Judah Macabee – Homophobe

“Homosexuality is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love – all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”
“The noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail.”

Statistics evaluating American Jewish religious expression demonstrate the Jewish observance most practiced is the lighting of Chanukah candles. This religious observance commemorates and celebrates the miraculous victory of Judah Macabee, his family and small band of followers who, repulsed by the installation by Antiochus IV of a statue of Zeus in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Monotheism, mounted a guerrilla war against the Hellenized Syrian-Mesopotamian Empire then in control of ancient Israel. Considering the support of so many Jews for gay marriage in America, one wonders how they can celebrate Hanukkah. For today many would label Judah, his family, the Hasmoneans and their followers as homophobes. Yes homophobes. Let me explain.

The Jewish world of the Macabees was completely swallowed up by Hellenism. Its paganism, its emphasis upon the worship of the physical, as opposed to spiritual development, saw young Jewish men exercising in arena on the Temple Mount in the nude. In an attempt to hide the deformity inflicted upon their well-toned “Grecian” physiques by their parents through the rite of circumcision, they would employ various techniques to disguise this Jewish mutilation. Of course Greek names and life style had become the norm of the Jews of that time. There are those, in discussing the contemporary challenge presented by assimilation, who compare American Jewry to the Hellinized Jewish world of the Macabees.

As the quotes from Plato and Plutarch demonstrate, not only was homosexuality widely engaged in by Hellenistic societies, no doubt embraced as well by the Hellinized Jews in the time of the Macabees, it was lauded as a valuable element in the development of a sophisticated society. As Plato states, it is the barbarian and the dictator that seek to stifle homosexual expression. Plutarch reminds us all of the fascination the Hellenists had for the physical body equating love with sexual expression, with engaging with individuals of “special natural endowment” male or female, in stark contrast to Judaism which views love as representative of far more than a chance physical encounter.

It was the Macabees, the Hassidim of their age, who, as a minority, maintained Jewish observance and values in the face of a Jewish world possessed by an alien culture and religion. It was the Macabees who, unlike Plato, were repulsed by the rampant and open sexual promiscuity of the Jewish world of their day, which included homosexuality, seeing it as leading to the destruction of the great “temple” of Jewish thought and religious purity exemplified by the observance of the commandments of the Torah.

And when the fortress of Judaism was breached, when the Temple was defiled, rededicated as a pagan shrine to Zeus, in spite of their small numbers, they felt there was no alternative but to take to the hills and fight to the death for their Jewish beliefs with the call to arms, “Whoever is for the L‑rd follow me!” We live in a confused Jewish world where that which is rejected by Judaism, is now an expression of Jewish values as represented by the recent remark of the President of the National Jewish Democratic Council that gay marriage is a step forward in the important endeavor of Tikun Olam, the bringing of balance and perfection to the physical world through G‑d’s commandments. How could this have happened?

May I suggest that we live with faulty Jewish mathematics? One of the major equations used in Jewish life today states:

A Jewish position on a given issue = the opinion of the majority of Jews.

If we truly believe this equation, if we believe that Jewish views are determined by the majority of Jews, then, as the title of this article states, there is no doubt that Judah Macabee was a homophobe. For was he not battling, risking his life and the life of his followers against a superior and well armed force, to reinstate the values of Judaism in Jewish society? Unlike the majority of the Jews of his day who echoed the sentiments of Plato and Plutarch, he saw in the expression of sexuality beyond the sacred bond of marriage between man and woman, a violation of G‑d’s Divine law. He would give no quarter to such immoral behavior. He was a fanatic, a veritable “Bible thumper” in his day. And yet, we Jews, embrace the victory of the Macabees, their rise to both Kingship and Priesthood, their restoring the values of G‑d, as something to celebrate; that Jewish celebration embraced by more Jews than any other in our religious lexicon.

In 1885 the leaders of the Reform Movement met in Pittsburgh to define their sense of Judaism. They issued the Pittsburgh Platform now understood as the encapsulation of classical Reform Judaism. In part it states: “Second – We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. Third – …today we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” By endorsing gay marriage most American Jews have parted company with this liberal expression of Judaism.

As Classical Reform Judaism declares, that “record of the consecration of the Jewish. People to its mission as priest of the one true God” that “most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction” or, in today’s terms, that ancient yet eternal Jewish “Rules for Radicals,” the Bible, teaches us:

“If a man lies with a man as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination…”
“You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.”
“It is too light a thing for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the scions of Israel, and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth… I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations… And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising.”

Something to think about.

About the Author
Retired and residing in Jackson, New Jersey, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz was the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
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