Tuesday, September 17, 2013

For The Sin of Homophobia--an important addendum

I've been incredibly gratified by the reaction to my Yom Kippur sermon, "For The Sin of Homophobia." But, it turns out that I had at least one significant error in it.

At one point, I reference the term "mishkevei isha" -- "lie with a woman," as in "do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman..." in Leviticus. It turns out that that phrase is probably a technical phrase, referring to prohibitions on sex, such as incest (which are enumerated, in great detail, elsewhere in Leviticus). Thus, I claimed, "do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman" might actually be better translated as "the same restrictions apply to men and women." It's not about homosexuality, at all, I said.

I got that last part wrong. The truth is much, much better.

When I was writing the sermon, I couldn’t find the reference about mishkevei isha, but I had clearly remembered learning it, so I included it. But, I had this nagging feeling that something was a bit off. Then, the morning after Yom Kippur (of course), I remembered where I had seen this. It was in Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s amazing responsum (Rabbinic legal opinion) on Same Sex Marriage for the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (see bottom of p. 5)*. When I checked it, I discovered that I had remembered the definition of mishkevei isha correctly, but the new translation of that verse is even more dramatic.

* It's a long, somewhat technical piece. But, it's brilliant. If you like Rabbinic writing, it's a must-read.

According to Biblical Scholar Jacob Milgrom, it quite possibly might be properly rendered as, “All of the restrictions on sex with a woman apply equally to sex with a man.” So, the verses bandied about by homophobes might actually be acknowledging the legality of homosexual sex, so long as it’s non-incestuous, non-adulterous and the like.

Judaism didn't have to become anti-homosexuality. But, it did. It does not, however, have to remain so.

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