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We Know What THEY Say,
But What Does God Say?

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

What Is Forbidden Here?

By Shlomo Phillips March 20, 1999 (last updated February, 9, 2014)

Leviticus 20:13

"And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves.

Leviticus 18:22.

You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.

These verses are found within the "Holiness Code." This section of Scripture emphasizes that the Israelites are to consider themselves as being set apart to God from the rest of the nations. The Jews are God's "portion," His "Elect" (Psalm 16:5) from among humanity. These laws only apply to them as the royal priesthood to the nations (Exodus 19:6), not to the nations at large.

The CONTEXT in which these verses appear is God's prohibition against the Israelites engaging in the practices found in the nearby fertility cults of Moloch and Ashtaroth. The people of HaShem are only to worship the God of Israel and only to engage themselves in His worship. In the case of Leviticus 18:22 this meaning is particularly clear when we read the preceding verse. Remember that the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible were added later:

Leviticus 18:21,22 And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord. You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.
Some of the more common practices of Moloch worship are delineated in this Torah section as actions forbidden to the Israelites. Look at the beginning of the chapter and you will see this clearly:
18:1 Adonai said to Moses,
18:2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am the Lord, your God.
18:3 Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes.
18:4You shall fulfill My ordinances and observe My statutes, to follow them. I am the Lord, your God.
18:5 You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the Lord.

Well meaning people sometimes cherry-pick the Bible, taking verses (and sometimes half-verses) out of context in order to support their own beliefs and prejudices. This is a sad reality that we find among people of all religions and traditions. Religious law (including Jewish halachah) needs to be based on what the texts actually say, not what the interpreters wished they said. When read in context the two verses currently under discussion (i.e. Leviticus 20:13 and 18:22) are forbidding Jews from all forms of Moloch worship, including visiting the popular Pagan temple prostitutes (whether male of female).

HaShem, the God of Israel, never directed His people to engage in ritual sex magic like many of the Pagan religions around them. Despite this some Israelites had taken up these rites. These idolatrous rituals were unacceptable to God who commands His people: "You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the Lord."

This is the clear intent of these passages.

What is an "Abomination?"

The English word abomination used here is a translation of the Hebrew word to'aivah (or to-ay-baw) which specifically refers to idolatrous practices that displease or disgust God. Of itself this word has nothing to do with sexuality (neither homosexual nor heterosexual) unless that sexuality is directly involved in the worship of other gods. Then it forbids both equally.

This prohibition is the same as Paul's concern at Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6:9. The intention of these verses is to forbid the worship of Moloch and Ashtaroth, regardless of the particular actions employed.

In the following verses (6 on), many of these forbidden activities are specifically listed.

Let's look again at 18:21 using a different translation:

"You shall not give any of your semen in sacrifice to Moloch; neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
The word translated more politely as "offspring" above (in the Judaica Press version) and more literally here as semen is zera. This word means: semen, virility, seed, offspring, descendants, posterity, children etc. Translators translate the word differently depending on context and personal preference. In the case of these temple sacrifices to Moloch, semen was used at times for sex magic and born children (and others) were sometimes offered as sacrifice.

Allowing ones semen or born offspring to be used in Pagan rites through temple prostitution or direct sacrifice is rightly called an "abomination" because of the prohibition against worshipping other gods. The worship of these gods in any manner is what is being forbidden here. The topic has nothing to do with consensual homosexuality.

Notice what the incorporation of sexuality into Pagan rites does, it 'profanes the name of God,' hence God commands the Jews to remember that He alone is their God and He alone is to be worshiped. So likewise we read in context:

Leviticus 20:2 And to the children of Israel, you shall say: Any man of the children of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones.
20:3 And I will set My attention upon that man, and I will cut him off from amidst his people, because he gave of his offspring to Molech in order to defile My holy ones and to profane [Hebrew: tame': to ceremonially defile or contaminate] My holy Name.
20:4 But if the people of the land ignore that man when he gives of his offspring to Molech, not putting him to death
I will set My attention upon that man, and upon his family, and I will cut him off, and all who stray after him to stray after Molech, from amidst their people.
20:5 I will set My attention upon that man, and upon his family, and I will cut him off, and all who stray after him to stray after Molech, from amidst their people.
20:6 And the person who turns to Ov or Yid'oni, to stray after them I will set My attention upon that person, and I will cut him off from amidst his people.
20:7 You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am the Lord, your God.
20:8 And you shall observe My statutes and fulfill them. I am the Lord, Who sanctifies you....
20:13 And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman both of them have committed an abomination [to'aivah]; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves.
The reference to turning to Ov or Yid'oni in verse 6 confirms the nature of the offenses being forbidden in these verses:
Yid'oni: Negative Commandment 9

... Do not think that this prohibition is a in the category of a "general prohibition." This is because when mentioning the punishment, they were separated, as it is written, "[Any man or woman who is involved in] the idolatry called ov or yidoni [shall be put to death]."

One who transgresses either of them intentionally is executed by stoning and karet, as written in G-d's statement (exalted be He), "Any man or woman who is involved in the idolatry called ov or yidoni shall be put to death."

        Translated by Berel Bell, Source.
Leviticus 20:5,6 makes it clear that the prohibition is referencing temple prostitution not romantic relations between consenting partners. While the Judaica Press version quoted above uses a more polite voice, here is another equally accurate translation:
20:5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.
20:6 And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.
Note the phrase to play the prostitute with Moloch (or to go whoring with Moloch). This is the concern in these verses and it is presented in sexual terms because temple prostitution was particularly offensive to HaShem (G-d) since Israel is spiritually His Wife.

Following this, certain abuses are listed and then we come to verse 13, again specifically concerning the use of semen in sex magic.

Throughout the long history of the Israelites they had a weakness for idolatry according to the Bible. This is simply another example of God seeking to control that inclination. In context Moshe is clearly forbidding the Israelites (Jews) from worshiping Moloch and the other local gods in any way, including through the popular sex rites of Ba'al.

For those who wish to base their beliefs on the Bible and increase their emuna (active faith), understanding what is and is not being forbidden is important. In my opinion, we do better loving and encouraging people to come to HaShem rather than employing condemnation to push them farther away. One who is serious about spiritual growth will in time embrace what HaShem has for them ever more fully, whatever that is.

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