Homosexuality Is Part of Jewish Tradition


On July 7, 1971, Haaretz published an opinion piece (in Hebrew) entitled

“Israel or Sodom: Public condoning of sexual perversions – a grave matter.”

The author, Eliezer Livneh (Liebenstein), was a former Knesset member from

Mapai (precursor of today’s Labor Party) who become one of the main

ideologists of the Greater Land of Israel movement. He wrote in response

to calls at the time to cancel the sodomy law (which was ultimately

cancelled only in 1988, thanks to Shulamit Aloni).


Livneh was neither ultra-Orthodox nor Orthodox, but rather a Jewish nationalist,

yet his main argument was that homosexuality is foreign to Judaism,

constitutes a foreign influence by degenerate Western culture and should be combatted.


In the op-ed he claimed that for hundreds of years Jews in the Diaspora

succeeded in preserving their communities from those “sexual perversions,”

or as he phrased it: “It is totally absurd to have suffered for many generations

in the Diaspora, while strictly preserving, nurturing and refining the heterosexual

principle, only to return to the Land of Israel and renew the ‘gentiles’ abomination’ here.”


The history of homophobia in fact proves that Livneh’s claim (which many

Jews have upheld and still uphold to this day) is, if anything, a “foreign influence.”

Throughout the modern period nationalist homophobes have claimed that

homosexuality is nothing but a degenerative foreign cultural influence on

members of their people. The English considered homosexuality a Bulgarian

or French pathology. For their part, the French considered it an English

phenomenon: As late as 1991, French Prime Minister dith Cresson said that

homosexuality belongs to “the Anglo-Saxon tradition” and is foreign to the

French Latin culture.


Israeli President Ezer Weizmann, as is well-remembered, also said that there

was homosexuality in the British army but not in the Palmach pre-state militia.

Many European nations identified gays as “Turks,” while the Turks themselves

call gays “Persians.”


In general, there is a perception that homosexuality is a vice originating in the

East. Thus the Nazis charged sexologist and gay rights activist Magnus

Hirschfeld that as a Jew he “brought the oriental vice to Germany.”


In our day, nationalists in Russia and various countries in Africa are claiming

that homosexuality is a Western influence that must be combatted. Nationalism

and chauvinism always bear hatred of the other – be it a Jew, a gay or any foreigner.


Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, 2015.

In any case, the historical facts indicate that Livneh and his ilk were and are

mistaken. The Jews did not strictly preserve “the heterosexual principle.”

Intimate relations between men existed in Jewish communities and apparently

were also common. Historian Yaron Ben-Naeh has shown in his research

that despite the explicit biblical prohibition, in Jewish communities in the

Ottoman Empire same-sex relations were rather common. This is indicated

by dozens of sources. Moreover, until the modern era, grown men who had

a need for the favors of youths did not have a negative image in Jewish society.


In recent decades, religious LGBT activists have been making an effort

to suggest new interpretations of rabbinical law that will enable Jewish

communities to live in peace with LGBT people, and vice versa. And indeed,

liberal rabbis, mainly in the United States, stress that the prohibition on

sexual relations between people of the same sex is no harsher than the

prohibition on desecrating the Sabbath, for example. Some of them permit

intimate relations between males and prohibit only complete penetration,

which is euphemistically called “entering like the brush into the tube.”


Love thy fellow man as thyself – but really


During the past 100 years, some Jewish thinkers set themselves a more

ambitious aim: to prove that homosexuality is an integral part of the history

of the Jewish people and Jewish tradition. One of them was Hans-Joachim Schoeps,

a Prussian Jewish historian and theologian. He was a leader of German Jewish

youth, though he held nationalist German and reactionary opinions.

After World War II he hastened to return to Germany and was a loyalist of

the deposed Prussian royal family. In the 1970s he was a pioneer of the

campaign to cancel the prohibition on homosexuality in Germany (Paragraph 175).


Since the prohibition on homosexuality often relied on the prohibition in

Leviticus 18, Schoeps wanted to make clear the context in which this prohibition

was promulgated. He argued that priestly male sacred prostitutes

were common in biblical Israel, as in other Semitic cultures.


Schoeps concluded that such sacred prostitutes were active even in the

Temple in Jerusalem, based especially on Deuteronomy 23:18, “There

shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a sodomite

of the sons of Israel” – where the Jewish Publication Society translation

(and others) uses “sodomite” for the word qadesh, the feminine form of

which, qdesha, is a holy prostitute. (German translations use a cognate for “whore”.)


Only in the period of Josiah’s reform, when the cults of foreign gods were

uprooted, was sacred male prostitution prohibited. And since the cult was

so popular among the people, it was necessary to make the prohibit in a

particularly stringent way and the cult is now considered an abomination.

However, Schoeps stresses that the prohibition in Deuteronomy

relates to a pagan cult of this sort, not to the sexual act itself.


An equally daring theory was developed by poet and kabbala researcher

Jiří Mordecai Langer. Langer, who is mainly known as Franz Kafka’s Hebrew

teacher, was born in Prague, became a yeshiva scholar in the court of

the Belzer Rebbe and died in 1943 as a marginal poet in Tel Aviv. He might

have been considered a kind of messiah of the homoerotic gospel among

the Jewish people had his unusual kabbalistic theory not been silenced

and pushed to the margins.


In his book “The Erotics of Kabbala” published in 1923, Langer argued

that “brotherly love,” i.e. love of a man for a man, is in fact the deepest

basic urge in Judaism, at the basis of the commandment of “love thy

fellow man as thyself.” In his view, in early Judaism the erotic stream

of love between men prevailed, but over the generations “love of woman”

prevailed. Like Schoeps after him, Langer concluded that the harsh prohibition

of sexual relations between men constitutes proof that the tendency toward

it was common among Jews. He also argued that an erotic relationship,

which not actualized in the form of intercourse, is what connects yeshiva

students to one another and to their rabbi.


Langer’s ambition in life was to reawaken “love of the friend,” that

“lofty and sublime human emotion that was extinguished in the hearts

of the Hebrews in their bitter and biting exile.” Had he not died before his

time, he might have succeeded in spreading the idea in Israel that Judaism

and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive, but rather are connected in a complex way.


Regrettably, in the decades after his death this message was completely forgotten.

The LGBT liberation movement appeared only in the 1970s, as an American-style,

secular, liberal movement.


It is not necessary to accept the theories propounded by Laner, Schoeps and

others like them, but their attempts to create a Jewish homosexuality are

particularly relevant now. In face of the murderous violence that invokes

Jewish justifications, there is no reason to make do with just allowing

gays to live. It should be argued that homosexual passion and its realization

constitute a layer in Judaism itself. Sodom, after all, is also located in Israel.






Enter content here

Enter content here

Enter content here

Enter content here

Enter supporting content here