Before we begin discussing this topic, it’s important for me to disclaim that my writing this piece is not an attempt to persuade anyone to change their beliefs. I am simply explaining the Jewish halacha, or law, for the public.
One of the most controversial topics, inside and out of religion, is homosexuality. When people think of the famous pasuk (verse), “Do not lie with man as if with a woman for it is an abomination” (Leviticus 20:13), they get offended, defensive, and repulsed. The word “abomination” is the part that tends to spur these feelings, and that’s why context is vital. Firstly, it is key to note that the Torah specifies physical relations with two individuals of the same sex. It does not state that any male or female cannot desire being with another male or female; it is the act that is specified as forbidden. Secondly, to comprehend the emphasis here — why it requires the word translated as “abomination” — we must examine other contexts in which the same Hebrew word has been used. All translations risk missing nuances in the grammar and terminology used and involve a lack of commentary from sages.
The Hebrew word for “abomination” is pronounced Toe-Ae-Vah. Throughout the Tanach (the compilation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings), the word appears in sixteen separate verses. Those sixteen instances refer to multiple topics, some repetitive and others standing alone: homosexuality; idol worship; sleeping with a woman whom you have divorced; eating an unkosher sacrifice; making unkosher offerings to Hashem (God); claiming to have received false prophesies; convincing others to reject the Torah; and a few others.
In all of these contexts, the word “abomination” is used for one purpose.
“Abomination” is not necessarily intended to describe an act as being more severe and worthy of punishment than other commandments. Rather, it simply states the following point: We were created by Hashem and He gave us the Torah, which has a rather large number of commandments. We have to take into consideration what some of those commandments require of us. For instance, we were created to have a relationship with God. Therefore, unlike other commandments, worshipping another God is not simply ignoring a commandment; it directly opposes the reason for creation itself, and is therefore an “abomination.” Similarly, we are commanded to both be fruitful and multiply (have children of our own) and not waste our seed onto the ground (climax in a “risk-free” way).
By a man sleeping with a man, he is not doing anything wrong on account of any restriction against two men loving one another. On the contrary — nowhere in the Torah does it state that a man cannot love or desire another man. It never states a prohibition regarding anything other than physicality in this context.
The reason that homosexuality is referred to as being an “abomination” is because by sleeping with another person of the same gender, you are directly disregarding the commandments to have your own children. To take it a step further, it is even prohibited for a man to sleep with another man after already having had multiple children, because there is still the law regarding wasting seed — a potential life if passed to someone of the opposite gender — at play.
One question commonly asked: “Why can’t two men who are infertile be together, since they cannot waste potential life or have children?”
The answer is that someone who is told he is not fertile is told an exaggeration. It simply means that his chances of having children are very small, and as long as that is the case, he is commanded to attempt creating life with a woman.
Another commonly asked question: “Why does the Torah specify men? Why does it make it seem that there are no restrictions against lesbianism?”
Women do not waste life by sleeping with a man or woman like men can. However, in the times of Egyptian slavery we were in the second-lowest spiritual level that we could have possibly been in — and during that time the Egyptian women would sleep with one another. It was, and is, important that we never lower our standards to the Egyptian culture. This is not to state that lesbianism is a lower standard. It’s simply that the Egyptians were less moral than other nations, and we must try to avoid a lot of what they did as a fence to never fall back so low spiritually.
Finally, all explanations aside, there is also a very simple, yet admittedly difficult to accept, answer to questions about homosexuality: The Torah gave men the commandment to not have physical homosexual relations, and we have an obligation to fulfill the duties that Hashem gave us.
It is obvious that there are many points that I have not yet addressed. Depending on the response to this article I will, God willing, write a Part II.
Genisis 43:32 Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 Deuteronomy 7:26, 14:3, 24:4 Isaiah 1:13, 41:24 Jeremiah 6:15, 8:12 Ezekiel 16:40, 18:12, 33:26 Proverbs 21:27, 28:9 / Tractate Avodah Azara Perek Aleph, Mishnah Tet