Holiness Is Apparently Not A Gay Buddhist In Blue Jeans (Parshah Kedoshim)


Many of my friends struggle with this week’s Torah portion because of one line:

And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves (Lev. 20:13).

It’s interesting to note that none of my friends are having theological problems with wearing blue jeans (Lev. 19:19), falsifying weights and measures (Lev. 19:35) or cussing out their mothers and fathers (Lev. 20:9).

I support gay rights. I have tattoos. I’m not on an epic quest to vandalize my local Buddhist monastery a la Abraham’s idol smashing and I’m freaked out by any attempt to create a new Sanhedrin in Israel (or anywhere for that matter). That puts me in a certain camp of Jewish thinking that, at times, is referred to as Cafeteria Religion: someone who shamelessly picks-and-chooses what they want out of religion.

The tricky thing is that it is just so easy to pick and choose, when the Torah gives us so many options.

For example,holiness is not just a matter of following rules. It’s also a matter of having a pure heart, as the Torah tells us in this same portion:

Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour…Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind…Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong…thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Lev 19:13-34).

It begs the questions: why do we struggle with one line of Torah about a sexual act, but don’t seem to be freaked out at all by the idea that we have to be one hundred percent selfless, loving all people as we love ourselves, treating everyone equally and never doing any harm to anyone, ever?

I think the answer is pretty  clear. The texts in Kedoshim which admonish what we think of as “homosexual” are texts to us, about the other. Those texts are about how others should live, and what our response to that should be. The loving texts of this same Torah portion speak to how we should treat others regardless of who they are. That’s a text that is completely about us.

It is easier to rally around an ideology that turns people into “its”, rather than an ideology that forces us to turn “its” into people. 

So what are you rallying around?

  • Miriam

    I guess what bugs me the most is the “pick and choose” problem. All of that stuff about loving your neighbor and not hating your brother in your heart and so on…what makes those any more important/true than the thing about not mixing fibers in your clothing, or anything else? How can we pick and choose? Who gets to pick and choose? And what does it say about our holy text if it forces us to pick and choose? We can try to wriggle out of that line about homosexuality by reinterpreting it until we’re blue in the face, but I have yet to see an explanation that is satisfactory. It means what it means. The question is….how do we deal with that?

  • http://www.edibletorah.com EdibleTorah

    Very nice post.

    Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (I don’t agree with some of what he says, but in this case I’m with him) wrote in 2010:
    “There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples tell me they have never been attracted to members of the opposite sex and are desperately alone, I tell them, “You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home. Turn off the TV on the Sabbath and share your meals with many guests. Pray to God three times a day for you are his beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out.””

    As a Jew with liberal political leanings who worships in the orthodox spectrum, I can get behind that. It doesn’t make it all better, but it certainly puts it into the correct context.

    What challenges me more than any specific dogmatic element or the actual picking and choosing that people do is the belief that the criteria for picking and choosing is something we each have to invent for ourselves. As if our own emotional/intellectual barometer is the de-facto ONLY consideration. I don’t know about you, but my modern Hebrew skills stink, to say nothing of my ability to interpret ancient Hebrew (notwithstanding the fact that there are multiple ancient forms), ancient Hebrew contextual clues, etc.

    But I know a group who are, in general, pretty well versed in that stuff. They typically go by the title “Rabbi”. When I find something I don’t “get”, they are one of the resources I go to BEFORE I unilaterally pass judgement.

    “That doesn’t work for me” is NOT (in my (not so) humble opinion) a valid reason to ascribe to and/or ignore a mitzvah (which I understand to mean “commandment that I am obligated to observe” rather than “really nice idea that I ought to try to do if I can”).

    Remember, the idea of washing hands “didn’t work” for doctors in 1847, even though Dr. Semmelweis had put forth the idea with statistics to back it – a concept every midwife already knew.

    I’m not saying we have to blindly and unthinkingly attempt to keep all the mitzvot that are actually observable (a number far lower than 613). I’m saying that if a mitzvah doesn’t make intuitive sense (and many don’t), then that’s a clue to start the work of learning, understanding and wrestling (remember the actual meaning of “Yisrael”?) with it.

  • M

    Whenever I hear/read “And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman ” my first thought is “I wouldn’t ‘lay’ with a man as I would a woman…I’d ‘lay’ with him as if he were a man…” Is it a prohibition about homosexual sex between men or a prohibition against treating men as women?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jericho.phire Jericho Elijah Phire

    Great post.

  • Pingback: A Buffet of Sex, Ritual, Ethics, Death and Acharei-Kedoshim

  • shana

    I feel like this verse was meant for the people at the time. It is all about context. I do not think this verse still pertains to today’s times. I do not think that G-d would say that now as he would back then. It all about the context and the translation of the verse. that is my humble opinion though.

  • shana

    this is regards to lev 20:13