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Judaism and Homosexuality

Traditional Judaism on Homosexuality


Nov 4 2008
The various movements within Judaism differ in their view of homosexuality. Traditional Judaism considers homosexual acts as a violation of Jewish law (halakha). More progressive movements of Judaism believe homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written so the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts needs to be adapted.

Biblical Prohibition

According to the Bible, homosexual acts are "to'evah," an abomination.

In Leviticus 18:22, it is written: "And you shall not cohabit with a male as one cohabits with a woman; it is an abomination."

And in Leviticus 20:13, it is written: "And if a man cohabits with a male as with a woman, both of them have done an abominable thing; they shall be put to death; their blood falls back upon them."

The Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts seems harsh at first glance, but not all orthodox Jews interpret these passages in a simple way.


Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, Chairman of the Oxford University L'Chaim Society and author, uses a wider perspective in his interpretation of these passages. Boteach has developed a more humane interpretation of G-d's mandate for heterosexual acts and prohibition of homosexual acts.

According to Boteach, homosexual acts are wrong simply because the Torah says they are wrong, and not because they are an aberration or sickness. Sexuality as a whole is instinctive, and both heterosexuality and homosexuality are natural. Then why does G-d say that heterosexual love is holy and homosexual love is an abomination? Heterosexual love is the way the human race propagates itself. G-d demands that we regulate our sexual activity so that we will lead happier lives and fulfill our commitments to our communities.

The Torah is against homosexual acts, not homosexual people. Judaism and G-d love all people. Boteach reminds us that the Torah also calls eating non-kosher food 'to'evah', an abomination. The word 'to'evah' in the Torah does not depict a social repulsion.

Furthermore, the Torah condemns the homosexual act, not homosexual love or the homosexual urge. "Judaism does not prohibit or in any way look down upon homosexual love. In the eyes of Judaism the love between two men or two women can be as natural as the love between a man and a woman. What it does prohibit is homosexual intercourse."

Boteach recommends the Jewish approach to homosexuality focus on the benefits of heterosexuality, rather than on the repulsion of homosexuality. He also thinks that Jews with homosexual preferences should make a concerted effort to reorient their preference and to lead a life according to Jewish law (Halacha).

The Rebbe

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson accepted the fact that certain men and women have an inherent sexual attraction to the same sex. However, these men are not "gay" and the women are not "lesbian." Rather, these are people with a sexual preference for the same sex. In addition, the Rebbe believed this preference is a result of social conditioning, and not a result of an irreversible physical condition.

Consequently, the Rebbe believed that those with homosexual preferences could and should be encouraged to give heterosexual relationships a try. Traditional Judaism believes that even someone born with homosexual preferences may be able to find sexual fulfillment in a heterosexual marriage. And it is the heterosexual marriage that most benefits the community. Just as Judaism encourages a Jewish bachelor to get married, it encourages someone with homosexual preferences to try to reorient their sexual attraction and enter into a heterosexual relationship.
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