“What do we do with texts that won’t let people live?”
The dreaded verse, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence (Lev. 18:22)” appears in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot (Lev. 16:1-18:30).
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The pioneer Jewish feminist scholar Rabbi Rachel Adler Ph.D. asks the question: “What do we do with texts that won’t let people live?” Verses such as this and its companion, Lev. 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—and they retain bloodguilt.” In a May 11th, 2012 drash delivered at Beth Chayim Chadashim she explored how we can understand such texts and take away their destructive powers.
Here’s the YouTube link to this powerful drash:
Rabbi Steven Greenberg the first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi and author of the groundbreaking book Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition wrote an opinion piece for New York’s The Jewish Week entitled ‘New Hope for Gay Orthodox Jews’:
Among the verses from Leviticus about incest, adultery and bestiality read at Mincha, there is a single verse that every year would still send a chill down my spine. “And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman, it is an abomination.” Hearing it would bring back my own memories of pain, huddled in a corner of the shul sobbing with my talit over my head. On Yom Kippur especially, the verse would bring to mind the many vulnerable and frightened gay teenagers hearing it.
This year I felt a new sense of resilience and hope born of a broader cultural shift. A few months ago the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, marking the end of a cultural accusation and the beginning of a new conversation in America, and in my Orthodox community as well.
This year, the leading American Orthodox rabbinic organization, the Rabbinic Council of America (RCA), finally rejected reparative therapy. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, urged the Orthodox world to tone down its strident rhetoric on homosexuality. A young Orthodox rabbi, Shmuly Yanklowitz, publicly identified himself as an LGBT ally, and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Los Angeles wrote that, given that homosexuality is likely a “feature of the human condition,” gay people “should not any longer have to pay the psychological, emotional and even physical price for our theological comfort.”
Selected Torah Passage of the Week
The Commandment to observe Yom Kippur: And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. (Lev. 16:29)