Parashat Ahare Mot

Reading The Prohibition Against Homosexuality In Context

The sexual relationships forbidden by the Torah are intended to prohibit non-Israelite religious practices and abuses of power, not committed, loving relationships of any gender.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.


In the beginning of this portion, the Torah notes that the following laws were given "after the death of Aaron's two sons." Then the Yom Kippur service is described, including ritual purifications and the sending of the "scapegoat" into the wilderness. Rules are given for separating meat from its blood, and other dietary laws. Finally, there is a list of forbidden sexual relationships, given in the context of a general prohibition against following the practices of other nations.

In Focus

"You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is abhorrent" (Leviticus 18:22).

gay rainbow with jewish starPshat

This whole section of the Torah is called the arayot, literally the "nakednesses" (if that's a word). It is a list of sexual relationships forbidden to Israelite men, including various forms of incest, bestiality, and, apparently, homosexual relationships.


This verse is one of the most problematic in the entire Torah; its meaning seems to be quite obvious, and yet it is extremely difficult for many Jews to take at face value. Could the Torah--which has at its core the message that Israel must not despise or abuse the weak, helpless, or outnumbered in its midst--really be declaring that loving relationships between two consenting adults is abhorrent, even worthy of the death penalty? (Cf. Leviticus 20:13, a repetition and strengthening of this prohibition.)

It makes no sense from an ethical perspective: A central purpose of ethics is to regulate and make fair differentials in power and privilege. To put it another way, ethics is about keeping everybody from taking advantage of each other. Thus, mutually consenting relationships between equals would seem to present no ethical problem.

Many people of a traditional religious perspective see these verses as establishing the primacy of heterosexual relationships--for them, the ethical message is one of preserving "traditional"--i.e., heterosexual--families. The claim is often made that validating gay or lesbian relationships would undermine such families and give people the "option" of choosing nontraditional lives. Yet the children of gay and lesbian families turn out to be gay at roughly the same rate as everybody else--so this theory would seem to have little credence.

It seems, rather, that some people are naturally attracted to same-gender relationships, and find in them all the emotional and personal fulfillment that any heterosexual couple might hope for.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.