A few days ago I wrote a post called “The Joys of Self-Damnation” which featured a quote from Rabbi Rami Shapiro. After posting it, I felt inspired to see what information I could find on the man and through some googling found out he’s involved in a number of cool things, one of which is spiritually progressive web site called Holy Rascals and a tied in radio show, “How to Be a Holy Rascal.”
I’ve since downloaded and listened to a few episodes and have been impressed with it. Rami is funny and deep and his guests are interesting to listen to.
In one of the recent episodes, Rami was interviewing Rabbi Debra Kolodny, a bisexual female Rabbi who’s working to move progressively-minded Jewish congregations past being welcoming of LGPTQ folks and toward celebrating sexual diversity, an effort that I applaud although as a non-Jew my opinion is probably not of interest. At one point she quoted the verse in the Torah (Leviticus 18:22) that says in my preferred translation, The Inclusive Bible, “Do not lie with a person of the same sex in the same way as you would lie with a person of the opposite sex; this is detestable.” In more traditional translations, the verse only addresses men engaged in homosexuality and uses the word “abomination” instead of “detestable.”
Rabbi Debra claimed that the Hebrew word translated “abomination” or “detestable” really means “a foreign religious practice that is prohibited to us,” and therefore must have been referring to a ceremony or fertility rite or something that was happening in the region that involved men having sexual relations with each other and therefore does not speak to the kind of homosexuality we have today in which people of the same gender will have a home together and possibly a family. It’s an interesting argument, but not entirely compelling to me for two reasons.
First of all, in the context of ancient middle-eastern culture, a prohibition against same-gender eroticism would fit too well contextually. A crap-ton of the laws attributed to Moses are there to maximize reproduction among the Israelites. Men having multiple wives, the prohibition of sexual relations during menstruation, and many other laws, including the prohibition of homosexuality, would serve to ensure that people were having lots of the kinds of sex that could result in a pregnancy. I can’t buy it that the only kind of same-gender eroticism that was prohibited was that occurring in the context of a religious ceremony.
And second, and more importantly, I just don’t hold the kind of faith where I have to read the scriptures in such a way that in no place do they ever explicitly prohibit the things I think are acceptable. I love the scriptures, but I’m comfortable (usually) reading it as a document of how groups of people in the past constructed an image of God and tried to live in a way that was consistent with their beliefs. I do believe that the ancient Israelites prohibited homosexuality, and I don’t believe that that means that those who esteem their writings highly need to adhere to the same prohibition.
So, while I can appreciate the interesting take on the verse in question advanced by Rabbi Debra, to me it’s irrelevant. Still, I applaud the work she does, even if it’s from a distance, over here in my little Christian world.
And I plan to continue to listen to downloads of “How to Be a Holy Rascal.” Good stuff.