On Mon, 23 Dec 1996, Elazar wrote: “For my Jewish brethren searching for a Biblical basis for sanctioning homosexuality, I provide you with words from Rabbis Marc Angel, Hillel Goldberg and Pinchas Stopler in their joint article published in the Winter, 1992-93 edition of Jewish Action Magazine;” Well, here’s another viewpoint: Bible Review, December 1993, p. 11 DOES THE BIBLE PROHIBIT HOMOSEXUALITY? by Rabbi Jacob Milgrom: “The Biblical prohibition is addressed only to Israel. It is incorrect to apply it on a universal scale.
This past Yom Kippur, September 25, 1993, my synagogue invited me to explain the afternoon scriptural reading, the list of forbidden sexual liaisons in Leviticus 18. I chose to focus on what is today one of the most frequently quoted passages in the entire Bible, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman, it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
What I said may be both good news and bad news to my Christian friends, depending on their position on gay and lesbian rights. This Biblical prohibition is addressed only to the Jews. Non-Jews are affected only if they reside in the Holy Land, but not elsewhere (see the closing exhortation in Leviticus 18, verses 24-30). Thus, it is incorrect to apply this prohibition on a universal scale.
But I spoke to my fellow Jews, who are required to observe this prohibition. What is the rationale for this prohibition? In a previous column, I noted that the Bible’s impurity rules are part of a symbol system representing the forces of life and death. Israel is required to avoid these impurities and adhere to the laws commanded by God, who promotes the forces of life. Thus in the same chapter we read, “You shall heed my statutes and my rules, by doing them one shall live” (Leviticus 18:5). A man who discharges semen, whether intentionally or otherwise, is declared impure and must purify himself by bathing (a sort of re-baptism) before he is permitted to enter the Temple or touch sacred (sacrificial) food (Leviticus 15:16-18). Why? Because semen stands for life, and the loss of semen symbolizes the loss of life.
Note also that in the entire list of forbidden sexual unions, THERE IS NO PROHIBITION AGAINST LESBIANISM. Can it be that lesbianism did not exist in ancient times or that Scripture was unaware of its existence? Lesbians existed and flourished, as attested in an old (pre-Israelite)
Babylonian text and in the work of the lesbian poet Sappho (born c. 612 B.C.E., during the time of the First Temple), who came from the island of Lesbos (hence lesbianism). But there is a fundamental difference between the homosexual acts of men and women. IN LESBIANISM THERE IS NO SPILLING OF SEED. Thus life is not symbolically lost, and therefore lesbianism is not prohibited in the Bible.
My argument ostensibly can be countered by a more comprehensive biblical injunction. The very first commandment, given to Adam and repeated to Noah, is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:1,7). The descendants of Noah–the entire human race–are duty-bound to fulfill this commandment. But the truth is that we have not only filled the earth, we have over-filled it. This does not mean, however, that the commandment should be thought of as no longer in force–especially among Jews, who have lost a third of their members in our lifetime. I recall an incident during a premarital interview from the early years of my rabbinate. The starry-eyed bride declared her noble intention to have twelve children to compensate for the tragic loss of six million killed in the Holocaust. I gasped, “Must you do it all by yourself?”
I have since come to regret my flippant reply. This couple regarded their forthcoming marriage as a sacrament not just between themselves, but with the >Jewish people. The problem has worsened for American Jews. Because intermarriage is rife and the Jewish birth rate is low, American Jewry, once at zero population growth, has dipped into the minus column. Were it not for a steady stream of converts, the extinction of American Jewry would be even more imminent. For us the divine command, “Be fruitful and multiply” is truly in force.
To Jewish homosexuals I offer an unoriginal solution. As compensation for your loss of seed, adopt children. Although adoption was practiced in the ancient world (as attested in Babylonian law), there is no Biblical procedure or institution of adoption. As a result the institution of adoption is absent from rabbinic jurisprudence. Yet there are isolated cases of a kind of pseudo-adoption in the Bible. For example, Abraham, long childless, complains to God that Eliezer of Damascus, his steward, will inherit him (Genesis 15:2). And barren Rachel beseeches her husband Jacob, “Here is my maid Bilhah–go into her that she may bear on my knees and that through her I too may have children” (Genesis 30:3). Adoption is certainly a possibility today.
Lesbian couples have an additional advantage. Not only do they not violate biblical law, but through artificial insemination each can become the natural mother of her children.
Thus from the Bible we can infer the following: Lesbians, presumably half of the world’s homosexual population, are not mentioned. More than ninety-nine percent of the gays, namely non-Jews, are not addressed. This leaves the small number of male Jewish gays subject to this >prohibition. If they are biologically or psychologically incapable of procreation, adoption provides a solution. I hope the Eternal, in love and compassion, will then reckon their spilled seed as producing fruit. Jacob Milgrom.” (Bible Review, a publication of the Biblical Archeology Society 3000 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20008, 202 387 8888