Sources Condemning Homosexuality
ואת זכר לא תשכב, “and you are not to indulge in homosexual relations with another male.” Nachmanides writes that the reason for the injunctions against sexual relations between males, and between man and beasts, are quite clear, seeing that G’d abhors such mismatching of His creatures. Such relations cannot contribute to the continued existence of the respective species, the only valid reason for indulging in the sexual act. Ibn Ezra writes that seeing that the older daughter of Lot said to her younger sister (Genesis 19,34) “here I have slept with my father last night, etc.,” this is clear proof that the Torah views initiation of the act by the female of the species as on the same level as if the male initiates it, i.e. when a forbidden relationship is entered into both parties are equally culpable. Although the Torah uses the masculine לא תשכב in our verse, the same applies to the female of the spies, i.e. lesbianism is also prohibited. Nachmanides criticizes Ibn Ezra, saying that if he were correct why was the woman not automatically included in the warning of ובכל בהמה לא תתן שכבתך לטמאה בה, “you must not inject your seed into any female animal to lie with it carnally,” and mention separately immediately afterwards:ואשה לא תעמוד לפני בהמה לרבעה, “and a woman must not stand in front of an animal for the purpose of mating, etc,?” He therefore concludes that the verse quoted by Ibn Ezra from Genesis 19,34 means that Lot’s daughter drew attention to the fact that seeing that ejaculation of semen by the male normally occurs only as a result of physical activity by the male, something which in the case of the drunken Lot could hardly be expected, she told her sister that in order to secure the semen that both of them wanted, it was not enough to remain passive during the procedure, but they had to be physically active to arouse their father.
Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 76a
[Concerning] women who practice lewdness with one another . . . the action is regarded as mere obscenity.
"[In antiquity], Jews and most other people believed that it was the man and his semen who provides the actual life, the "seed," and that the woman was merely the soil, so to speak, in which the seed grew to maturity to be born. It was considered almost like murder to allow the "seed" to be wasted through masturbation, homosexuality, or sexual intercourse without intent to procreate. It was also erroneously believed...that semen, "the precious fluid," was limited in quantity so that if it was "wasted", the energy and strength of the man would thereby be reduced" (Mary Calderone and Eric Johnson, The Family Book about Sexuality, p. 158, quoted by Rabbi Michael Gold, p. 107, retrieved from Teaching Hot Topics, p. 307).
"It is forbidden to destroy [improperly emit] seed. Therefore, a man may not practice coitus interruptus" (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Isuray Biah 21:18).
Jonathan's Love for David
It appears that Saul's armor-bearer, Jonathan, and David had atypical feelings of love for one another:
They even bound themselves to each other:
(1) And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (2) And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. (3) Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. (4) And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his apparel, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
The Story of Sodom
This story, and this scene, is often used to condemn homosexuality. It is the reason behind the terms "sodomy" and "sodomite" (a derogatory term for a homosexual):
- (א) וַ֠יָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים סְדֹ֙מָה֙ בָּעֶ֔רֶב וְל֖וֹט יֹשֵׁ֣ב בְּשַֽׁעַר־סְדֹ֑ם וַיַּרְא־לוֹט֙ וַיָּ֣קָם לִקְרָאתָ֔ם וַיִּשְׁתַּ֥חוּ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה׃ (ב) וַיֹּ֜אמֶר הִנֶּ֣ה נָּא־אֲדֹנַ֗י ס֣וּרוּ נָ֠א אֶל־בֵּ֨ית עַבְדְּכֶ֤ם וְלִ֙ינוּ֙ וְרַחֲצ֣וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּ֖ם וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֣ם לְדַרְכְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לֹּ֔א כִּ֥י בָרְח֖וֹב נָלִֽין׃ (ג) וַיִּפְצַר־בָּ֣ם מְאֹ֔ד וַיָּסֻ֣רוּ אֵלָ֔יו וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אֶל־בֵּית֑וֹ וַיַּ֤עַשׂ לָהֶם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה וּמַצּ֥וֹת אָפָ֖ה וַיֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ (ד) טֶרֶם֮ יִשְׁכָּבוּ֒ וְאַנְשֵׁ֨י הָעִ֜יר אַנְשֵׁ֤י סְדֹם֙ נָסַ֣בּוּ עַל־הַבַּ֔יִת מִנַּ֖עַר וְעַד־זָקֵ֑ן כָּל־הָעָ֖ם מִקָּצֶֽה׃ (ה) וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ אֶל־לוֹט֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ אַיֵּ֧ה הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַלָּ֑יְלָה הוֹצִיאֵ֣ם אֵלֵ֔ינוּ וְנֵדְעָ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃ (ו) וַיֵּצֵ֧א אֲלֵהֶ֛ם ל֖וֹט הַפֶּ֑תְחָה וְהַדֶּ֖לֶת סָגַ֥ר אַחֲרָֽיו׃ (ז) וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אַל־נָ֥א אַחַ֖י תָּרֵֽעוּ׃ (ח) הִנֵּה־נָ֨א לִ֜י שְׁתֵּ֣י בָנ֗וֹת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־יָדְעוּ֙ אִ֔ישׁ אוֹצִֽיאָה־נָּ֤א אֶתְהֶן֙ אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם וַעֲשׂ֣וּ לָהֶ֔ן כַּטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶ֑ם רַ֠ק לָֽאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָאֵל֙ אַל־תַּעֲשׂ֣וּ דָבָ֔ר כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן בָּ֖אוּ בְּצֵ֥ל קֹרָתִֽי׃ (ט) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ ׀ גֶּשׁ־הָ֗לְאָה וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ הָאֶחָ֤ד בָּֽא־לָגוּר֙ וַיִּשְׁפֹּ֣ט שָׁפ֔וֹט עַתָּ֕ה נָרַ֥ע לְךָ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם וַיִּפְצְר֨וּ בָאִ֤ישׁ בְּלוֹט֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַֽיִּגְּשׁ֖וּ לִשְׁבֹּ֥ר הַדָּֽלֶת׃
(4) But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. (5) And they called unto Lot, and said unto him: ‘Where are the men that came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.’ (6) And Lot went out unto them to the door, and shut the door after him. (7) And he said: ‘I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. (8) Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.’ (9) And they said: ‘Stand back.’ And they said: ‘This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge; now will we deal worse with thee, than with them.’ And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and drew near to break the door.
The previous scene in Sodom is a motif that shows up in other places within the Tanach:
(22) As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city [of Geba], certain base fellows, beset the house round about, beating at the door; and they spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying: ‘Bring forth the man that came into thy house, that we may know him.’ (23) And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them: ‘Nay, my brethren, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into my house, do not this wanton deed. (24) Behold, here is my daughter a virgin, and his concubine; I will bring them out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you; but unto this man do not so wanton a thing.’ (25) But the men would not hearken to him; so the man laid hold on his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her..."
Thus, the Sodom scene was never meant to be a condemnation of homosexuality. It was considered an insult to a specific people to write that the men of the city wanted to gang rape a man. The Sodom story was originally intended to be a satire and poked fun at the men of Sodom, as well as the Ammonites and Moabites at the very end of the story:
(36) Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. (37) And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab—the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. (38) And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi—the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.
"'When you ask me to say something about being a Jewish lesbian, what can I say? You know of course that there are no Jewish lesbians because to begin with Jews are not supposed to be sexual. Especially Jewish women.' For a Jewish woman to adopt a sexual identity, and even more to adopt a lesbian identity, is to challenge the myths of the asexual Jewish woman and of an asexual Judaism." - Irena Klepfisz, "Resisting and Surviving in America", quoted in Eros and the Jews, David Biale, p. 225.
"I, for one, cannot believe that the G-d who created us all produced a certain percentage of is to have sexual drives that cannot be legally expressed under any circumstances. That is simply mind-boggling -- and, frankly, un-Jewish . . . Furthermore, it seems to me that to ask gays and lesbians to remain celibate all their lives is not halakhically required. If gays and lesbians are right in asserting that they have no choice in being homosexual . . . then they are as forced to be gay as straights are forced to be straight . . . " - Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Matters of Life and Death, p. 145.
"There are other ways . . . of contributing to the survival of the Jewish people, aside from physically begetting or bearing children: many Jewish homosexuals support worthy Jewish causes and institutions . . . some make their contributions as teachers of Judaism . . . " - Rabbi Herschel Matt, Conservative Judaism, Spring 1987.
"Homosexuality is no different from any other anti-social or anti-halakhic act, where it is legitimate to distinguish between the objective act itself, including its social and moral consequences, and the mentality and inner development of the person who perpetuates the act . . . To use halakhic terminology, the objective crime remains a ma'aseh avayrah (a forbidden act) whereas the person who transgresses is considered innocent on the grounds of ["oh-ness"] (force beyond one's control)." - Rabbi Norman Lamm, "Judaism and the Modern attitude toward Homosexuality," Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook, 1974.
"The Jewish values and principles which I regard as eternal, transcendent and divinely ordained, do not condemn homosexuality. The Judaism I cherish and affirm teaches love of humanity, respect for the spark of divinity in every person, and the human right to live with dignity. The G-d I worship endorses loving, responsible, and committed human relationships, regardless of the sex of the persons involved." - Janet Marder, "Jewish and Gay," Keeping Posted 32, 2; November, 1986.
"WHEREAS justice and human dignity are cherished Jewish values, and WHEREAS, the institutions of Reform Judaism have a long history of support for civil and equal rights for gays and lesbians, and WHEREAS, North American organizations of the Reform Movement have passed resolutions in support of civil marriage for gays and lesbians, therefore WE DO HEREBY RESOLVE, that the relationship of a Jewish, same-gendered couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual . . ." - Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality, CCAR, 1998.
"We favor the establishment of committed and loving relationships for gay and lesbian Jews. The celebration of such a union is appropriate with blessings over wine and shehechayanu, with psalms and other readings to be developed by local authorities... Yet can these relationships be recognized under the rubric of kiddushin (Jewish marriage)? . . . We are offering two model ceremonies, one that closely follows the traditional Jewish wedding liturgy, and one that starts fresh. Each ceremony accomplishes the following tasks which we consider to be essential to any Jewish marriage ceremony: A) The couple is welcomed, and G-d's blessings are requested for their marriage. B) Traditional symbols of celebration - such as wine - and of commitment - such as rings - are used to add significance to this moment. C) A document of "covenant" committing the couple to live a life of mutual fidelity and responsibility is read and witnessed. This covenant is affirmed at the rings ceremony and constitutes the halakhic mechanism for binding the couple together as a family. D) Blessings thanking G-d for this sacred moment of loving covenant are recited, and the couple's relationship is linked to the broader narrative of the Jewish people and its redemption." - Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins, and Avram Reisner, "Rituals and Documents of Marriage and Divorce for Same-Sex Couples, RA, 2012.
"To be a self-accepting gay or lesbian person, one generally must go through a certain process of negation and affirmation. In homophobic societies, one is told that how one loves is wrong. Yet, at some point, to live a full life, one must learn for oneself that these statements are wrong and that love is right. This inversion teaches, in an experiential way, the primacy of love. It forms a unique mode of moral conscience, and teaches in a distinctive way what it is to love G-d b'chol levavcha, b'chol nafshecha, uv'chol meodecha, with all your heart, body, mind, and spirit. And it engenders the queer mysticism we read in Rumi, Hafiz, and Judah HaLevy . . . " - Jay Michaelson, The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism, 2009, p. 218.
Sources concerning the Transgender Community
(26) And G-d said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ (27) And G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d created He him; male and female created He them.
Breishit Rabbah 8:1
"And G-d said: let us make man, etc. . . . R. Jeremiah b Leazar said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, He created him an hermaphrodite, for it is said, Male and female created He them and called their name Adam (Gen. 5:2). R. Samuel b. Nahman said: When the L-rd created Adam He created him double-faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side."
"The midrash, classical Jewish exegesis, adds that the [first human] being formed in G-d's likeness, was an androgynous, an inter-sexed, person . . . Hence, our tradition teaches that all bodies and genders are created in G-d's image, whether we identify as men, women, inter-sex, or something else." - Rabbi Elliot Kukla, "Reform Devises Sex-Change Blessings", 2007.
(5) A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the L-RD thy G-d.
Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 59a
"What does the Torah mean by this verse? You might think that it simply means that a man may not wear a woman's garment and a woman may not wear a man's garment. But behold, it has already been said [by previous commentators in reference to this verse] that it is completely off-limits! But there is no to'evah ("abomination") here [it is not a completely off-limits behavior]! [Therefore], the verse must mean a man may not wear women's clothes in order to sit amongst women, and a woman must not wear men's clothes and sit amongst men."
Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1-2
An androgynos is in some respects legally equivalent to men, and in some respects legally equivalent to women, in some respects legally equivalent to men and women, and in some respects legally equivalent to neither men nor women.
- "The rabbis of the Mishnah identify at least for possible genders/sexes: the zakhar (male) and the nekevah (female), as well as two sexes which are beyond male and female: the tumtum and the androgynos. The Talmud sees the tumtum as a person whose genitals are obscured, making it difficult to discern whether he/she should be classified as male or female. The androgynos is a person who has both male and female sex traits." - Rabbi Elliot Kukla, The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism, 2009, p. 193.
- "The writers of this text appear to have performed the postmodern task of managing perceptions about dual-sex being, so that the community might recognize the truth of a complicated sex, rather than make a mistake and misinterpret a being who looks and behaves in public like a man." - Noach Dzmura, Balancing on the Mechitza, 2010, p. 165.
Tur, Yoreh De'ah, Chapter 182 (14th Century)
A woman should not wear garments that are especially for a man, according to the local fashion; and a woman should not cut her hair as a man does. A man should not wear the garments of a woman.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 696:8
"It is permitted [for a man] to dress as a woman on Purim."
- ". . . so too the practice of dressing up in masks on Purim, a man wearing the attire of a woman, and a woman wearing the accessories of a man -- there is no prohibition of this, since what they are intending is merely joy . . . " - Rabbi Moses Isserles, 1520-1572.
Blessings for the Transgender Community
This blessing may be recited before any moment in the transitioning process:
Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech ha'olam ha'ma'avir l'ovrim.
Blessed are You, Eternal our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who transitions those who are transitioning.
Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech ha'olam she'asani b'telmo.
Blessed are You, Eternal our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has made me in G-d's image.
- Rabbi Elliot Kukla, 2006.
This blessing may be recited while binding one's chest:
B'shem mitzvat tzitzit v'mitzvat hityatzrut.
For the sake of he mitzvah of ritual fringes and the mitzvah of self-transformation.
- Rabbi Elliot Kukla and Ari Lev Fornari, 2007.
Memorial Prayer for Transgender Day of Remembrance
"G-d, full of mercy, bless the souls of all who are in our hearts this Transgender Day of Remembrance. We call to mind today young and old, of every race, faith, gender experience, who have died by violence. We remember those who have died because they would not hide, or did not pass, or did pass, or stood too proud, or looked like someone who did. Today, we name them: the reluctant activist; the fiery hurler of heels; the warrior for quiet truth; the one whom no one really knew.
As many as we can name, there are thousands more whom we cannot, and for whom no Kaddish may have been said. We mourn their senseless deaths, and give thanks for their lives, for their teaching, and for the brief glow of each holy flame. We pray for the strength to carry on their legacy of vision, bravery, and love.
As we remember them, we remember with them the thousands more who have taken their own lives. We pray for resolve to root out the injustice, ignorance, and cruelty that grow despair. And we pray, G-d, that all those who perpetrate hate and violence will speedily come to understand that Your creation has many faces, many genders, many holy expressions.
Blessed are they, who have allowed their divine image to shine in the world.
Blessed is G-d, in Whom no light is extinguished."
-Rabbi Reuben Zellman, Siddur B'chol L'vavcha, RRC, 2008.
Ritual for Gender Transition (Male to Female)
-Created by Catherine Madsen and Joy Ladin, Balancing the Mechitza, 2010, pp. 85-92.
-Ps. 6:3-4, Job 3:25
WITNESS (A neutral witness, not part of the family)
-Mishnah Berakhot 9:5
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has not made me a woman."
(He lies down. The family members tear their clothes and recite the Mourner's Kaddish. The person in transition gives the responses.)
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has made me in G-d's image."
-"We are made in the image of someone who has no image; whose image we seek perpetually and do not find. Our minds search the universe for a body that is not there."
-Ps. 63:2, 130:6
(The witnesses pour three buckets of water over him, as for a ritual cleansing for a body after death.)
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy by your commandments, and commanded us concerning immersion."
(["He" will now be referred to as "she."] She rises, leaves the room, and dresses in new clothes, the reenters and uncovers the mirror [that had been covered prior to the ritual].)
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has made me according to your will."
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who revives the dead."
(At this point the person undergoing transition takes a new name, either through a simple announcement or through a more complex statement.)
PERSON TRANSITIONING to family
-"May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
FAMILY in response
-"Brukha ha-ba'a." (Welcome [feminine form].)
-"Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time."