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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One thought on “A Queer Reading of Leviticus

  1. Regardless of the reading, the men who wrote portions of the Torah, or portions of what are now the Bible, etc., were simply men. Just because something was forbidden in any of the religious texts does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. There have been gay men and women, for example, in all religions, and throughout history, as in Greece, Rome, and numerous Arab countries. Many like Alexander, Shakespeare, and even Rumi, Michelangelo, were gay, whether or not modern minds care to admit that or not. Religion has not and cannot be the voice of the people, because it has showed that it is not simply “for” the people, and only that it is interested in mediating how people should live. It we look at the Inquisitions, the continued use of and acceptance of genocide, torture, and capital punishment in the African, Asian, and North American continents, it is clear that no religion has any right to dictate what is “right” or “wrong”.

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