Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Homosexuality in Halakhah III

As further to this ongoing discussion, and in response to my friend Sholem's recent post on his blog, I continue the dialogue.

Let me start out by saying that the burden of proof is on those who wish to limit - for all intents and purposes, set aside - a biblical prohibition. This is a very serious suggestion, one over which the proposer should tremble from the weight of the responsibility. Yet, as many have shown, the arguments in favor of this proposal are at best tenuous and at worst simply untenable.

Exhibit A

Can God address relationships that did not exist at the time of the Torah? To the extent that such a thing can be directly predicated of God, I say, "Sure, why not?" The only problem is showing that God does address, via the prohibition in Leviticus, these currently existing relationships. That is, we need to see where the Gemara addresses loving homosexual couples.

Maybe God was referring to loving homosexual couples and maybe He was not. It is certainly possible that He was. So the statement, "Maybe He wasn't" is the best that can be offered in support of this daring proposal. What we both agree may not be said is that the Torah cannot be addressing consitutional homosexuals.

Exhibit B

2. Even if loving homosexual relationships did not exist in the ancient world, the rabbis were renownedfor their creativity and imagination. If they could conceive of such a relationship, then perhaps they were prohibiting it as well. CR. Artson has entirely failed to prove that the rabbis never addressed such a relationship.

Surely R' Simcha knows that לא ראינו אינו ראיה -- negative proof does not constitute proof. The rabbis were creative, imaginative, brilliant men, but neither superhuman nor superhistorical. To expect them to have addressed such a relationship is asking of them these qualities.

Now we have an argument from plausibility. It is implausible, supposedly, that the rabbis would address a relationship that did not exist in their time. We are getting closer to a proof but are not quite there yet. What we have now is an argument that 1) is a negative argument, 2) is based on the questionable proposition that there are no explicit mentions of loving homosexual couples in rabbinic literature (discussed later in this post) and 3) is strongly colored by the a priori assumption that the Sages could not had addressed this matter.


1. The Gemara in Hullin attributes to Ulla the statement that the Noachides "do not write a ketubbah for a male."... But it is a lot less of a stretch, I think, to explain that Rashi's commentary is referring to those who choose certain men as sexual partners -- much closer to the way that heterosexuals today wrongly understood homosexuality, i.e., as a serial pairing of man with man, rather than a possible foundation for loving relationships.

The problem with this theory, though, is that they were writing ketuvot for these relationships. A purely sexual relationship would not merit a ketuvah, like a pilegesh does not receive a ketuvah (cf. Sanhedrin 21a).

2... RJR again takes issue with RBA's interpretation of the Greek-derived word (גמומסיות) that's central to the passage. He claims the term is a positive one, while RBA, for his part, sees the term as pejorative... However, he does not support these translations with any parallel uses of the word in the Rabbinic literature, nor is it clear to the reader whether this word is, in fact, being used in mocking fashion. RJR needs to do more work here to support his assertion.

For the translation he cites extensive backing for his translation of marriage contracts:

I have translated the term גמומסיות as "marriage contracts" on the basis of both Theodor-Albeck and Mordecai Margulies. It clearly comes from the Greek gamikon, which means marriage. It is possible that it is a shortened form of gamikoi humnoi, in which case it would refer to "wedding songs."43

43. Rabbi Artson.s translation, "coupling songs," comes from Jastrow, it seems to me. That translation carries a very negative connotation essential to Rabbi Artson's understanding, but not really present in the original. Jastrow may be asserting that the presence of the word מומ in the term גמומסיות is the sages derisive perversion of the Greek term. Theodor-Albeck, Margulies, Sefer he-Arukh (s.v., גמס). Modern translations of Midrash Rabbah and the variants in both Genesis and Leviticus Rabbah argue against his understanding.

3. The final passage is from Sifra: "I [God] have forbidden only those practices which they and their ancestors have established. And what did they do? A man would marry a man and a woman marry a woman, a man would marry a woman and her daughter, and a woman would be married to two men."

RJR correctly points out (presumably in objection to RBA's approach) that "there is no way to read this passage as implying only lustful, non-supportive, loveless relationships." But that is not what RJR needs to show. He needs to prove that the passage implies supportive, loving relationships in these categories -- which is not the same thing at all. It might be, for example, that the Rabbis knew of loving relationships in the other enumerated categories, but that does not imply that the same reason can be applied to all categories together.

The simple reading is that all of the relationships are similar. "Nosei - marry" is the term used and I fail to see any reason why it should be taken as being an unequal, non-supportive relationship.


There is something else here that needs to be said, in the spirit of rendering explicit what has been up to now been only implicit. Halacha is directly related to morality, and we need to have convincing moral and ritual reasons for our halachot. Even if the rabbis knew of loving homosexual relationships, which I strongly doubt, it does not follow that their moral reasoning, and therefore their halachic approach, is one we should adopt.

This is, indeed, an interesting argument that would take us far off track. Od hazon la-mo'ed.

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