Other Prohibited Sexual Relationships in Kedoshim

In Part 1 we looked at the inherent problems in translations - no matter how faithful one thinks they are to the text, there will always be a bit of their personal interpretations and inferences mixed in.  But when we get beyond the context of just a text-based translation, how do these interpretations reflect the ideologies of the various movements and streams of Judaism?

In Part 2 we explored how today's mainstream Jewish movements interpret and implement Leviticus 18:22.

In Part 3 we discussed the conspicuous absence of lesbianism/female-female sexual relations in the Torah, and how the laws surrounding its supposed prohibition are all purely rabbinic, and even debatable. 



One of the most important ways we are able to figure out what the Torah says is by looking at verses in context. There were no dictionaries at the time the Torah was written, (in fact, the Torah became the closest version to a dictionary we had) so we must turn to context clues to figure out what some of the more obscure phrases mean. And, we have to turn to the context to see how certain verses relate to other verses. Parshat Kedoshim is a perfect example.

In verses 20:10-21 we are presented with a litany of prohibited sexual relationships. Each relationship is described in its own unique terms: "aberration", "perversion", "offensive thing". Oddly enough, male-male sexual activity is only referred to as "offensive" and most definitely NOT "perverse" or an "aberration."  In fact, one could (and probably should) ague that the "worst" offense is a man who takes both a woman and her mother - they should be burned in a fire. Burned in a fire!

Check out the table below of all of the sexual relationships prohibited in Parshat Kedoshim:

The punishments for the last 5 relationships are also something to consider: A couple who has sex while the woman is menstruating will be "cut off from their people", and a man who takes his brother's wife (while the brother is still alive - NOT in the case of Levirate Marriage) - both of them will be childless.

All of these forbidden relationships have one thing in common: they upset the natural power structure of what a "traditional" relationship in biblical terms is supposed to be. The ancient world placed a huge premium on power and status - and engaging in these forbidden relationships upset that balance.

Next week, in the lead-up to Shabbat Kedoshim, we'll go more into detail about the theories that the prohibition on male-male sexual relationships are really just manifestations of misogyny. 


Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at [email protected]