Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

My Source on Same-Sex Marriage in Ancient Canaan

A number of readers asked for it. My source is a midrash (that is, a work of Biblical interpolation) called Sifra that elaborates on Leviticus. The reference to same-sex marriage is unmistakable. Coincidentally, this particular note on the text comes in the context of this week’s Torah reading, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Sifra is ancient and authoritative. A common traditional view attributes its editing to Rabbi Hiyya, who was active in Tiberias, Israel, a bit after 200 CE. The Encyclopedia Judaica would push up the date of its authorship a couple of centuries. Either way, it’s very old and records interpretive oral traditions that are older still.
Some context: Leviticus 18 records the forbidden sexual relationships, including homosexual intercourse (v. 22). The list is prefaced with the statement, “Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their decrees” (18:3).

Sifra explains there about those “decrees”: “And what did they do? A man would marry a man, and a woman would marry a woman.” 
The end of the chapter in the Bible warns, “[T]he inhabitants of the land who are before you committed all these abominations, and the land became contaminated. Let not the land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you” (v. 27-28).
It sounds like such things were also done in Egypt, but it was the decrees of Canaan sanctioning same-sex marriage and similar relationships that resulted in the Canaanites losing their land and dying out as a people.
Please understand. My purpose here is not to condemn anyone. I am not saying to gays, “You’re bad and I’m good.” As I’ve said from the beginning of this blog, my hope is simply to be honest about classical sources like these. Look them in the face, and ask what we can learn from them that’s relevant today.
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posted May 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Mr Klinghoffer,
whether or not you wish to denigrate gays or not, you actually failed everyone by ignoring the double portion this week, which also states that one should love the stranger as one loves oneself. the problem becomes when people fail to see the stranger among them and Love him/her. I will rem ind you of what *I* see as one of the more powerful testaments from tanach where we are enjoined to “not oppress the orphan, the widow or the stranger in your midst, for you were stangers in the land of Egypt”.
I stand behind what I said before we are commanded to seek peace and to persue it, and I find most people who cite the verses in Leviticus seek not peace, nor Justice.

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posted May 1, 2009 at 5:42 pm

My impression is that Israelite sexual mores were organized around a single, very practical concern – promoting population growth. The story of Israel is of a small nomad tribe’s struggle to avoid dying out or being assimilated – to survive as a culture and a kingdom. That takes, above all, demographics – enough soldiers to conquer Canaan, enough citizens to hold it. All the sexual sanctions are against partnerships or practices that don’t lead to the creation of more Israelites – infertile pairings, pulling out (the sin of Onan), marrying outsiders. And you have to admit, it works – there are probably more Jews in the world now than there ever were in ancient Israel.
However, I am not an Israelite, and my nation is in greater danger from too many members of the tribe in too small a space, than from too few. Same-sex pairings are something cultures seem to adopt when they want to hold their population growth steady, rather than increase it, and so I am encouraging my culture to do just that.

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posted May 1, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I will gladly accept your midrash source, your interpretation of it and how it affects your religious belief on the subject of SSM. At the same time, I don’t see how any of that impacts on whether SSM should be sanctioned by the state. People who want to get married who have other beliefs, should be able to do so. In your previous post, you were only able to cite your opinion that SSM would somehow impact heterosexual marriage. For you, the religious citation ends the argument. Ok, so you shouldn’t do it in your religion. Now please tell us why others with other beliefs should not.

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David Klinghoffer

posted May 1, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Please see my earlier post for the non-Scriptural argument against SSM:
The point about Canaan was originally just an introductory remark.

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Rob the Rev

posted May 2, 2009 at 10:04 am

The citing of your Midrash shows that God has been creating gays and lesbians since the beginning and sophisticated cultures, like Egypt, accepted a homosexual sexual orientation and allowed themn to live in peace in marriage relationships.

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posted May 2, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I saw your earlier post, but felt it did not effectively argue against gay marriage:
1. You said that the instituion of marriage is ancient and that most people recognized it as being between a man and a woman. That is true, but it ignores that apparently some individuals even by your own midrash were engaging in SSM. It also ignores that in those days everyone was thought to be heterosexual. This argument is essentially, “we’ve always done it this way.” Why not change it? I presume your answer is that, “God does not want us to change it.” Not everyone believes in God nor in your interpretation of what God wants. So why can’t they marry?
2. You argue that experience tells us that society has a stake in preserving the status of heterosexual marriage [HM]. Gay marriage would diminish the prestige of HM. Social science says that marriage is good for people. I am a heterosexual and I do not feel that SSM in anyway affects HM. I do not say, “Wow, gays are getting married, I better not.” The argument could be made that one would say, “You know, everyone wants to be married, there must be something good about that.” If marriage is good for people, why not allow that benefit to gay couples who want to get married. Where is the harm to HM?
3. Your 3rd point is that allowing gays to marry undercuts unrelated beliefs about right or wrong; it essentially weakens the whole moral fabric if “they” can get married. I am not sure how SSM makes me more likely to steal or kill or….what? I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but the argument seems to be, “If we endorse homosexual sex, the sky’s the limit.” It seems to me that endorsing love between two people, makes us more rather than less moral.
An appeal to religious tradition is one which argues that God never changes. I tend agree with that, but that does not mean that God does not call on us to change, to grow as a people. God calls us to understand each other, to understand what it means to be human. God created gays, just as He created straights. We didn’t understand that. Now we do. Our institutions do change. We did away with slavery. That was in the Bible too. We have to interpret our understanding of God in light of what we learn. SSM does not hurt HM. If anything, it strengthens it.

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tobi love

posted May 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I believe that religion is a two-edged sword. It can make us reach great spitual heights and it can drag us down to the lowest of moral levels. Those who believe that God made us all must also believe that God made people who are attracted to their own sex. If He did not want this He could change it. If it is a flaw in the design then God made a mistake. If He could change it and doesn’t He is just plain mean. I can’t believe in a God Who would be so unkind. Just as most parents love their children even when they take a different path, I believe that God loves all His children. Do those who take the Bible literally as the word of God really believe that homosexuals and disobediant sons should be stoned to death?

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Sean Rhoades

posted May 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

I find it strange that some men can take hormones and make themselves almost completely female, and women can take hormones and make themselves almost completely male. If one truly feared God, and knew he/she was attracted to the same sex, why not take the hormone that makes one more of the sex they are, thereby recovering their attraction for the opposite sex. If someone doesn’t fear God, I suppose they could care less what Torah says, and would simply do what they wanted. I think it should be understood that God gives us obstacles, in order to test our love for him, and his Law, and it’s incorrect to think that just because people have infirmities, God is imperfect, or flawed in some way.

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posted May 4, 2009 at 8:17 am

Sean Rhodes:
you wrote:”I find it strange that some men can take hormones and make themselves almost completely female, and women can take hormones and make themselves almost completely male. If one truly feared God, and knew he/she was attracted to the same sex, why not take the hormone that makes one more of the sex they are, thereby recovering their attraction for the opposite sex.”
what you are reffering to is Transexuals, which is a different kettle of fish as opposed to gays and lesbians. Giving testosterone to Gay men is akin to putting gasoline on a burning fire. You can’t change who you are attracted to. I fear g-d, I was raised to believe that there are things bigger than our understanding. I also accept that I am gay and G-d would not have made me as such if there was no purpose in it. I do not see my orientation as an infirmity, and would love to be shown how it could be.

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Sean Rhoades

posted May 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Hi Tzvi
I am getting my idea from the fact that certain animals become attracted to the same sex, due to hormone defects. So a hen with to much of the male hormone will attempt to mount other hens, grow spurs, and crow. A male chicken with a hormone imbalance will try to sit on eggs, or anything that looks like eggs, although I am not sure if they will allow other roosters to mount them. But it all has to do with hormones. With humans, because we have the ability to adjust our behavior based on a belief or perhaps a bad habit we may have picked up as children, there need not be this hormone imbalance, the behavior can be purely conceptual based. Now add in a sinful conceptual belief, along with an imbalance of some kind, and you can perhaps see what will happen. And so I believe our ability to know from God’s word what’s right and wrong, no matter what imbalance, weakness, or infirmities we may have, we can “in the fear of God” do whatever it takes to avoid doing what we know is wrong. For example some people have a weakness gluttony but from Torah we know what happened when some of Israel greedily ate the meat (quails) he sent down to them. And as you said, if T is like fuel to a sinful fire, then perhaps one should consider reducing one’s T. There are medications that can do this. It my be true that you have a fear of God, but as do Church going heterosexuals who continue to commit adultery, and to continue to practice any kind of sinful behavior knowing it is wrong, to me shows a lack of fear. Of course, someone could deceive themselves into thinking, what they are doing is right. The Almighty is merciful though, and in the final judgment, I believe he will weigh everything in the balance. I don’t claim to be perfect, but when I discover that I may be doing something out of line with God’s Law, I try to make adjustments as best I can. Sometimes it takes little time to do this, other times I make an adjustment and then forget and have to remind myself again or am reminded by someone else, or by a re-read of Scripture, other times I realize I was wrong about what I thought was right or wrong. So for example, regarding the latter, I at one time thought it was completely wrong to lie, but later I realized that there could be situations when not to lie would actually be sinful. Take Rahab of Jericho, who saved the Israelite spies, with a lie. I don’t believe practicing homosexuals are right with God, but I also don’t think habitual adulterers are any better. As a Christian, to look upon another woman with lust is to commit adultery in one’s heart, something I have had a long struggle with. That struggle of averting my eyes, and controlling they see along with my thoughts when they go astray has paid off, in that with practice I have been able to withstand trials of my sinful nature, something God has given us all.

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Your Name

posted May 5, 2009 at 2:44 pm

“infirmities”, “defects”, “sinful”, “sick”, “not right with God”
If that is how you view God’s gay and lesbian children, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. This is not “love”.

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Steve Cornell

posted May 7, 2009 at 5:23 pm

the sin of homophobia is that it is the bearing of false witness

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:58 am

Steve, you gave us not much at all to “think” about.
In addition to the usual “infirmities”, “defects”, “sinful”, “sick”, “not right with God” crapola, this ‘article’ adds “depraved” and an oh-so-‘charitable’ comparison with sex offenders. N-i-i-i-c-e.
Plus, the ‘author’ cannot even support his own position, handily avoiding the question:
“If someone asks me if I chose my heterosexuality, I am not sure what they mean or what answering such a question will accomplish.”
Here’ a clue, since you/he obviously don’t have one – what is meant by the question is the assumption that for some reason, it’ perfectly fine to promulgate the myth/lie/false witness that gay people somehow do “choose” to be gay and you betterosexuals don’t. What answering the question would accomplish (if you had the balls to actually answer it) is to show the evident hypocrisy of such a charge against God’s gay and lesbian children. Sexual orientation, just like “race and gender” and hair color, and handedness, are innate and immutable (and, btw, morally neutral) traits.
“I do not think it is best to speak of any type of sexual desire outside of the context of human choosing.”
The ‘author’ mistakes a discussion of sexual orientation with choosing to have an act of sex.
Another lie in the ‘article': “others had it forced on them against their wills”. Such unbelievable blarny. If someone does not have the innate attracton to one’s own sex, could someone please tell me how another person could “force” such an attraction on them? Mte, do not mean ‘force a sex act on them’ – that’s clearly rape and is not what is under discussion.
Or maybe the esteemed owner of this blog could tell us if someone could “force” him to be attracted to guys. Or yourself, for that matter, Steve.
Such an unimpressive ‘article’ – opinion piece, perhaps, but not-at-all fact-based.
What a buncha liars we find so readily here on B’net. I’m not sure why Waldman hired you.
If these are the kinds of ‘arguments’ you bring forward to prevent equal marriage, it is no wonder you are losing.

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Your Name

posted May 13, 2009 at 1:32 am

Think about this…G-d made us all in his image…therefore, at some point, G-d must have thought about what attracts each one of us to the others. Since we all have been taught that He makes no mistakes and that all things that he made were made with a purpose…I believe His purpose in making Gays and Lesbians is to teach us: To love without conditions. To learn to be tolerant. To learn to be strong. To learn to absolve our sins against each other. To be benevolent. To learn humility and to practice kindness.
Since we are ever so much flawed…we still haven’t learned what He is trying to teach us…so He still has not sent us our savior and so we still wait. Small steps to heaven; giant rewards if we but see.
PS: I am not gay, I have no fear of difference and I teach tolerance to all who will listen. Listening is the first and last step to love.

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Your Name

posted May 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm

The author of the article quoted from Traditional (and widely recognized) Jewish sources. Whatever one’s orientation may or may not be, the Jewish documentation is clearly supportive of a heterosexual relationship within marriage.
As we all know, any sexual contact between 2 people changes the relationship. The change can be destructive or constructive. While there are many variables that are better addressed by a scholar, I think a few are: the type of contact, the intent of the contact, the existing relationship between the 2 people, and many more.
I will acknowledge in the short term it is very effective to call someone a bigot for disagreeing with your point of view. This can effectively shut them up through intimidation and fear. Not only in this column, but in the broader community, this appears to be the Gay communities repeated response. What I do not see from those who disagree with the author is a thoughtful, Torah and/or Talmudic – or anything Jewishly related – based counter argument. This doesn’t mean such an argument doesn’t exist. What the people who scold the author are doing is charactor assassination and personal attacks on his integrity, not thoughtful disagreement intended to educate, inform and perhaps change someones opinion.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 10:37 am

” the Jewish documentation is clearly supportive of a heterosexual relationship within marriage.”
Um, you’d better update your files. Both the Reformed and the (ahem) Conservative branches of Judaism approve of and perform same-sex marriages as well.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 12:52 pm

This comment is directed to Steve Cornell,
You mentioned in your post that you did not see how someone could have homosexuality forced on them. Well, I know of an incident where exactly that was done.
I used to know a gay man we’ll call Todd. I gave him a ride home from work one night. He was laughing telling me about two sixteen year old boys he had tricked into having sex with him, by getting them high and a little drunk, while showing them Playboy magazines.
These two boys looked very down-trodden and depressed. After what Tod told me he had done, I realized the reason why. Prior to that I always had the attitude live and let live. But hatred and anger actually welled up me upon hearing what Todd had done to these formerly heterosexual boys. And to see him laughing about it. That was the ulitmate offense.
I never spoke to Todd again.
Who knows what became of those two sixteen year old boys after that experience. They were young, easily confused and who knows what became of them or how that horrible experience may have affected their life and their psychology.
There are a lot of gay men that seem to get a kick or a thrill out of enticing straight men into sexual situations with them. GAy men have admitted this. Maybe not all gay men, but a fair enough number of them do …for it to warrent contemplation before handing out any more rights.
As far as the marriage issue goes. I believe that heterosexual marriage could be an arguement in favor of Cultural Relativism.
If I can recall the perameters and criteria for Cultural Relativism.
In all cultures all down through the recorded history of mankind, Marriage has been between man and woman….celebrated with a special ceremony of some kind reserved only for matrimony to commemorate that union. One cannot say the same of same sex marriage.
I live in a area where most of the men are gay. And I am aware that some of them believe they did not have a choice. Some of them are very unhappy with their orientation from a social standpoint …. or so they’ve told me. But they are honest and open about their orientation. I feel bad for their unhappiness, but imposing upon a vast body of peoples religious / spiritual belief system … as with altering marriage laws would actually be doing .. is not the way to find personal satisfaction or societal acceptance. No more than what Todd pulled on those two kids.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Bev, how many young women have been victimized in the same manner by heterosexual ‘Todds’? There are a lot of folks willing to take advantage of a situation. When Ogden Nash said “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” no one assumed he was talking about gays.
Marriage has had any number of permutations.

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posted June 15, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Lots of mud-slinging and character assassination, and no clear rebuttal from pro-gay posters. How typical.

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