LGBTQ Issues (Homosexuality) and Judaism

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According to “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: Homosexual cultic practices were common in biblical times and were associated with abominated pagan religions. The Pentateuch legislation condemns such practices under penalty of stoning. Subsequent Christian concentration on homosexuality has led some scholars to assign it a more prominent position in Jewish law than it really has. For example, the sin of Sodom, for which that city was destroyed, has often been understood in Christian interpretations to be anal intercourse between males, which is still the legal meaning of "sodomy" in England and America. In the Hebrew commentators, however, the sin of Sodom is commonly held to be violence. [Source:“Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”, Erwin J. Haeberle, Vern L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, eds.,]

In March 2000, the Organization of Reformed Rabbis — the largest American group of rabbis — sanctioned same-sex marriage. It was the first time a major religious denomination endorsed all gay unions. In 2007, after years of debate, Conservative Jewish leader (not to be confused with Orthodox Jews) voted to allow all gay ordination and commitment ceremonies.

Israeli laws are the most tolerant in the Middle East toward gays, Gay pride marches have,been held in Jerusalem despite grumbling among the city's conservatives. Tim McGirk wrote in Time: The furor over the parade reveals a long-standing contradiction inside an Israeli culture where secular values compete with fiercely defended religious traditions. Tel Aviv prides itself on its hip, cosmopolitan nightclubs and an easygoing "life is a beach" attitude, while an hour away, in some Jerusalem neighborhoods, ultra-orthodox men still dress in the style of 17th century Poland.. [Source: Tim McGirk, Time, November 3, 2006 ]

The words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were first coined as German nouns by Austrian-born Hungarian psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert, in the late 19th century, who wrote under pseudonym K.M. Kertbeny.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; ; Jewish Museum London

Anti-Gay Interpretations of Passages in The Bible

Mitzvot (Jewish Laws) related to sex according to Maimonides, the 11th Century Jewish Thinker
N350 — A man may not lie carnally with another man
N351 — A man may not lie carnally with his father
N352 — A man may not lie carnally with his father's brother

Chapters 18 and 20 of Leviticus form part of the Holiness code and list prohibited forms of intercourse, including the following verses: 1) "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." Chapter 18 verse 22; 2) "If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." Chapter 20 verse 13. Based on the latter scripture, some have said The Bible says homosexuals should be put to death.

Gay people are associated with Sodom and Gomorrah. The word sodomy (anal sexual intercourse) comes from Sodom. God threatened to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people there were so evil. Abraham asked God to spare the cities if ten good men could be found. Ten good men were not found and God carried out his threat by destroying the two cities with fire and brimstone. The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis does not explicitly identify homosexuality as the sin for which the cities were destroyed. Some interpreters find the story of Sodom and a similar one in Judges 19 to condemn the rape of guests more than homosexuality, but the passage has historically been interpreted within Judaism and Christianity as a punishment for homosexuality due to the interpretation that the men of Sodom wished to rape, or have sex with, the angels who retrieved Lot

Post-Biblical Views on Homosexuality

According to “Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia”: In postbiblical law, homosexuality was still considered a moral failure rather than an illness or an alternate life-style. However, because the mandatory biblical penalty was stoning, an accusation of homosexual practices would automatically become a capital case. As a capital case, it would have to be treated exactly like a murder case. Because of fear of a miscarriage of justice, a capital case was hedged with so many requirements that there is not one case on record in which a homosexual was ever accused and convicted.

Conviction would have been difficult to obtain, since a capital case required the testimony of two disinterested witnesses that they had actually seen the act. Not only did the act have to be witnessed, but the prosecution had to establish the principle of intention. That is, the prosecution had to prove by at least two disinterested and credible witnesses that the accused persons had been warned of the consequences of their action in advance and had indicated full understanding and will. These requirements applied to all capital cases.

In our century, homosexuality and lesbianism have been understood in different ways than in the past. There are today gay and lesbian congregations, often led by gay or lesbian rabbis. Those who belong to them are considered, even by the most Orthodox authorities, no less Jewish than any other Jewish congregants or rabbis. They may run into social rejection, but they are increasingly accepted within the Liberal or Reform Jewish community. While it is possible for Reform theology to consider the question of homosexuality as something other than a moral failure or an illness, that has so far proven impossible for the Orthodox.

Lesbianism is known in Jewish law and condemned prior to the modern period, but it seldom posed the legal problems that homosexuality did and so was generally ignored. For one thing, whereas homosexual rape is common, lesbian rape is not. For another, if two women in a household enjoy a lesbian relationship, it does not call paternity of offspring into question. Also, intimate, close, loving relations between women were considered normal in many periods. If two or more lesbians, perhaps two wives of one man or two sisters, all shared one household, then who would bring a case before the court? And what would the court be asked to accept as the defining proof of a lesbian action, corresponding to anal penetration of the male by the male? How would credible witnesses ever have been in a position to testify that they had actually seen such an act?

Anti-Gay Views and Actions Among Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Orthodox Jews still have very conservative views about gays. “Trembling Before God “ is a documentary by New York-based director Parvez Sharma about gays and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews. Tim McGirk wrote in Time: At a gay pride march in Jerusalem in 2005 an ultra-Orthodox youth waded into the crowd of revelers and slashed three people with a knife. Ultra-Orthodox Jews see Israel's tolerant laws toward gays as a symptom of a Jewish state rejecting its religious responsibilities. For some, the battle to stop the Gay Pride march has already begun. In the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shea'rim, police clashed over three consecutive nights this week with curly-forelocked youths who burned tires and hurled eggs and tomatoes. One officer said he was stunned "by the level of hatred" he saw in these clashes against Israel's small but vocal gay and lesbian community. Israel's Supreme Court has approved the parade, but the city's police could still call it off for the sake of public safety. [Source: Tim McGirk, Time, November 3, 2006 /=/]

“The implications of calling off the march under threat of violence worry civil rights advocates. Says Elena Canetti, a spokeswoman at Jerusalem Open House, which sponsors the parade: "This is bigger than gay rights. It's now about whether we respect the rule of law in Israel, or give in to threats of violence." Cannetti says that human rights activists and some leftist parties have signed on to the parade, which is expected to draw several thousand gay marchers. "Many people aren't coming because they're scared," she says. /=/

“The mile-long parade route is carefully planned to avoid any places of worship, and Canetti says that she has told some of the procession's expected participants, especially those from flashy Tel Aviv, to tone down sexy costumes. "We're not having floats or naked men flashing their asses," she says. "We just want to tell people: 'Hey, we're here. We have a right to exist.'"

Hatred of Gays Unites Conservative Jews, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem

In 2006, Tim McGirk wrote in Time: “In a Holy City fissured by faith, finding a consensus on anything among Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics is a near-miraculous occurrence. Yet Jerusalem's rabbis, priests and imams have united, however briefly, to stop the city's Gay Pride parade. For some of their followers, the issue is worth spilling blood over: An unknown extremist Jewish group pasted up signs announcing a $500 "reward" for every gay man or woman killed during the parade, which is scheduled for Nov. 10. Several ultra-orthodox rabbis have vowed to mobilize more than 100,000 protesters to shut down Jerusalem on the day of the parade, and police warn that some groups plan to pelt the marchers with apples jagged with razor blades. [Source: Tim McGirk, Time, November 3, 2006 /=/]

“Meanwhile, in a rare display of solidarity with Jewish extremists, an influential Islamic cleric is urging Muslims to stage a simultaneous protest inside the old walled city to draw away Israeli police who would otherwise be shielding the gay parade from harm. "Not only should these homosexuals be banned from holding their parade," says one Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan, who preaches at a mosque near Damascus Gate, "but they should be punished and sent to an isolated place." Hatred, it seems, can be a bridge to inter-faith harmony. /=/

The tension over the Nov. 10 march may have erupted even sooner had the Lebanon war not forced the cancellation of a World Gay Pride Procession that had been planned for Jerusalem this summer. Even then, one extremist, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, from the Eda Haredit rabbinic court, blamed the failure of Israel's campaign in Lebanon on "the homosexuals' obscenity and promiscuity in the Holy Land." /=/

“The anti-gay bandwagon has even attracted support from abroad. Rabbi Yehuda Levin, of the Orthodox Rabbinical Alliance of America and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, has been carrying out a three-year campaign against what he calls "the homosexualization of the Holy Land." It was Levin who crossed the boundaries of religious and ethnic hostility and recruited the support of prominent Palestinian Islamic cleric Taisser Tamimi against the parade. Evangelical Christian groups were also upset by what they saw as the deliberate flaunting of sexuality in Christendom's most sacred place. Says Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, "This city's long history makes this event very provocative for people's feelings and beliefs. It's too 'in-your-face.'" But secular Israelis say it's a shame that the only thing Jerusalem's three feuding communities of faith can agree on is their condemnation of gays. Both sides will be looking to prevail on the streets of Jerusalem.” /=/

Sodom and Gomorrah Burn

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine,, London, Library of Congress, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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