Parashat Kedoshim contains much that is lovely. And one verse that has kept me awake, a lot. The verse, ‘a man who lies with a male in the way of lying with a woman; they have both performed a toevah,’ has haunted my Rabbinic journey. It’s been a battleground over which my relationship to textual tradition and faith has been most shaped and tested.
The verse prohibits a particular homosexual act as toevah, but King James’ translators misrepresent the Hebrew with the word ‘abomination.’ Other toevot include eating shellfish and pork, intercourse between a man and a menstruating woman and offering a blemished animal as a sacrifice. Toevah is not kinds of sexuality; a Rabbi who feels no desire to marry, for example, is allowed to absent himself from the obligation to have children.
I can’t perceive of God as cruel. Or rather I can’t understand my religion as cruel. There is a balance. I don’t insist that religion must buckle to my desire to watch television on Shabbat, or eat bacon. But the desire for intimacy, and the nature of that desire in different people, is, I believe, of an entirely different sort. The Rabbis understand that, before the creation of Eve, Adam seeks a mate amongst the entire animal kingdom rejecting everything, waiting for something to be the ‘fitting helper’ he sought. I understand God’s decree that ‘it is not good for man to be alone,’ to be about the darkness of living a life alone. It’s impossible for me, as someone who enjoys the delights of intimate companionship, to insist that others live alone, in that ‘not good’ state.
As a Rabbi I have to make a decision, what do I want a gay Jew to do, and what can I do to support those aims? For me the first part of the question has a clear answer, I want gay Jews to build decent, holy and Jewishly committed intimate relationships with other Jews. At that point I feel compelled to work out how to walk that walk, even if it does mean rethinking old and creating new ritual practices in ways that are novel and even, for many, uncomfortable.
This is a conversation engaging all my Masorti Rabbinic colleagues and we would welcome your thoughts, questions and feelings on the matter.