Why do we believe that homosexual relationships are forbidden? For the same reason that we believe that we must not eat a cheeseburger or shrimps: Because it says so in the Torah. We can attempt to come up with estimated explanations, yet often they will sound insipid in the face of the true explanation for our position: This is what God ordered, and He knows better than us.
On one cold Saturday night, my company sergeant major asked me to put on a fire and make coffee for the guards. Today is Shabbat, I told him. The sergeant major did not give up: “Yet those are your friends. They are tired and cold…” That’s true, I responded, and still, I must not do it.
When Ahad Ha’am was charged with intending to change our religion, he denied it wholeheartedly: I do not believe at all in the benefit or possibility of amending religion superficially. Those who seek to amend the religion, it is as though they are seeking to cool the fire, that is, two opposites in one matter. Religion is religion as long as its faithful believe in its divine source, while the idea of amendment can only emerge after this belief has been lost; Even a self-declared heretic like Ahad Ha’am understood the nature of religious belief.
Those who believe that God gave us the Torah will do everything it says. Those who do not believe in it will not be convinced, even if the content of the mitzvahs will be explained in the most convincing way.
In today’s Israeli culture, special courage is required in order to say “it’s forbidden.” In our culture, everything is allowed, with the possible exception of being a sucker. This is the huge gap between the secular discourse and religious discourse in Israel 2008. When I say “it’s forbidden” they think that I’m saying “I object” or “I don’t like it.” Yet this is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that it’s forbidden, because this is what the Creator ordered for his eternal reasons, and there is no room for judgment to deviate from His words.
This insight is foreign to many seculars. Regrettably, it’s also foreign to many religious. Many religious people think that if the Torah forbade homosexual relationships, it is necessarily because homosexuality is a despicable and unnatural perversion. Yet our faith in the Creator requires us to recognize that we cannot grasp the depth of his considerations. There are many bans in the Torah that do not feature any deviation from nature. For us, on the most primal level, we must not say that “it’s forbidden because it’s unnatural,” but rather, it’s forbidden because it’s forbidden.
Homosexual relationships are referred to in the Torah as “abomination” (Leviticus, 18:22.) Yet this harsh expression is also uttered in relation to food that is not kosher (Deuteronomy 14:3) and in relation to a man who returns his divorced wife after she’s been with another man (Deuteronomy 24:4). Would we treat someone who brought back his divorced wife with the same level of zealous revulsion?
We do not know why the Torah forbade homosexual relationships. There is clearly a reason for it, yet it is beyond our comprehension. Many try to argue that in a society where homosexuality is prevalent, the family unit breaks down. This may be true, yet clearly this does not exhaust God’s reasons for this ban. For us, homosexual relationships are forbidden because God said so.
Our attitude to homosexual tendencies should not be any different than the way we treat a person who has a tendency to eat meat and milk. As long as he is able to overcome his urges, he will be considered a hero. If he is unable to overcome his urges, he will be held accountable before the Creator.
Yet often we hurl harsh insults against homosexuals that we do not hurl at those who commit other violations. I do not see any justification for this: it is possible that these insults do not stem from pure religious motivation, but rather, from a wholly different place.
Rabbi Chaim Navon is a community rabbi in Modiin