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Notes on Jews and Homosexuality

"It is not entirely clear from biblical material that there is a ban on homosexuality. It is true that later rabbis interpreted the bible this way. However, excellent material has been outlined in a book "Twice Blessed" which is a discussion of Judaism and gays, edited by Andy Rose and Christie Bulka. Andy is a gay social worker and active in the Jewish community. While orthodoxy remains rooted to older interpretations of this material, and remains largely homophobic, conservatism and reform are making advances in the acceptance of gays with an eye to the spirit of Judaism as the acceptance of all as human beings worthy in G-d's eyes." Yael Ben-Ari on Prodigy. Twice Blessed is ISBN #0-8070-7908-1 published by Beacon Press Boston Ma. Discusses also gay rabbis.

Other references: Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Vol 27 No 1, Winter issue 1978 (Sin, Crime, Sickness or Alternative lifestyle: A Jewish Approach to Homosexuality by Hershel Matt.)

Article by Bradley Artson, Judaism and Homosexuality was written for Tikkun Magazine, Vol. 3, #2 (3/88).

The Talmud And Jewish View

I have lots of problems with the Talmud. It prohibits many things as Christians we do every day. The Talmud credits the Gentiles with three observations of the commandments given the sons of Noah: they do not drawup a marriage deed? (kethubah) for males; they do not weigh the flesh of the dead in a market; and they respect the Torah (Hullin 92b). The first of the three is as puzzling as the last. Homosexual marriages were well known in the Roman world, and most Jews were familiar with such aspects of Roman life. Two explanations seem likely: (1) the Talmud assumes that the absence of legal documents for such relationships demonstrates inferior status (ignoring the generally looser structure of all Gentile marriages); or (2) kethubah refers not to the legalization of the marriage but to a particular aspect of it, probably the dowry agreement (see, e.g. Maimonides, The Guide of The Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlander (New York, n.d.), 3:49).

In regard to Lev, the Jewish commentaries of Maimonides and others agree that the passages in Lev 18-20 are not moral values but as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness. Also Mishnah's regarded homosexuality as punishable with all other idolatrous or ritually impure behavior; as well as later by Maimonides, who specifically and repeatedly equated homosexual acts with matters like the hybridization of cattle, which had long since become morally indifferent in the Christian tradition. (See The Code of Maimonides, bk.5, The Book of Holiness, 21.8)

In the Lev passages it is also unclear what is being prohibited. The Hebrew reads literally, "You should not sleep the sleep of a women with a man." Jewish moralists have debated for a millennium about exactly what constitutes "the sleep of a women" and who is technically a "man": see e.g. in the Talmud, Sandedrin 7.4.53A; and Maimonides' commentary in Code 5.1.14. Moreover, since the actions of the "kadeshim" were specifically labeled as "toevah" (e.g., in 1 (3) Kings 14:24), one might well infer that the condemnation in Leviticus were in fact aimed at curbing temple prostitution in particular rather than homosexual behavior in general. This was not the usual understanding of the later Jewish tradition, but it is suggested by the LXX, upon which Christian moralists drew.

As a Christian however, while respecting the Jewish right to their views, I am much more interested in the New Testament view which more clearly says nothing about today's homosexual relationships.


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