERRED female body. If we read the Torah this way, as it clearly is to be read, it is warning this kind of person that certain types of substitutional sexual behavior are not permitted, especially in a religious context.
QUESTION – Do you feel that allowing homosexuals the right to a legal civil marriage is detrimental to heterosexual marriages?
ANSWER – Not at all! First, you must explain to me how the marriage of ANY two people who love and care for each other will affect my own heterosexual marriage in any way. I think that if I am committed to staying in my marriage, no amount of outside influence would affect it. That said, I think that it is a great sin to not allow homosexuals the same civil rights as anyone else, including the rights and obligations around marriage and divorce.
QUESTION – A SIN? How so? That sounds like you believe that denying homosexuals the right to marry is against the Will of God.
ANSWER – That is correct. I think that denying homosexuals the right to marry and form families denies the Torah mandate to “peru urvu umil’u et-ha’aretz” (bear fruit, multiply and fill the earth) which was the first command that God gave to the androgynous Adam, before God took the female Adam from the side of the male Adam (Genesis 1: 28).
Previously, before modern medicine made it possible for in-vitro fertilization, sperm donor programs, and surrogate implantation, etc., it was almost impossible for two males or two females to be in a loving, long term monogamous relationship that could traditionally be defined as a marriage, IF you define a marriage as two people coming together to create a family with children. However, with many childless heterosexual marriages, and with many marriages ending in divorce, I question this definition of marriage.
By Torah standards, any marriage that did not allow for the propagation of the species, i.e. homosexuality or celibacy or barrenness, could be dissolved by a divorce, but did not have to be. The fact that God is reputed to have said: “Lo-tov hayot haadam levado, e’ehseh-lo ezer kenigdo (It is not a good thing for a human being to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for it), informs me that God’s idea of marriage is that of companionship. Witness the physical barrenness of the major women in the Hebrew Bible whose child producing abilities were through intervention from Heaven. Today, homosexuals are producing children by the “miracles” of modern medicine, plus they are adopting previously unwanted children and giving them loving families to grow up in. I think the sin is that those who pretend to support the Will of God are doing everything they can to thwart that Will.