People enthusiastically subscribe to established worldviews in order to belong to a good community and program for life. Some might stay where birth put them simply out of habit, but such a stale adherence will not last many generations. To survive for centuries, outlooks on life must possess some pretty good qualities – especially those with a demanding lifestyle.
Therefore, we can reasonably expect traditional Judaism to be attractive, smart, humane, just, pro-survival, pro-peace, realistic, liberating, hope giving, etc., and indeed, it often is. It comes as a shock, then, that on one subject it seems completely the opposite. We find Judaism’s treatment of homosexual men – for simplicity, we will limit our discussion to men – to be totally out of character, without any redeeming features. Orthodox Jews, especially from Western countries, increasingly aim to be warm and friendly towards homosexuals, but do that despite Judaism’s teachings on homosexuality, not because of them.
Let us give a few examples, representative of dozens that we found, where Jewish anti-homosexual legislation contradicts other Jewish teachings and even reality itself.
The Torah says in its second chapter, “It is not good for humans to be alone.” The Talmud asserts that life without companionship is not viable. Judaism generally sees a sexual relationship, within certain boundaries, as a good thing.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Brachot 9:1) states: “A man cannot be without a woman.” The Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 1:1) adds: “A man without a wife lacks happiness, blessing, goodness, Jewish knowledge, safety, and peace.” Yet, we find perfectly happy homosexual couples that lack none of this.
We are taught that God never asks the impossible or what would make most people stumble and that it is actually easy to keep the commandments. However, the total sexual abstinence Judaism asks of homosexual men is not feasible for most people, and the Talmud in fact recounts that a ban on one’s sexuality may lead to severe promiscuity (Gitin 43b).
In short: denial of all sexuality for homosexual men conflicts with many ethical ideas in Judaism and psychological reality.
Such contradictions made us investigate the basis for Judaism’s rejection of homosexuals’ sexuality. We will summarize our findings. Maybe different conclusions can be found, but undeniably some correction is urgently needed, because the present stand of Orthodox Judaism vis-à-vis homosexual men is unbecoming of any moral intelligent system – inflicting hurt, helping oppression and often life-endangering as it is. While attitudes and thought have lately improved, there has been hardly any Orthodox attempt to question the correctness of biblical antagonism against homosexual men, and it is precisely this that we undertake.
WHILE THE Torah is the most fundamental and holy text of Judaism, Orthodox Jews first look to the Talmud to assess texts from the Five Books of Moses. In the Jewish tradition, the Talmud is not regarded a later commentary on Scripture, but rather a reflection of the oral commentary that always accompanied the written teachings. The Written Law is God’s shorthand; the Oral Law has more details on the Divine mind-set, to prevent misrepresentation.
The Talmud understands homosexual intercourse as being evil because it would make husbands leave their wives (Nedarim 51a). That which the King James translation renders as “abomination,” the Sages rather explain as “going astray” – quite a different matter.
Rabbis through the ages have written in the same vein.
Now, looking at the pertinent Leviticus verses afresh, we see that they say something very interesting: “With [a] male, [one] shall not copulate woman’s copulations.”
Note that the last two-word specification is not relevant to homosexual men, as women clearly are not on their minds when they seek a sexual relationship.
Exactly as the Oral Law intimates, these verses prohibit heterosexual men from having sex with a man – as if with a woman, as a substitute for women. The Hebrew Bible actually accommodates homosexuals by not addressing them! About 50 years ago, on the heels of sexual liberation, homosexuals emerged en masse, and the rabbis understandably saw this as a sign of the start of yet another licentious epoch. However, we see that the vast majority of homosexuals are now seeking societal support for having their own, same-sex, monogamous families, so with the advantage of hindsight, we can safely say that this movement is about equality rather than about free sex.
For decades now, a near consensus exists among professionals that homosexual men cannot be “cured” or “changed.” We scrutinized hundreds of pages by the leading dissenting lay and professional therapists and their lobbyists, and all their arguments to the contrary proved false (pages 102-220 of our book – see below).
We found that either their clients were brainwashed – which besides being unethical and deeply hurtful, merely causes temporary adjustments – or the supposed changes were concocted. From this unexpected quarter we can learn what sexual orientation is, which is what really defines homosexuals and is crucial to understand.
HOW TO identify one’s sexual orientation is a subject in itself. Put simply, sexual orientation is not the same as love or variable sexual identity, attraction or activity.
Rather it is the longing and ability to deeply bond with someone of one sex through a great intensity of sexuality. At the same time, one is unable to feel such great sexual passion or bond so deeply with anyone of one’s non-preferred sex. (When uncertain, one should seek real therapy to figure this out, rather than experiment with sex.) The total failure of the fraudulent homo-healers also shows conclusively that sexual orientation is fixed for life, very early on (and that there are bisexual identities, attractions, activities and love stories, but no bisexual orientation). That means that homosexual men are neurobiologically different in a significant and permanent way from heterosexual men. This, in turn, makes it possible to regard them as a special category under Jewish Law.
If homosexual men are unchangeably different, and if the Jewish tradition forbids homosexual intercourse for heterosexuals, then maybe the original idea can be restored that homosexuality is forbidden only for heterosexual men. This conclusion would resolve the dozens of contradictions that we mentioned above.
We call upon the rabbinic arbiters of Jewish law to entertain the possibility that half a century ago, this biblical injunction was misapplied to this exceptional category of people.
We believe that our new-old idea fits the Jewish traditional outlook itself, an ethical religious worldview behooving heterosexual Jews, and psychological reality.
Others may come up with different ideas, but so far ours is the only traditional and realistic solution known to us, and as such, it should be implemented immediately.
It seems that all major monotheistic religions condemn homosexuality, somewhat modeled after the Jewish lead. When the rabbis modify their position, those world religions covering billions of people will hopefully once again follow the Jews and incorporate the idea that homosexuality (intercourse, and all the more so other forms of same-sex sex) is just fine – for homosexuals. The grave responsibility for the fate of the lives of literally hundreds of millions of individuals [conservative estimate: 2-5% (men), 4-9% (women), average 5%, times 7.3 billion = 365 million] lies partly in the hands of our rabbis. The writer is co-author of the recently published Homosexuality and Halacha: It Is Not That Simple – an Encyclopedic Look at How Jewish Law deals with Love and Sexuality between Men. For more information see www.jewhom.com.