Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8F

My Great Journey Part 8F

In the previous section, we explored the specific Biblical commandments that impact on transgender living, and how we can see, through classical interpretation, that they really do allow for being a transgender person.  In this section, I’d like to explore what is likely the most unpopular verse in all of Torah (and it’s repeated in the Christian Bible and the Qur’an as well).

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא:

V’et zakhar lo tishkav, mish’k’vei ishah, to'eivah hee.

And (you, male) do not have (penetrating) sex (lit. lie down) with (another) man, in the WAYS of having penetrating sex with a woman; it is an abomination.

On the surface, this seems to be saying that men should never have sex with men. But this really requires exploration.

To do that first requires exploring a rabbinic tool of Biblical Exegesis. 

רבי ישמעאל אומר בשלש עשרה מדות התורה נדרשת...

 דבר הלמד מעניהו ודבר הלמד מסופו

Sifra – Leviticus, 1:1: Rabbi Yishmael omer b'sh'losh esreih midot haTorah nidreshet...

Davar halameid mei’inyano v’davar halameid misofo

Rabbi Ishamael states that Torah can be interpreted in 13 ways (including)...An item that is explained by its context or the passage that follows.

So, let’s take a look at Leviticus 18:21:

כא   וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת-שֵׁם אֱלֹקיךָ אֲנִי ה':

U’mi’zar’akha lo titein l’ha’a’vir l’molekh, v’lo t’haleil et Sheim El-kekha, ani H’.

Do not cause (lit. give) your children to pass (through fire) to Molekh, and do not disgrace the name of your God, I am H’.

It is not clear what or who Molekh was, but what is clear is that this is a cultic ritual, that Torah believes was committed in the Land of Canaan.  Multiple times in this section of Torah, we are commanded not to follow the cultic rituals of Egypt and Canaan.

By the law of context, one must infer, then, that 18:22, which immediately follows this obvious cultic practice, must be referring to a cultic practice as well.  Many rabbis in modern times have addressed this interpretation of our verse.  If it is about cultic practices it is certainly not about private sex between two partners. 

Further, in the following verses, the Torah states that the inhabitants of the Land are expelled for performing To’eivot, the plural of To’eivah in our verse.  The context is clear that this is about cultic practices.

But there is another textual issue with our verse as well, which leaves it open to exploration.  If you were to ask any Orthodox rabbi they would tell you that this verse is clear and unambiguous, and that it means private penetrating sex between two men.  However, I respectfully disagree.  Had the verse simply said: 

ואת זכר לא תשכב, תועבה הוא:

V’et zakar lo tishkav; to’eivah hee.

You (man) are not to have penetrating sex with another man, it is an abomination.

This then would be clear and unambiguous. But our verse has a strange phrase in it:

משכבי אשה

Mis’k’vei Isha

The Ways of having sex with a woman...

What does this mean?!  A woman has three organs that can be penetrated by a phallus: The mouth, the anus (in common with men) AND the vagina.  Men do not have a vagina.  So, how can they have sex in the (all the) WAYS of having sex with a woman?  So let’s explore a commentary:

Rabbeinu Hananeil[1] states regarding our verse:

יש מי שיחדש בגופו לצורת אשה.

Yeish mee sh’y’hadeish b’gufo l’tzurat ishah.

There (could be) a man who changes his body to the form of a woman.

This is extraordinary! Rabbeinu Hananeil is proposing, in the Tenth Century, that someone might have Gender Confirming Surgery...  

And let’s dig a little deeper. Ibn Ezra[2] goes further with this comment:

יש מי שיחדש בגופו לצורת אשה, וזה לא יתכן בתולדה.

...V’zeh lo yitakhein b’toldah

...This cannot happen in Nature.

Ibn Ezra ultimately goes on to reject this idea for other reasons as well, however there is a super-commentary to this comment:

והתורה לא תאסור מה שאיננו בטבע.[3]

V’haTorah lo te’esor mah she’eineinu b’teva.

And the Torah DOES NOT prohibit what cannot be in nature.

This is absolutely extraordinary.  This super-commentary is saying that the Torah does not prohibit things that can’t happen in nature.  To be fair, we can’t possibly know what any of these great rabbis would say about Gender Confirming Surgery if they lived in the 21st Century with us.

What is clear, however, is that there are problems with our verse. Classical and modern rabbis have worked hard to find what this verse really means, because of the odd phrase “In the ways of having sex with a woman”. 

The bottom line is, however, that I think we can safely say that neither gay sex, nor gender confirming surgery, in order to live in the way God created us (c.f Part 8A of this series), is a sin or an abomination.  We are commanded to live, so live we must.  To not transition is NOT to live.  It is merely to exist, and it is hell...[4]

Rabbah Rona Matlow, MAJEd, MAJS, MEM © 2016

[1] Chananel ben Chushiel, 10th Century Tunisia
[2] Abrahan son of Ezra, 11th Century Spain
[3] Chumash Torat Chaim. Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook. 1990. P.168
[4] C.F. Through the Door of Life. Professor Joy Ladin. Madison WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012 for more on the idea of living rather than merely existing. I think Prof. Ladin’s book truly exemplifies the hell that transgender and transsexual people go through before being able to be themselves.

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