A Queer Reading of Leviticus

The New Jersey Jewish News ran a great piece highlighting Rabbi David Greenstein’s contributions to Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, particularly his analysis of one of the Bible’s most controversial passages.

The Leviticus verse, 18:22 — “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination” — has long been interpreted as expressly forbidding male homosexuality. The traditional reading was reflected in a joint statement by the Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America in 2004: Leviticus 18 refers to the “sexual depravity practiced in ancient Egypt, which, as understood by the sages of blessed memory…, included the legitimization of same-sex marriages.”

But Greenstein, in one of the book’s four essays challenging traditional readings of the passage, suggests that the Hebrew can be read to mean something entirely different: He writes: “The prohibition is against two males forcing themselves on a woman.”

Greenstein, a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly and former rosh yeshiva of the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion, celebrates the ability of each generation to reinterpret Torah text.

“The options one has at any given time for interpretation are determined by their place in time and the society they live in and so on,” he said. “We know people who lived in Europe read the Torah differently from people in Spain and Islamic countries. We are always reading the Torah from the place we’re at. That doesn’t make it relative, just honest.”

San Francisco’s J Weekly has another take on the book.

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