Why is Judaism Anti-Homosexual?
Question submitted to “Ask the Rabbi” by:
Profession: Technical Writer / Mathematician
“I am still at a loss to understand why homosexuality is the one thing many Jews focus on to the exclusion of all else.
There are 612 other mitzvoth in the Torah, yet no effort is made to bemoan their breaking. Why this fixation on homosexuality?
I truly don’t care what two consenting adults (of either gender) do in the privacy of their home.
If one is really worried about the long-term survival of our (Jewish) ‘species’, one should focus on why so many Jews marry out of the faith. This will surely make our ‘species’ extinct way sooner than homosexuality.
Why Homosexuality is such a sin that it was deemed to be an extreme act that was punishable by death?”
Rabbi Tully Bryks responds:
I would like to start out with a few clarifications regarding the premise of your question:
- Judaism does not focus on homosexuality to the exclusion of all else. On the contrary, Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) teaches us that we are not allowed to think that one Mitzvah is more important than another. Rather, as you pointed out, there are 613 Mitzvos (commandments). Our goal is to strive to keep all of them. In the event that someone is not yet ready to observe them all, keeping 612 is better than 611 and keeping 50 is better than keeping 5.
- While you may not care what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes, G-d does care. Most of Jewish law relates to private personal choices, including legislation about how we talk, eat, get dressed, go to sleep, and much more. In many respects, how we behave privately is a greater indication of our faith on G-d, since He is the only one who can see what happens behind closed doors.
- Intermarriage is definitely a major challenge facing the Jewish people. To this end, the Jewish community invests significant resources to combat intermarriage and assimilation, including hundreds of organizations, thousands of free trips to Israel and major campaigns on college campuses and in Jewish communities throughout the world. In contrast, it does not appear that any of the major Jewish organizations have launched major campaigns to fight homosexuality.
- You are correct that the Torah does include homosexual acts in the list of offenses that can incur the death penalty. The Torah actually applies the death penalty to a wide range of crimes, including (only partial list):
- Adultery (along with many other sexual prohibitions)
- False Prophecy
- Desecrating Shabbos (the Sabbath) in public
- Striking or cursing at one’s parent
For an explanation about the Torah approach to the death penalty, see my article on The Death Penalty.
All of the above notwithstanding, you are correct that the Torah does prohibit homosexual acts in very strong terms. However, like most other Mitzvos, G-d does not provide an explanation as to why it is prohibited. While we may not know the potentially many reasons G-d could have factored into mandating this law, we can try to identify some of the benefits, including:
- A child would benefit most from the unique contributions of both a father and a mother, as the influence of both genders is very helpful to a child’s upbringing. While the powerful influence of a mother has long been known, recent government studies have shown that the father also plays a crucial role in the development and welfare of children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
- G-d has chosen the ideal soul mate for each of us. This soul mate is from a different gender. Our other half is the ideal partner to help every person to fully realize one’s potential in this world. For more information, see my article on Finding your Soul Mate (Incidentally, the infidelity rate among homosexual couples is almost four times as high as it is for heterosexual couples).
- Homosexual activity may have certain health risks. According to U.S. government health studies last year, homosexuals have significantly greater risk of contracting some deadly diseases (U.S. CDC). In addition, they are 21 times more likely to contract HIV (U.K. NHS).
While G-d probably has many reasons for each of His Mitzvos, the question remains as to why G-d would create people with homosexual desires if it is wrong and/or harmful to us? It seems quite unfair.
It is important to note that the Torah only prohibits homosexual acts, but does not in any way condemn a person for having homosexual feelings. On the contrary, most people are born with desires or inclinations for things which are prohibited to them. Some examples could include a desire for premarital heterosexual relations, extra-marital relations, non-Kosher food, theft and numerous other temptations one can face on a daily basis. Having an inclination to follow our passions is not inherently evil. On the contrary, G-d gave us an evil inclination to help us fully reach our potential in this world. If G-d were to create us with no desires for anything that is prohibited, then G-d would probably not need to prohibit them. Furthermore, the whole concept of free will would become a lot less meaningful (For more information, see my article on Free Will).
It is also important to note that we have no right to judge anyone else and think that we are better than someone who gives in to his desires, whether for homosexual acts or for violating any other commandment. Only G-d knows who we truly are. We need to be respectful and loving to all, even if they don’t practice religion the same way that we do. As an added incentive, if we judge others favorably, G-d will judge us favorably. I would add that if someone were not able to observe this particular Mitzvah, but did fully observe all other Mitzvos, such a person would probably be at a much higher spiritual level than most other people.
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