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Judaism Accepts Homosexuality and Marriage Equality

The Supreme Court soon will decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8 (which forbid Marriage Equality) and DOMA (which defined marriage as between a man and woman, and allowed states not to recognize the marriages performed in other states).

Soon, the Jewish web will return to discussions about what Judaism really says about homosexuality.

Orthodox and other literalists will try to argue that the Torah clearly forbids the homosexual act. In fact, Conservative Judaism’s legal bodies recently approved of gay marriage.

In fact, much has been written to declare that Judaism accepts homosexuality. 

In a recent article on ReformJudaism.org, Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser reminds us that

The only laws regarding same-sex intercourse in the Hebrew Bible are two verses in the book of Leviticus: “Do not lie down with a male, the lying down with a woman. It is an abhorrence” (Leviticus 18:22), and “A man who lies down with a male, the lying down with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrence. They shall be put to death, their bloodguilt upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

The meaning of these laws is far from self-evident.

A careful look at these two verses, however, shows that this is not an open-and-shut case. To start with, both verses use rather tortured syntax to refer to the abhorrent act. “Lying down with a woman” seems to be a phrase that Leviticus is using to specify sexual intercourse, not simply lying down next to another guy. The text needs that explanation for a simple reason — there is no word in Biblical Hebrew that means homosexual. The idea can only be conveyed by comparing it to a man having sex with a woman.

So, how was sexuality between two men understood … understood in the time of the Hebrew Bible?

Throughout the Bible, sexuality between people of the same gender, especially between two men, is understood in one of two ways: 1) A form of violence and domination exerted by one man over another to humiliate him, and 2) A form of sexual excess that is so unbridled that it does not discriminate between male and female. Interestingly, these are both forms of sexuality that, even today, are not practiced primarily by people whom we would call “homosexual.” 

Modern examples of the first category are rapes committed in prisons, on battlefields, and by bullies in schools. Such crimes are committed by men who seem to be more interested in subjugating and humiliating their victims than in sexual gratification.

The second category is the indiscriminate sexuality we associate with modern orgies and a “swinging lifestyle.” The Greek Scriptures, known to Christians as the New Testament, seems particularly interested in this form of abhorrence and it vilifies it in several passages. See, especially, Romans 1:25-32, which refers specifically to men who allow their lust to become so unbridled that they “leave the natural use of women.”

Clearly, this is not a reference to men who have an inborn sexual attraction for other men – people we would describe as homosexuals.

Rabbi Goldwasser concludes:

But rabbinic tradition also contains passages that counter the condemnation of homosexuality. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to humiliate another person and that one may even violate a negative commandment (“Thou shalt not…”) in order to avoid humiliation (B. Berachot 19b). The Talmud also states that a person who is compelled to transgress a law by forces beyond his or her control has not truly sinned. 

In an age when science has given us the understanding that sexual orientations is not a choice — it is an aspect of our nature with which we are born — our thinking about Jewish law and homosexuality must change. We need to re-evaluate our understanding of Torah if it leads us to condemn people when they seek to fulfill — with love and compassion — the sexual desires God has given them. We must recognize that it is the height of humiliation to tell people that they are unworthy of love and intimacy because of the way that God has made them.

Other Wisdom on Marriage Equality from a Jewish and religious perspective:

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