Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality
By Dennis Prager
When Judaism demanded that all sexual activity be channeled into marriage, it changed the world. The subsequent dominance of the Western world, says Dennis Prager, can largely be attributed to the sexual revolution initiated by Judaism, and later carried forward by Christianity.
The revolution consisted of forcing the sexual genie into the marital bottle. It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and began the arduous task of elevating the status of women.
By contrast, throughout the ancient world, and up to the recent past in many parts of the world, sexuality infused virtually all of society.
Human sexuality, especially male sexuality, is utterly wild. Men have had sex with women and with men; with little girls and young boys; with a single partner and in large groups; with total strangers and immediate family members; and with a variety of domesticated animals. There is little, animate or inanimate, that has not excited some men to orgasm.
Thus, the first thing Judaism did was to de-sexualize God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by His will, not through any sexual behavior. This broke with all other religions, and it alone changed human history.
The gods of virtually all civilizations engaged in sexual relations.
Given the sexual activity of the gods, it is not surprising that the religions themselves were replete with all forms of sexual activity. In the ancient Near East and elsewhere, virgins were deflowered by priests prior to engaging in relations with their husbands, and sacred or ritual prostitution was almost universal.
The revolutionary nature of Judaism’s prohibiting all forms of non-marital sex was nowhere more radical, more challenging to the prevailing assumptions of mankind, than with regard to homosexuality.
Indeed, Judaism may be said to have invented the notion of homosexuality, for in the ancient world sexuality was not divided between heterosexuality and homosexuality. That division was the Bible’s doing. Before the Bible, the world divided sexuality between penetrator (active partner) and penetrated (passive partner).
As Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at Brown University, recently wrote, the ancients were no more concerned with people’s gender preference than people today are with others’ eating preferences:
Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own. The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object . . . is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of (male) desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of something to someone . . .
Judaism changed all this. It rendered the "gender of the object" very "morally problematic"; it declared that no one is "interchangeable" sexually. And as a result, it ensured that sex would in fact be "fundamentally interaction" and not simply "a doing of something to someone."
"None of the archaic civilizations prohibited homosexuality per se," Dr. David E. Greenberg notes. Judaism alone declared homosexuality wrong. "Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination." "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed an abomination." It is Judaism’s sexual morality, not homosexuality, that historically has been deviant.
Greenberg, whose The Construction of Homosexuality is the most thorough historical study of homosexuality ever written, summarized the ubiquitous nature of homosexuality in these words: "With only a few exceptions, male homosexuality was not stigmatized or repressed so long as it conformed to norms regarding gender and the relative ages and statuses of the partners . . . The major exceptions to this acceptance seem to have arisen in two circumstances." Both of these circumstances were Jewish.
It is the Hebrew Bible that gave humanity such ideas as a universal, moral, loving God; ethical obligations to this God; the need for history to move forward to moral and spiritual redemption; the belief that history has meaning; and the notion that human freedom and social justice are the divinely desired states for all people. It gave the world the Ten Commandments, ethical monotheism, and the concept of holiness (the goal of raising human beings from the animal-like to the Godlike).
Therefore, when this Bible makes strong moral proclamations, Dennis Prager listens with great respect. And regarding male homosexuality — female homosexuality is not mentioned — this Bible speaks in such clear and direct language that one does not have to be a religious fundamentalist in order to be influenced by its views.
Judaism cannot make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies many of Judaism’s most fundamental principles. It denies life, it denies God’s expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that Judaism wishes for all mankind, the family.
The Need to Channel Passions into Marriage
God’s first declaration about man (the human being generally, and the male specifically) is, "It is not good for man to be alone." Now, presumably, in order to solve the problem of man’s aloneness, God could have made another man, or even a community of men.
But instead God solved man’s aloneness by creating one other person, a woman — not a man, not a few women, not a community of men and women. Man’s solitude was not a function of his not being with other people; it was a function of his being without a woman.
In this regard, the Torah and Judaism were highly prescient: the overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed by unmarried men. Thus, male celibacy, a sacred state in many religions, is a sin in Judaism. In order to become fully human, male and female must join. In the words of Genesis, "God created the human .. . male and female He created them." The union of male and female is not merely some lively ideal; it is the essence of the Jewish outlook on becoming human.
The Homosexual Life
A final reason for opposition to homosexuality is the homosexual "lifestyle." While it is possible for male homosexuals to live lives of fidelity comparable to those of heterosexual males, it is usually not the case. While the typical lesbian has had fewer than ten lovers, the typical male homosexual in America has had over 500.
In general, neither homosexuals not heterosexuals confront the fact that it is this male homosexual lifestyle, more than the specific homosexual act, that disturbs most people. This is probably why less attention is paid to female homosexuality.
When male sexuality is not controlled, the consequences are considerably more destructive than when female sexuality is not controlled. Men rape. Women do not. Men, not women, engage in fetishes. Men are more frequently consumed by their sex drive and wander from sex partner to sex partner. Men, not women, are sexually sadistic.
The indiscriminate sex that characterizes much of male homosexual life represents the antithesis of Judaism’s goal of elevating human life from the animal-like to the God-like.
To a world which divided human sexuality between penetrator and penetrated, Judaism said, "You are wrong — sexuality is to be divided between male and female." To a world which saw women as baby producers unworthy of romantic and sexual attention, Judaism said, "You are wrong — women must be the sole focus of erotic love."
To a world which said that sensual feelings and physical beauty were life’s supreme goods, Judaism said, "You are wrong — ethics and holiness are the supreme goods." A thousand years before Roman emperors kept naked boys, Jewish kings were commanded to write and keep a sefer torah, a book of the Torah.