Leviticus Weighs on me…So I’ll March

When I think of today’s Pride Parade in Jerusalem, there are some verses in Leviticus that weigh heavily on my mind.

Clearly, I’m not talking about the verses in chapters 18 and 20 which forbid homosexual relations, referring to them as an abomination. Those verses used to make intuitive sense, in a cultural context where homosexuality was viewed as something viscerally unnatural, repulsive, abominable. This is not to justify that attitude in any way, of course, but rather to point out that, even until relatively recently, it was not an attitude limited to the religious community. But that has changed dramatically, and so in the world in which we live, the word ‘abomination’ has lost its meaning.

This is clear if you listen carefully to the discourse in society, and even within the religious community. Rabbis will isolate the action as prohibited, but explain that the sexual orientation or identity is not being addressed by the Torah, or they will speak about this law as a chok, a decree whose logic we don’t understand. Even the more conservative voices speak about the need to accept the Torah’s decree that this is an abomination, against society’s perception, but also condemn homophobia and hatred of homosexuals. None of this is consistent with a real identification with the simple meaning of the word ‘abomination,’ because as soon as you have had a personal interaction with members of the LGBT community, you know deep down that it’s a lie. So it’s not those verses which weigh on me. Their meaning for today remains mysterious.

But there are other verses, in chapter 19, whose meaning and implications are crystal clear. ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow,’ commands the Torah. After the horrific murder of Shira Banki one year ago in the name of God, the religious community desperately wanted to proclaim that “our hands did not shed this blood.” But just one year and 300+ rabbis later, that statement too, has been hollowed of any real meaning. We can’t have a popular rabbinic educator spitting the word ‘pervert’ over and over again to describe the LGBT community, and hundreds of rabbis vocally supporting it, and then be surprised when the true perverts in our midst act violently, or wring our hands when an Orthodox kid thinks that it’s easier to die than to live with being gay.  The numbers of attempted suicides among teens struggling with their sexual identity are horrific, and the numbers for religious teens are even worse. Our Torah — not liberal society, not Western culture, but our Torah — has very clear rules about actions that could possibly cause the endangering of lives.

“It is time to act for God. They have desecrated your Torah.” (Tehillim 119:126)

The verse in Leviticus weighs on me today. My first steps to answer its call, to protest hateful, hurtful words that can spill the blood of my fellows, will be steps I take in the Pride parade.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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