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.