Acahrei Mot Kedoshim 5770: What is Abhorrent?

This weeks double portion covers a lot of ground, starting with the procedures for sacrifice on what will become to be known as Yom Kippur, then going through many ethical and social laws. Many are sexual in nature, such as those against Adultery and incest. Some are ethical principles like:

17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reason with your neighbor, and not allow sin on his account.18. You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.[Leviticus 19]

Others, are ones which make little sense, or requiring a bit of puzzling:

19. You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with mixed seed; nor shall a garment mixed of linen and woollen come upon you.[Leviticus 19]

or these:

26. You shall not eat any thing with the blood; nor shall you use enchantment, nor observe times. 27. You shall not round the corners of your heads, nor shall you mar the corners of your beard. 28. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you; I am the Lord.

Yet one in this double portion has caused a lot of puzzlement as to its meaning. Most will take a plain meaning, but some have problems with that, and I have lots of questions about it.

22. You shall not lie with a male, as with a woman; it is abomination[Leviticus 18]

13. If a man also lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.[Leviticus 20]

The two places in Torah which many believe ban same sex relationships has been a puzzle to me. The puzzle is in the Hebrew, both in style and vocabulary. Hebrew tend to make things into a poetic parallel structure: for example:

27. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female He created them.[Genesis 1]

The repetition of phrases is very apparent, but in this verse there is another pairing of interest as well: “male and female.” We see this repeated often in talking about different species and their males and females of the species. Often we hear of “Man and woman.” Both of these have a symmetry that is stylistically consistent in Hebrew. But these two verse in Leviticus change that to “man and male” or “male and woman” depending how you pair it. Either way this is an inconsistency. And I wondered why.

My belief is that ish,איש man denotes an adult. on the other hand zacar זכר male, is not so clear on age. Looking in context most cases where zacar is not paired with female discuss the case of something male and young, either of animals or of humans. As many have had problems with, the phrase “as with a woman” provides a second problem. since males do not have the same physical organs as woman it is impossible to mate with a male as with a female. Yet, there is nowhere in Torah which explicitly or even suggestively ban anal sex with a male of female. So how could a male be like a woman?

The word for “lies with” שכב may suggest a possibility. Cases of rape and incest always use this verb to describe sex. This is not the intimate “knowing” ofiten used, but something less mutual. Shacav as a verb is often used in Leviticus 18 to describe the types of incest, written as a case of a man acting on a female. It bans men from acting on their urges against women within their family. This is a text that believes men is dominant to women sexually. Thus it may be that to be “like a woman” is to be forced into sex.

What I have come up with is that 18:22 and 20:13 is not about two male adults in an consensual intimate relationship, but a adult having sex onto a minor, who is not able to either understand or resist what is happening. For many years I have used such a interpretation to understand and deal with these verses which have caused so much hate against people’s choice of who to love. Yet I still have a problem, and that is the death penalty for both participants in such a relationship. It’s not the only death penalty like this of course, both parties in adultery are to be executed. But more significant is the case of bestiality:

15. And if a man lies with a beast, he shall surely be put to death; and you shall slay the beast. 16. And if a woman approaches any beast, and lies down to it, you shall kill the woman, and the beast; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.[Leviticus 20]

The problem I have is in the case of the beast and the case of a young male is the powerless party is found guilty along with he aggressor. They are treated as though they were willing participants, yet the way I understand the verses, that is not the case. The case of the woman, as we will found out in Deuteronomy 22, may not end in death for her, but could end in death for the rapist depending on her known resistance. Why in child abuse and bestiality does the victim have to pay the price? The biblical death penalties have been rendered harmless by the legal acrobatics of the Rabbis of the Talmud, but there is this idea of killing the victims that still bothers me. In contrast we read:

2. Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.[Leviticus 19]

I’m not feeling very holy right now. I actually feel a lot of doubt. the idea of one atrocity being solved with another bothers me greatly. I struggle with it, as I struggle with a lot of things lately. What really is abhorrent practices? Many around the world today think my way of living as a liberal straight male Jew is abhorrent. I think about how many things I think are abhorrent that people get away with. We read of institutionalized child sacrifice”Passing seed through fire to Molech”, and of people turning their heads to ignore such practices. Both parent and silent witnesses are guilty according to the text. Thinking about the abuse scandals that rock some large religious institutions, and how many simply turned their heads away makes me wonder what is abhorrent. While I gave an interpretation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as one of child abuse, this same institution continues to enforce it in its more common meaning. Looking at the news at any one time, and noting that adulterers are also given a death penalty, how can one think same-sex unions of any kind are any more abhorrent?

My view of Torah is to struggle with it. Yet I find it hard to struggle sometimes, and lately I’ve had a hard time even struggling, as things get too confusing. There are things in the text that I just don’t get. Some people find this parasha, notably Leviticus 19, as a code to be holy. Sandwiched between Leviticus 18 and 20 I don’t know how holy it can be. All I know is being holy does not mean being fair.

What is abhorrent? To be honest I don’t know.

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