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What is the Jewish view on homosexuality?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

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The Short Answer:

In Judaism homosexuality is an act, not a person1. The Torah2 prohibits the act, but it doesn’t ostracize the individual who desires it.

The Askmoses Answer:

Getting It Straight

There is much confusion when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and Judaism, not the least of which is the misconception that Judaism doesn’t like homosexuals.

For the record: Judaism has nothing against an individual who has an attraction to members of his/her gender.

The Torah doesn’t even recognize the term homosexual. Judaism sees people, not sexual labels. And all people are respected equally.

If you like lobsters you’re not a Homaridaevore, if you feel the need to eat on Yom Kippor you are not an Antiatonementour, and if you have a sexual urge towards a member of the same sex, you are not a Homosexual. You are simply a Jew.

And you, like all Jews, are prohibited from consuming lobster3, eating on Yom Kippur4, and having sex with a member of your own sex5.

It’s Not You…

In a secular society where there are just about no restrictions regarding sexual activity, one may find it discriminatory that sex between members of the same gender is singled out as the one to be frowned upon. Some will rationalize this difference, and others will argue there is no basis for this differentiation; either way, the question of ‘why are we singling out homosexual activity’ must be addressed.

For the record: Judaism has nothing against an individual who has an attraction to members of his/her gender.
This question, however, doesn’t pertain to Judaism.

In Judaism sexual activity is a highly controlled substance. It is complete with restrictions and guidelines to the extent that basically all sexual activity is forbidden, including masturbation. The only physical intimacy that is allowed is between husband and wife, and even that is forbidden for about two weeks out of every month.6

Granted, many people find it difficult to understand why they are prohibited from expressing their sexual urges. However, these restrictions are by no means targeted, personal, or discriminatory against one group of people.

…It’s He

The simple truth is the origins for the prohibition against physical intimacy between members of the same gender, like all other forms of sexual prohibitions, has nothing to do with the person, the people, or the society.

It has to do with G-d.

The Torah is as clear regarding this prohibition as it is regarding the prohibition against eating a hare. Does Judaism have anything against hares? Of course not, but G-d said it is not Kosher and hence we don’t eat it. Similarly, Judaism has nothing against the person who has a homosexual desire, but G-d instructed not to act upon that desire, so we don’t.

Executive Decision

People give all sorts of reasons why this type of act might be prohibited. But G-d in the Torah is as ambiguous regarding this law as He is regarding the prohibition against eating the hare. The Torah says don’t eat hare because you are Holy, and the Torah says don’t have sex with another man because it is an Abomination.

Holy and Abomination are very indistinct words.

Throughout the ages Jewish sages have offered various reasons for both of these commandments - some of those reasons may work for you, others may not - but at the end of the day it boils down to the fact that they are G-dly decrees.7

More Religious Than The Pope

Notwithstanding the Divine prohibition against this act, G-d did not single out this sin, nor did He decide to use sexual orientation as the characteristic to define who a person is.

Footnotes

  • 1. Read complete article for further elucidation.
  • 2. Leviticus 18:22
  • 3. Leviticus 11:10
  • 4. Leviticus 23:27
  • 5. Leviticus 18:22
  • 6. See "What is Family Purity?" http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=675&o=71 (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/237,2139473/What-is-the-Jewish-view-on-homosexuality.html)
  • 7. There is a saying in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni and Torat Kohanim) which is also brought down in Rashi (Leviticus 20:26) that goes as follows: A person should not say, “I don't like pork”, “It is uncomfortable for me to wear a mixture [of wool and linen],” or "I don't desire forbidden sexual relationships"; rather one should say, “I indeed wish to, but what can I do-my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees upon me?”

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.