After reading the wonderful article in the summer magazine, “Remembering the Refuseniks and the Movement That Didn’t,” it brought back a special memory in my life from my fourth trip to visit Refuseniks in the Soviet Union.
In October 1989, as a longtime B’nai B’rith member and Soviet Jewry activist, I was asked to be part of the six-person B’nai B’rith International mission to the Soviet Union with Leon Uris, the author of “Exodus.” We were led by Dr. Michael Neiditch of B’nai B’rith, and our purpose was to visit new B’nai B’rith units in Moscow and Leningrad in Russia and Riga in Latvia.
At every meeting, Leon Uris personally inducted new members and gave each one a membership menorah pin. We gave 249 of these menorah pins away and I kept one for myself, which I still wear. We also brought B’nai B’rith new member applications printed in Russian.
Today, the president of the B’nai B’rith Moscow unit in 1989, Alexander Smukler, who brought Leon Uris close to tears when he presented him with an underground handmade copy of “Exodus,” is the president of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry in Washington, D.C., located next door to the B’nai B’rith office.
Past President, Adelphi Lodge
I saw the article “Gays and Judaism: A Dramatic Evolution” in the summer edition of your publication. All of this was enlightening but did not deal with an analysis of the text of the Torah.
I wrote a book titled “The Legacy of Moses and Akhenaten: a Jewish Perspective.” In an appendix, I dealt with textual analysis regarding homosexuality, as follows:
“The prohibited [sexual and marital] relationships are enumerated in Leviticus 18:6-21…
“There is a sequel to the publications of sexual relationships and prohibited marriages. This is contained in Leviticus 18:22, which states, very tersely: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind, it is an abomination.’ These thoughts prohibiting male homosexuality are repeated in Leviticus 20:13: ‘And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination; they shall surely be put to death.’
“The short sentences in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 have caused great difficulties throughout history, so they deserve further analysis. An examination of the earlier quoted verse shows that they relate to heterosexual prohibitions. The insertion of a prohibition pertaining to male homosexuality appears, therefore, to be largely gratuitous. In this regard, if one posits that God has spoken and that the expressions contained in the verse are the immutable word of God, there is nothing to consider. However, if one considers that Leviticus was written by priests or scribes several hundred years after Moses/Akhenaten, it is more likely that the expressions against homosexuality were a reflection of the mores of Jewish society in the years of the fifth century (in approximately 450 BCE), rather than a reflection of the values of Moses/Akhenaten. The two sentences in Leviticus may well reflect Jewish ‘pushback’ in the fifth century to Greek influence in the Jewish society of that time.
“At various times, ancient Judaism was, to some degree, in competition with Hellenism (i.e., Greek philosophy and culture). The Greek philosophers stressed logic and the beauty of the physical body. These concepts competed with Jewish values pertaining to spirituality and to a requirement of doing good actions. These competitive interrelationships existed from at least the time of Moses/Akhenaten…
“… a quick review of sources, from the most respected scientific journals to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, shows that homosexuality is not limited to humankind. It is found in various other living species, certainly among mammals and reptiles. It would appear that 10-17 percent of human beings are homosexual.
“The Torah does not proscribe anal sex within the context of heterosexual marriage. So, it is not the ‘act’ which is an ‘abomination’.” The Torah text merely indicates rejection and disapproval of the male homosexual relationship. It was more important for Jews to perpetuate their existence as people by following the Torah’s admonition to be “fruitful and multiply” than to submit to, and follow, the Hellenistic lifestyle.
“Under this analysis, currently discriminating against a significant percentage of the population in the name of God is inane. Certainly, if living things are all results of God’s acts of creation, those who discriminate against homosexuals are rejecting God by discriminating against God’s handiwork and creations… Therefore, it would appear to be more responsible to reject the substance of the anti-homosexual verses and conclude that… such discrimination is a perversion of all that is good and proper in ethical monotheism. In this regard, consider the statement of Rabbi Hillel, who said: ‘That which is hurtful to you, do not do to your neighbor.’
“Again, proscriptions of Leviticus 18:6-21 are a reflection of a disapproval of the incestuous lifestyle of Akhenaten/Moses. The additional two sentences pertaining to homosexuality, are, I believe, a subsequent addition to the original text and are an anomaly. They do not deal with, or proscribe, female homosexuality. And they certainly do not easily tie into an analysis of the ethical monotheism created by Moses/Akhenaten.”
While the foregoing analysis will not be convincing to all readers, I believe that the majority of open-minded readers will glean a new perspective, which supports, rather than opposes, LGBT and same-sex marriage rights.
Very truly yours,
Sheldon L. Lebold