Does the Torah Condemn Homosexuality?

According to many, Leviticus 18:22 has a meaning as follows:

וְאֶ֨ת־זָכָ֔ר לֹ֥א תִשְׁךַּ֖ב מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה תֹּועֵבָ֖ה הִֽוא׃

“Don’t sleep with a man like you sleep with your wife.”

However, if this were so clearly the case, we would not be discussing this verse. The other verses in this chapter are very clear and leave no room for interpretation, however, this verse is vague, to say the least. When a passage is vague, it is the duty of the exegete to utilize the Hebrew Text to clarify the concept of the passage in question.

There are many ways to get the point across in which the meaning would have left no question:

ואת־זכר לא תשׁכב כְּמוֹ בְּאִשָּׁה תועבה הוא

and with a male you shall not lie as with a woman [kemo be’ishshah]] it is an abomination

ואת־זכר לא תשׁכב אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים תועבה הוא

and with a male, you shall not lie in the manner of women [orah kannashim] it is an abomination

None of these forms, however, are utilized. “As with,” “in the manner of,” etc. are provided by interpretation, and not by a clear statement in the Text. Instead, we have mishkaveI ishah [משׁכבי אשׁה], which is not an infinitive, or participle, but a noun in a construct chain. Any attempt to render it (lying, or lies or to lie) is not valid by the Text. The only way to reach an understanding of what mishkavei ishah means is to see how it is utilized elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it is only used in two places, Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13. The only other option, then, is to compare this construct chain to other such construct chains in relation to sexual intercourse. Indeed we have 10 instances where mishkav is used in the construct chain in reference to sexual intercourse. In every such instance the construct chain is mishkav zakhar, sometimes with the prepositional prefix (l). In none of those places does it describe the act itself, but the place such an act occurs. In all these cases the actual act was made manifest by a form of the verb “to know” (לדעת). The verb “to know” was enough to inform the reader that a sexual act had occurred, the construct chain mishkav zakhar then only gives further information to the act, namely the place of the act Also in all those cases it was in reference to a woman going to a man’s bed to have intercourse with a man.

If we use the comparison of these verses with the ones in question, we have the phrase mishkevei ishah meaning just the opposite of mishkav zakhar, that is, a man, or in this case men, going to a woman’s bed to have sex with a woman. Two men on a woman is a common fetish, today as well as then. However, this could lead to all sorts of problems in relation to descent, heredity etc. A woman in bed with two men can never know who the father is, at least not then. However, the reverse is no problem, two women with one man, as the same man impregnates both women. This is why such a union is never mentioned in Tenakh.

Let’s just use the verse in reverse, in the feminine:

וְאֶת־נְקֵבָה לֹא תִּשׁכְּבִי מִשְׁכְּבֵי זָכָר תֹּועֵבה הִוא

and with a female, you (fem) shall not lie beds of a male it is an abomination.

Now we have two females in the bed of a man. Does this require homosexuality? Hardly. The construct chain mishkevei zakhar, as is consistent elsewhere, shows clearly the act is two women going to a man’s bed, and having intercourse with the man.

Let us also, for the sake of argument, utilize the meaning of mishkevei ishah to mean “a with a woman”. This then would require the opposite to be true, mishkav zakhar would mean “as with a man”. The problem with this interpretation is it would not fit, nor make any sense in the verses in which it is used, as in every case it is a woman who “knows” a man. Since it will not fit with the females, their interpretation cannot be forced upon the opposite, mishkav ishah.

Another point to consider is the meaning of the preposition eth [את] in the opening clause “we eth-zakhar” [וְאֶת-זָכָר]. This preposition can mean “with” in the traditional sense, but can also mean “in co-operation with” or “with the help of.” Indeed, the first time this proposition is encountered in the Torah is in the story of Eve and her birth of Cain.

וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְהוָה

Now the man had known his wife, Hawwah; and she conceived and gave birth to Qayin and said, “I have acquired a man with YHWH.”

 

The use of the preposition eth in this verse did not demand that Eve had an sexual contact with YHWH, but that she acquired her son with the aid of YHWH.

The same can be said of the verse in Leviticus

וְאֶ֨ת־זָכָ֔ר לֹ֥א תִשְׁךַּ֖ב מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה תֹּועֵבָ֖ה הִֽוא׃

Alongside [with the help of] a male, you shall not have sexual intercourse with a woman; it is an abomination.

From the beginning to the end of the Tenakh, there is no such condemnation of same-sex relations.

 

About Ya'aqov ben Yisrael

I am simply a man with questions and trying to figure out the answers; my greatest joys are found in the study of Torah: its language and exegesis.
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