God hates shrimp? Maybe, but it's not an abomination.

The Hebrew word תועבה (to'evah) is often translated as "abomination." In the next post we'll explore why that's probably a mis-translation and what the implications of its use are, but before we can get to that, we need to figure out exactly what is and is not a to'evah. 

Perhaps the most well-known use of the word is found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, or, the verses that prohibit male-male anal sex. (See 2014's series of posts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Here's the use as you're probably used to seeing it:

Leviticus 18:22

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא

V'et zakhar, lo tishkav mish-ka-veh isha, to-eh-vah hee.

And you shall not lie with a male like lying with a woman. It is an offensive thing (abomination).


What is a to'evah in the Torah?

  1. If you're an Egyptian, eating food with Hebrews. (Genesis 43:32)
  2. If you're an Egyptian, being a shepherd. (Genesis 46:34)
  3. If you're in Egypt, sacrificing a lamb. (Exodus 8:22)
  4. Sacrificing (and eating) an animal that is blemished. (Deuteronomy 14:4 and 17:1)
  5. Having male-male anal sex. (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13)
  6. Cross dressing. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
  7. A man re-marrying a woman that he had previously divorced because he found her to be unattractive or undesirable who [the woman] had remarried and become divorced or widowed in the interim. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
  8. Taking non-Israelites' idols into your home for decoration. (Deuteronomy 7:25-26)
  9. Making a statue or idol and setting it up in private. (Deuteronomy 27:15)
  10. Making your child walk through fire, magic, snake charming, befriending or seeking guidance from spirits (the dead), necromance. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12)
  11. Copying the practices of the original inhabitants of the land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 29:18)
  12. Placing conditions or stipulations on vows to God. (Deuteronomy 23:19)
  13. Using improper weights and measures in business dealings. (Deuteronomy 25:16)

Now, for the sake of comparison, here are a sampling of the actions that are NOT described as a to'evah or "abomination:"

  1. Eating bacon, shellfish, meat + dairy, or violating any of the other dietary laws.
  2. Murder.
  3. Incest - of any kind.
  4. Swearing/taking God's name in vain.
  5. Taking revenge.
  6. Getting a tattoo or a body piercing.
  7. Working on the Sabbath.
  8. Not fasting on Yom Kippur.
  9. Bestiality.
  10. Performing Temple sacrifices incorrectly.
  11. Mixing linen and wool.
  12. Planting two different types of crops side by side.
  13. Touching a dead person.
  14. Literally anything else. 
  15. No, really, anything and everything else. If you can think of it and it's not listed above? It's not an "abomination"

So, while the idea of saying things like "God hates shrimp" or using the magnificent speech from The West Wing to win an argument seem like great ideas, in reality, they're not direct comparisons. Yes, many of these actions carry the death penalty, but, since carrying out the death penalty in Judaism is almost entirely impossible, the severity of the actions don't always match up. 

So how does this all work out in reality, and why are these 13 categories separate? We'll explore that in the coming days as we continue this year's series on the Torah portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim.


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]