Jay Michaelson

How can you be gay and Jewish?, p.5

- Some forms of gay sex acts may be sins, but everyone sins. There may be special opportunities to being gay, or there may not be. But in any case, if gay people sin through their sexuality, they are no different from everyone else. This is why we have tshuvah, return to God. Moreover, at the very least, society's wildly disproportionate attention to homosexuality needs to be corrected; this is a sin far less important than driving on the Sabbath, or scrupulously observing the laws of family purity. Those who desecrate the Sabbath on the one hand, but condemn homosexuality on the other, may be called, charitably, ignorant and inconsistent. Uncharitably, they are hypocrites. But they are worse than ordinary hypocrites, since the sins they commit are far more grievous than those which they condemn.

Personally, I find these compromise views to be insufficient, because they treat what is actually a great gift to intimacy, sexuality, as a form of disability, inscrutability, or imperfection. I find the textual interpretations of Leviticus to be more satisfying, not because they are permissive, but because they reconcile an otherwise impossible contradiction: that a loving God has asked that 5% of Jews repress their sexual urges and distort their loving souls. Moreover, I see the restriction against idolatrous sex as recognizing precisely the power and importance of human sexuality that is in evidence throughout Jewish law and tradition. Unlike the vaguely "don't ask, don't tell" policies of the compromise positions, the 'violence' and 'idolatry' interpretations situate Leviticus 18 squarely in the context of Jewish ideological and textual norms. They reconcile the contradiction, and show that when core Jewish values (about text, about violence, about idoltatry) are applied to this verse, other core values (about God, about love) are upheld. This makes sense to me.

In any case, the onus should be on those who would prohibit same-sex relations to explain their theology, the grammar of the verse, and the place of gay men (remember, none of the above applies to lesbians) in the Jewish community if their souls are to be cut off in this way. After all, they are the ones who are causing irrefutable and grievous harm in the name of their reading. Therefore, rather than placing the burden of proof on those who would alleviate harm, our default position ought to be that halacha is never supposed to hurt anyone, even in a trivial way. (There are exceptions made in Jewish law for reasons as small as the physical discomfort a lulav may cause in one's hands.) Consequently, those who would read the ambiguous verse in a way that would cause repression and distortion must meet a heavy burden for their reading to be theologically and jurisprudentially tenable.

In fact, I would go further. Given that negative attitudes towards homosexuality cause up to 8,000 deaths each year in the United States alone [see sites], I believe those who propound such views are complicit in death and suffering. I believe God is present in love, and know from simple empiricism that God has created a spectrum of loves for a purpose we cannot understand. For these reasons, I believe it is a profanation of the Divine Name to say that God desires self- mutilation or self-annihilation. To say "the Bible forbids homosexuality," knowing the consequences of saying so, is the true abomination. It is a chillul hashem, a profanation of the Divine name. It leads unknowledgeable people astray, giving them false and destructive ideas about the Divine will, leading them to reject the Torah, or Judaism as whole. And it leads impressionable young people to mutilate their souls. To say "the Bible forbids homosexuality" causes error, suffering, and misunderstanding, and yokes the name of God to the suppression of the Godly. It is, in a word, blasphemy.

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Image: Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is chief editor of Zeek Magazine and director of Nehirim: A Spiritual Initiative for GLBT Jews.

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From previous issues:

The Wrong Half
Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

Temima Fruchter

Run Like the Wind
Jay Michaelson and Dan Friedman