Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8G

My Great Journey Part 8G

In previous sections we have explored specific Biblical verses that impact on Transgender life.  In several of these we saw the word תועבהto’eivah - abomination. These are things that are described as abominable to God in Bible.   But – what does this mean?

We previously explored one of the hermeneutical principles of R’ Ishmael.  To explore this word adequately we must first explore another principle – גזירה שווהGezeirah Shavah – (lit. a similar decree) – this is context derived from the identical word or phrase found in different situations.

I was reminded by a mentor, colleague and friend of mine, Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum, that it is often helpful to review a word in Brown Driver Briggs (B-D-B) the quintessential Biblical dictionary, for help in understanding.  Such is the case here.  In addition, it is important to remember that we read the Bible with the lens of the time in which it occurs.
We previously explored two verses with this word, 

ה   לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִֹמְלַת אִשָּׁה
 כִּי תוֹעֲבַת ה' אֱלקיךָ כָּל-עֹשֵֹה אֵלֶּה 
Lo yih’yeh khli gever al isha, v’lo yilbash gever simlat isha;
Ki to’avat H Elokekha kol oseih eileh.

Deut 22:5: Women shall not wear men’s clothing (lit. men’s instruments – i.e. weapons) and men shall not wear women’s clothing – because all who do this are (carrying out) an abomination to H’ Your God.

Note that in this verse, the word exists in the construct form to’avat which means abomination of/to...

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא:

V’et zakhar lo tishkav, mish’k’vei ishah, toeivah hee.

Lev. 18:22 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.

In the discussion of cross dressing, we found that the rabbis were concerned with sexual immorality regarding this verse.  In the Biblical world, women could only be with one man. We can infer reasons for this, and of course many today, who are polyamorous, are not comfortable with these restrictions. Further complicating this is that men can be with more than one woman.  So the concern with men was that they would come to have relations with someone else’s wife.

But what does this say about Leviticus 18:22?  It’s not talking about women who go outside their marriage, yet B-D-B[1] links this verse to ethical lapses and sexual immorality, and cites related verses, including:

כִּי תוֹעֲבַת ה' אֱלֹקיךָ כָּל-עֹשֵֹה אֵלֶּה כֹּל עֹשֵֹה עָוֶל :

Kee to’avat H’ El-kekha kol oseih eileh, kol oseih avel.

Deut: 25:16 It is an abomination to H’ your God, all who do these,
all who do this injustice.

This verse is the conclusion of a section that discusses corrupt business practices.

יא   וְאִישׁ | אֶת-אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ עָשָֹה תּוֹעֵבָה וְאִישׁ אֶת-כַּלָּתוֹ טִמֵּא בְזִמָּה וְאִישׁ אֶת-אֲחֹתוֹ בַת-אָבִיו עִנָּה-בָךְ

V’ish et eishet rei’eihu asah to’eivah, v’ish et kalato timei v’zimah, v’ish et ahoto bat-aviv ‘inah vakh.

Ez. 22:11 A man (who has relations with) the wife of his fellow committed an abomination, and a man (who has relations with) his daughter-in-law defiles her with depravity, and a man (who has relations with) his sister, daughter of his father, has humiliated you.

This section explores idolatry and sexual depravity that occurred in the Land of Israel, for which Ezekiel is bringing rebuke. Those who have studied Lev. Chapter 18 know that it discusses a whole host of sexual acts that most find troubling.  These surround rape and incest. By that context, Lev. 18:21 (child sacrifice) and Lev. 18:22 (gay sex) which don’t really fit overtly, must still fit.  So those verses are talking about very depraved acts, likely surrounding cultic practices, as discussed.

We see that acts of incest are also called To’eivah – abomination, as are unethical business dealings.  B-D-B also cite other verses surrounding sexual immorality using this word. We have heard unethical business dealings called “worshipping Mammon”, a form of idolatry as well.

I doubt there are very many around today who would say that cheating at business deals, rape, incest and child sacrifice are good things.  Most would agree they are reprehensible acts.  But we still have Lev. 18:22, regarding gay sex in this mix.  Using these contexts, one might also infer that Lev. 18:22 is discussing some kind of family violation, or that it involves some kind of corrupt business dealing, such as selling a man into sexual slavery.
But what would seem very clear, from all the possibilities I’ve provided in the past sections and this one, is that for something to rise to the level of abomination means it must be truly horrible.  Gay sex just isn’t at that level.

The difficulty with Hebrew Bible is that we cannot KNOW with certainty why anything is prohibited. We can make inferences.  So, for instance, there are those who will say that pork is prohibited because of trichinosis, but that isn’t the reason. It’s a spiritual reason, and one that we don’t know.

Likewise, we really can’t KNOW why Bible prohibits any of the verses I’ve explored over the last several sections.  However, what the rabbinic explorations of these verses have in common, is that we are talking about huge levels of depravity, to the point of selling your child for sexual slavery or burning them alive.  

Clearly, aside from the reality that we, as transgender people are commanded to LIVE (as are all people) and so we are told that some things can be superseded, the verses we’ve explored discuss really awful things, things one might do in the heat of idolatrous fervor, for example.  Carrying out certain acts so that we can live are not only allowed by the commandment to live, but as I’ve shown, for the reasons we do them, they aren’t really prohibited anyway, and are really required.


Rabbah Rona Matlow, MAJEd, MAJS, MEM © 2016

[1] Brown et al, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2000. P. 1073a.

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