Archive | April, 2012

A Frumservative View on Homosexuality and Halachah

22 Apr

Lev 18:22 “Ve’et zachar lo tishcav mishc’vei ishah; to’eivah hee.”

“You shall not lie with a man the way of lying with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Now that we have the translation out of the way, we can begin to truly understand what Hashem is trying to teach (and command) us here.   If Hashem wanted to tell us that gay sex is wrong, the pasuk would have just said “a man shall not lie with another man” or something along those lines, similar to the way that the preceding chunk of pesukim ban incest and  how the next pasuk bans bestiality.  But this pasuk is different.  It contains the phrase “the way of lying with a woman.”  To understand the pasuk, we must understand what this phrase means.


So, how does one lie with a woman?  Obviously the prohibition is not against the mechanical act of doing so because men don’t have vaginas, so the way of lying with a woman that the pasuk refers to must be more than purely a physical thing.

People have sex for three main reasons:  To have children, for emotional closeness to another (special) person, and for sexual pleasure.  Men do not have the physical equipment to bear children, so the pasuk cannot be referring to that.   If the prohibition were against having a special level of physical and emotional closeness to someone of the same sex, surely the Torah would state this (perhaps using the verb “yada”) rather than referring to the physical act of having sex (“lying with”- “shochev”).  Therefore, the pasuk must be referring to sex for physical (i.e. sexual) pleasure.

With this interpretation of the text, we get a text that reads as: “You shall not lie with a man the way of lying with a woman (for the sake of your sexual pleasure); it is an abomination.”

Conservative Judaism believes that commandments, are addressed to all Jews, regardless of boundaries like class or gender, unless the commandment cannot apply to you because of the limitations of your person.  For example, the commandment to keep kosher applies to everyone, because everyone eats.  Niddah, however, only applies to women because men don’t menstruate.  If you are deaf, you are patur (exempt from the obligation) from hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.  If you have no arms, you are patur from shaking Lulav and Etrog.  In short, you are patur from a commandment if Hashem created you in such away (or the events of your life unfolded in such away) that you are not able to follow it.  So who does Lev. 18:22 apply to?

In order to be able to “lie with a man the way of lying with a woman (for the sake of your sexual pleasure),” one must first be able to derive sexual pleasure from lying with a woman.  A man or woman who does not derive sexual pleasure from lying with a woman does not qualify for fulfilling this commandment, and thus, like a man and niddah or a woman and a circumcision, he or she need not worry about it.  In short, those who would be inclined to lie with a woman for sexual pleasure (heterosexual men and homosexual women) should not have sex with men, but this commandment does not apply to homosexual men and heterosexual women (and, of course, we infer from this that the same applies in the reverse: That homosexual men and heterosexual women should not have sex with women).

But why?

One of the places that I have found fault with mainstream Conservative Judaism has been how easily some Rabbis seem to just say that kavod habriyot is more important than this pasuk, therefore we should ignore the pasuk.  This goes against the principle that there are no extraneous words or letters in the Torah, and that everything, even the spaces between the words, is there to teach us something.  So what are we really learning from this pasuk (aside from just the who you can and can’t have sex with, depending on your sexual orientation)?    By having sex with someone of a gender that goes against your natural inclination (i.e. your sexual orientation), you are betraying yourself by not actually being yourself.  The pasuk teaches us that it is wrong not to be yourself, whether you are in public with thousands of other people, or just in a bed with only one other person.   You must be yourself.