Homosexuality, the Bible, and Us - a Jewish Perspective

By Prager, Dennis | The Public Interest, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview
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Homosexuality, the Bible, and Us - a Jewish Perspective

Prager, Dennis, The Public Interest

OF ALL THE ISSUES that tear at our society, few provoke as much emotion, or seem as complex, as the question of homosexuality.

Most homosexuals and their heterosexual supporters argue that homosexuality is an inborn condition, and one, moreover, that is no less valid than heterosexuality. They maintain that to discriminate in any way against a person because of his or her sexual orientation is the moral equivalent of discrimination against a person on the basis of color or religion; that is to say, bigotry plain and simple.

On the other hand there are those who feel, no less passionately, that homosexuality is wrong, that society must cultivate the heterosexual marital ideal, or society's very foundations will be threatened.

In the middle are many who are torn between these two claims. I have been one of them. Generally speaking, I do not concern myself with the actions of consenting adults in the privacy of their homes, and I certainly oppose government involvement with what consenting adults do in private. In addition, both lesbians and homosexual men have been part of my life as friends and relatives.

At the same time, I am a Jew who reveres Judaism. And my religion not only prohibits homosexuality, it unequivocally, unambiguously, and in the strongest language at its disposal, condemns it. Judaism--and Christianity--hold that marital sex must be the ideal to which society aspires. Thus my instinct to tolerate all non-coercive behavior runs counter to the deepest moral claims of my source of values.

This is not all. Adding to the seeming complexity are the questions of choice and psychopathology. Current homosexual doctrine holds that homosexuals are born homosexual, and that homosexuality is in no way a psychological or emotional deviation. Are these claims true? And if they are, what are we to do with Western society's (i.e., Judaism's and Christianity's) opposition to homosexuality? What are we to do with our gut instinct that men and women should make love and marry each other, not their own sex? Have Judaism and Christianity been wrong? Is our instinctive reaction no more than a heterosexual bias? And what about those of us who have two gut instincts--one that favors heterosexual love, and one that believes "live and let live"? These two feelings seem irreconcilable, and they have caused me and millions of others anguish and confusion.

After prolonged immersion in the subject, I continue to have anguish about the subject of homosexuality, but, to my great surprise, much less confusion. I hope that the reader will undergo a similar process, and it is to this end that I devote this article.

The nature of sex

Man's nature, undisciplined by values, will allow sex to dominate his life and the life of society. When Judaism first demanded that all sexual activity be channeled into marriage, it changed the world. It is not overstated to say that the Hebrew Bible's prohibition of non-marital sex made the creation of Western civilization possible. Societies that did not place boundaries around sexuality were stymied in their development. The subsequent dominance of the Western world can, to a significant extent, be attributed to the sexual revolution, initiated by Judaism and later carried forward by Christianity.

This revolution consisted of forcing the sexual genie into the marital bottle. It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, it heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and it began the arduous task of elevating the status of women.

It is probably impossible for us who live thousands of years after Judaism began this process to perceive the extent to which sex can dominate, and has dominated, life. 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 polymorphous, or utterly wild (far more so than animal sexuality).

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