Homosexuality in Jewish Thought

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The sources of Judaism's traditional position on homosexuality and gay issues are well known. Two verses in Leviticus (18:23 and 20:13) express unequivocal condemnation of male homosexual sex (although it is not clear whether what is referred to is intercourse or all sexual acts between men). According to Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

As evident by its language, the biblical prohibition does not extend to female homosexual acts, though later commentators disapproved of lesbianism. One rabbinic Wedding Cakesource associates female homosexuality with the activities of the Egyptians and Canaanites, from which the Jews are supposed to abstain. Other authorities describe lesbianism as lewd or promiscuous, but do not consider it a capital offence. The Leviticus verses also imply that it is the act of homosexual sex, not the homosexual person, that is abhorred.

Much attention has been given to the word "abomination" (to'evah in Hebrew). Though the terminology seems callous, the same word is used in Deuteronomy 14:3 in reference to forbidden animals. Several traditional sources temper the harshness of the "abomination" by citing the lack of procreative potential as the reason for the abominable nature of the homosexual act. Interestingly, the medieval book Sefer HaHinuch compares homosexual sex to marrying a barren woman. 

Nonetheless, the traditional Jewish position on homosexuality is still difficult for many liberal-minded Jews, and the liberal denominations have debated the extent to which gays and lesbians can be fully integrated into religious communities.

The first and least controversial step taken by the Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movements was to endorse civil equality for gays and lesbians. The CCAR, the Reform movement's rabbinical council, took an early and active role in fighting for gay rights. In 1977 it drafted a call to decriminalize homosexual sex and to end all discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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