Acharei Mot. This is a complicated sidra especially for the LGBTQ community. Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” is often used as an example of how Torah can be used and abused as a religious smorgasbord – what to choose to observe and what to ignore – even as fundamentalists try to use this same verse to reinforce their internalized bigotry. As many have suggested, choosing to focus on this one verse, whilst not, for example, stoning ones recalcitrant sons at the city gates, etc. is an action that is both arbitrary and hateful.
Reinforcing ancient rules of sexual relations – what is permitted and what is prohibited – makes sense in a once emerging religious community. The Holiness Code, (Vayikra 17- 26), begins in Acharei Mot, and is a mechanism, if you will, for creating social order and containment, of requiring obedience to a social system that will allow an emerging Israelite society to coalesce within its pagan surrounds. Given the social and cultural desire for order and the biological emotional tendency for chaos and dis-order, the constant straining against the reins of Holiness would seem to require a strong hand.
Yet, it is the inconsistency of application that causes pause – and today even a rupture from within. This is especially true for those who are both seeking the seder/order of observance and yet who embody sexual disorder – gay men. For this one verse addresses men, not women.
Perhaps this verse addresses men in particular, because there is a greater discomfort amongst the writers (men) about what may occur in their midst, which is virtually entirely homo-social. For men who keep each other’s company – for years if not decades – as they learn and challenge each other in the hothouse intimacy of their intellectual companionship, the potential for homo-social behaviour to glissé into homo-erotic intimacy may happen without any deliberate intention.
We read stories in Talmud of Rabbis Yohanan and Resh Lakish – both admired for their physical beauty, in tales that quite frankly can be read as stories of homo-erotic desire. Perhaps this emphasis on Leviticus 18:22, is in fact an eruv, a fencing or curbing of the potential for physical desire emerging from within their Rabbinic yeshivot. For, what is more erotic, I ask, than a compellingly phrased argument, an acutely precisely delivered deliberation? When I fell in love with my beloved it was with that most desirable of body parts – his intellect!
For me this verse is a warning to us all. Look to our own intimate situations. Perhaps we must be cautioned against falling in lust with just a body part – be it penis or brains. We must be aware of the power of that sexualized tingling, be it intellectual or physical in origin; we must be reminded that sex carries potential for havoc. That havoc, the ensuing emotional and social chaos, is what I believe Torah teaches to be a toeavah, an abomination.
And perhaps this ideation of toeavah is also at the root of the terrible difficulty of teshuvah. Because what is once rent – can never be entirely repaired. What was forgiven is usually still remembered, and can become an emotional wariness, a barrier. Teshuvah has limits. As does toeavah.