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There is another option that I think might find favor with the CJLS. This is one described by Rabbi Steven Greenberg in his new book Wrestling With God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. Rabbi Greenberg has been described as the world's only openly gay Orthodox rabbi. He first wrote about his situation under the pseudonym Rabbi Yaakov Levado in the fall of 1993, and later came out openly in March of 1999. I can't do justice to a 300 page book in a single post (nor did I do justice to the teshuvot of the Rabbis Roth in the last two posts), but again I want to try to give a broad outline of the position.
Let us return to the text of our verse, and once again look at that mysterious phrase mishkeve ishah, "lyings of a woman". The word mishkeve is a different grammatical form of the same verb earlier in the verse tishkav (which means "do not bed"). Interestingly the word mishkeve is only used one other time in all of the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis 49:4 we see the phrase mishkeve avikha, "lyings of your father". The context is Jacob blessing his sons upon his deathbed. In blessing Reuven he takes away his birthright as first born because Reuven had slept with Jacob's concunbine, Bilhah (see Genesis 35:22). This was an act not of love, or lust, but rather an act by Reuven designed to humiliate Jacob and assert power over him. Rabbi Greenberg thus suggests that the verse should be interpreted as prohibiting specifically an act of intercourse designed to humiliate and/or assert power over another male. Again, if the verse just prohibited male homosexual activity in general the phrase mishkeve ishah would not have been necessary. Now this comparison of how mishkeve is used is not the only evidence Rabbi Greenberg brings forth to support this contention. He also looks at other sources from the Torah, from the rabbis, and from the Greek and Roman cultures in which the rabbis wrote. As I said, it's a 300 page book. In any case this is Rabbi Greenberg's basic interpretation of Leviticus 18:22, and up to this point it's not original. I have seen others with similar interpretations. In fact the impetus for the CJLS to look at the issue in the early 90's was a teshuvah by Rabbi Brad Artson which I believe followed along these lines, although I have not been able to find a copy of it.
Rabbi Greenberg adds something that I had not seen to this interpretation, though. As I noted before, we believe that every word in the Torah has some meaning. The verse begins with the phrase ve'et zachar, "and (with) a male". The word et is a grammatical word that has no translatable meaning, but is used to mark a transfer of action usually before a direct object. Whereas in modern Hebrew the grammatical laws are quite fixed, the Torah sometimes includes an et before an object, and sometimes not. Thus a tradition evolved that when the word et was used it referred to extra hidden elements not directly stated. Thus for example, in one of the ten commandments (Exodus Chapter 20) we have the phrase, kaved et avikha v'et imekha, "honor your father and your mother". The rabbis interpreted the two et's as including one's stepfather and stepmother as well. Leviticus 18:22 is the only sexual prohibiton in that chapter that begins with the phrase ve'et. If that et is adding something missing, then the verse translates as "And (a blank or a) male you shall not bed in order to humiliate or assert power; it is abhorrent." Rabbi Greenberg suggests a natural candidate to fill in the blank, "a female". The Torah is thus teaching us that it is wrong to use sex as a means to humiliate or assert power whether it is with a man or a woman. Thus while Rabbi Greenberg's interpretation limits how the verse has been traditionally understood in some ways, in other ways he expands it. As he writes in his book (p. 209):
In an amazing and paradoxical fashion the very verse that was for centuries read as requiring the ongoing demotion of women through the marking of intercourse as humiliation and thus femininity as degraded could be read as a full-fledged critique of the male-dominated social hierarchy! The only way to redeem intercourse from its inevitable dominations is to press for gender equality on the deepest of emotional planes, to work formally toward ending the gender hierarchy, and to heal the ugly misogyny at its foundation.
As I said before, I am not qualified to make halakhic decisions, nor is there any need for me to do so. Still, Rabbi Greenberg's analysis resonates with me. I have expressed my belief on this blog a number of times that discrimination against gays and lesbians is a form of gender discrimination. I have noted how the laws against same-sex marriage use gender impermissibly as a classification in much the same way that the laws against interracial marriage used race impermissibly. A common reply is that the laws against interracial marriage were based on a belief of white supremacy, whereas the laws against same-sex marriage are not based on misogyny. Although, I believe such assumptions are not very relevant legally, I also believe they are not entirely correct either. While I am not saying that anybody who opposes SSM is either a homophobe or a misogynist, I do believe that homophobia and misogyny are very much connected and are themselves very much connected to laws against same-sex marriage and against same-sex sodomy. In any case, I highly recommend Rabbi Greenberg's book on a number of levels. It gives an insight into taboos against homosexuality as well as a glimpse at the general Jewish tradition of law-making and biblical interpretation. It also gives suggestions for approaches to constructive dialogue filled with respect for one another.
And thus ends my rather lengthy discussion on this weeks Torah reading. I hope have given all my readers something to think about. Shabbat Shalom.