Our subject: the Seven Laws or 7M, the Seven Mitzvot/s, the Universal Noahide Commandments - in Hebrew, the universal Divine “Connections.” As the Torah teaches, this is the whole world’s Derech HaShem - the path of HaShem, the Holy path.
This March, we planned to print a discussion with Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander and Rabbi Michael Katz (the First Covenant Foundation co-director) about a “shulchan aruch b’nei noach” [literally, a “Prepared Table” or code of Divine laws for Noahides]. This would be a detailed compendium of religious law, including rituals, customs, and ethical and moral strictures, expressly designed for non-Jews. That would be a good thing, said Rabbi Katz and Rabbi Hollander; the rest of us were shouting “No!” Before getting to that controversy, however, following last month’s Covenant Connection’s “Natural Sex Laws,” we decided, with Rabbi Katz himself urging this, to give a little more space to the Noahide sex laws and, particularly, homosexual sex.
The issue’s huge. A lot of nonsense has been written. We always come back to this iron rule: God’s Laws are ALWAYS just and fair and righteous, in every sense. If we, God forbid, characterize them as in any way unjust, unfair, unrighteous, etc., that proves that we’ve missed the mark; that our understanding is flawed; that we’ve got some aspect of God’s Law wrong.
We need to try, at least, to be a truly Conscious Servant. That means, in this case, conscientiously applying rationality and rigor to the 7M, to overcome past mistakes and get to God’s truth about God’s management system for universal morality and law.
Rabbi Katz writes:
There is absolute morality and it is defined by G'd's Will. Acting immorally makes G'd the victim. That part of G'd that resides within us is called the soul and when man behaves immorally he makes his soul a victim. And as the demands of those who choose to behave without regard for the laws of Gd spread within society until society embraces their licentious behavior, society itself becomes the victim. As society hurtles into the abyss, the holiness of the world is diminished and we are all victims.
Maimonides teaches us that Noahides who accept the Seven Laws only because they have come to realize that they are good for society are not reckoned among the righteous gentiles. To achieve that lofty status, a Noahide must accept the Seven Laws because Moses taught them at Sinai. The Noahide must believe that they emanate from G'd and not from society's conscience. Sin is what G'd labels as such and no "evolvement" of society can override G'd's Word and Will.
Babylonian Talmud Chullin 92B teaches that of the thirty [universal] laws that gentiles were meant to observe they have violated them all with the exception of three: they do not write marriage contracts for homosexuals, they do not sell human flesh in the market place and they honor the Torah. Is there anything left?
Agreed: we agree with everything he’s saying. Let’s explain:
A difference exists between Noahides – Gentiles or non-Jews - who accept the Torah with all its precepts as holy because God-given, and Gentiles who don’t. (People ruled by different conceptions of what is ultimately real and true will naturally diverge in their approach to life’s choices, and naturally, we’d expect them to earn different rewards.) Rabbi Katz points out that the first group but not the second may qualify as “righteous gentiles.” This is a specific legal designation in the Torah. Israel stands in a unique relationship with “righteous gentiles.” These are people who worship HaShem both directly and exclusively, as Jews do. However, we’re not talking about Israel or Torah or a special Torah designation here. We’re talking about the 7M, the Universal laws.
We agree with Rabbi Katz, absolutely, that the 7M emanate from God. But we insist, that God made the 7M clearly discernable. Even without any grounding in the Scripture of Israel, the vileness of 7M violations should always be apparent.
There is nothing of the illogical, superstitious or taboo in the 7M and nothing that must be taken solely “on authority” against informed common sense and logic.
On this last point, possibly, we and Rabbi Katz may disagree.
One final point. The Torah makes it very clear that homosexual conduct is non-normative – not ideal, nor even desirable. This applies both to lesbian conduct – “gay” sex between women or girls – and that of men or boys. Like masturbation, for instance, or prostitution, these are lewd, salacious activities that, unquestionably, constitute sin – sin defined, from the Hebrew, as “missing the mark.” The thing is, we’re not talking about ideal morality here, or the desirability of avoiding what’s sinful. Rather, we’re talking about law: the 7M, the laws that all people at all times need to enforce through police and courts and deliberately legislated statutory prohibitions. The 7M are all absolutely just and also, always, profoundly practical.
Let’s examine the particular prohibition that we’re considering. Without getting too graphic, we’re talking about a “man lying with man as with woman” (Leviticus 18:22), or, specifically, anal sex: using a male’s anus as a receptacle for a penis.
We were surprised when we discovered this prohibition’s narrowness, in the context of the 7M. Things like male homosexual kissing, caresses, fellatio (oral sex), or naked dancing, say, fall outside it.
Genesis 2:24 tells a man to cling or “cleave” [davak, the same word as used in “cleave to HaShem” in Deuteronomy 10:20] to his wife, “his woman.” The Rabbis take this as Noahide precept, applicable to all men, that he cleave “to a woman, not women, and not to a man or animal.”
Rabbi Katz says it’s Genesis’ language that’s applicable here – that the alleged Noahide prohibition of male-male sex is tied to this passage. That means, he says, that the prohibition goes beyond merely banning anal homosex to cover other kinds of “cleaving.”
We doubt that, frankly. In fact, it’s hard to see this passage as being legally determinative of anything but normative, wholesome values. If it supports a legal prohibition, the prohibition would include a ban against polygamy – of cleaving to more than one wife at time – yet that’s one thing, for sure, that the 7M don’t do.
Naturally, Israel looks at any and all sex between males with an attitude: the Torah bans it. This isn’t just a law but a value: “lying with man as with woman” isn’t just wrong, a violation of Scripture’s law, but “abominable.” And as Scripture clearly specifies, both the main perpetrator of the act – the male in the “male” role, the penetrator – and the “receiver” are culpable, whether they are Jews or (if they live in Israel) non-Jews.
Beyond this, the Rabbis of Israel - perceiving the need to totally exclude “gay sex” from the sphere of the acceptable in Jewish life – have extended that prohibition even beyond the limits of the Scriptural letter, to proscribe any and all romantic touchings between males.
That’s the Torah that applies to Jews. Rabbi Katz would apply that same standard universally. We did previously – but erroneously, we’d say - in Rainbow Covenant. What we’re saying now is: that standard is not supported by the logic of the 7M. The world’s non-Jews are not obligated to apply the Jews’ standards to themselves.
We believe that the 7M prohibition is fundamentally different from Israel’s in that it exclusively bans things that any fool can see are evil, oppressive, and so extremely contrary to the truth that the individual human being is sacred that it virtually insults it. According, as we see it, the prohibition here very clearly applies to 1) every sex act that’s oppressive and coercive, violating anybody’s right to refuse to engage in sex or be used sexually, in any way; but 2) not to merely lewd or weird sex acts which aren’t coerced and oppressive.
If an act is genuinely consensual - if, in this case, two or more males sincerely want to do it and are old enough to knowingly consent to it, and nobody’s oppressing or wrongly dominating anyone, and all this occurs in private, where nobody else even needs to know about it – where’s the crime?
Rabbi Katz quotes a particularly wonderful passage of the Talmud, Chullin 92b, to the effect that the peoples of the world are so low that they’ve violated every law and standard of human decency except perhaps three: 1) they don’t write marriage contracts for homosexual unions, 2) [while they may be cannibals] they still don’t actually sell human flesh in their grocery markets, and 3) they generally respect the Torah (“the Bible,” and Torah scholars). However, now that folks have started writing those very marriage contracts [see #1], Rabbi Katz asks, “What’s left?”
Let us point out that, in fact, none of these three things are directly covered by the 7M. Nowhere, e.g., do the 7M legislate respect for Torah scholars. The Talmud here isn’t laying down the 7M, it’s just vividly describing man’s barbarous history, in contrast with Israel’s Torah civilization.
God despises lewdness. The Torah makes this very clear and nowhere better than in Leviticus 18. He doesn’t want to see us defile His gift of sex and fill the world with animalistic sensuality! He highly values sexual modesty (See Micah 6:8). But that doesn’t bring such things under a 7M ban! Neither does it criminalize what isn’t clearly criminal.
Masturbation, lesbian acts, “harlotry” and sex with harlots, including promiscuous touching, sensual naked dancing, oral sex, etc., or, say, pornography, all constitute lewdness (Cf. Leviticus 19:29). But none of those things, just taken on their own, violate the 7M. Neither does sodomy, necessarily, and certainly not in the context of heterosexual sex between two consenting adults.
Does any sex act, occurring in private, between consenting adults, who aren’t banned from each by their family connections, that’s unlikely to cause anyone any drastic, immediate physical damage, violate the 7M? Rabbi Katz says yes, absolutely, so long as it involves gay men. While we disagree - strongly.
Finally, let’s do a little historical and physiological fact check. Allow us to point out – not too graphically! – that even though someone might treat the anus as functionally equivalent to a vagina, the two aren’t remotely equivalent physiologically.
The anus, unlike the vagina, has no lubrication. In fact, it’s not designed for sexual penetration, but for a very different function, as a semi-solid waste disposal channel. It’s very vulnerable to tearing, fissures, and all kinds of frightful damage. People who receive too much anal sex can, according to the medical literature, expect to end up in adult diapers. Then too, the anus is filthy with feces so, if employed for sexual penetration, it’s a huge vector for disease.
Before the invention of the condom, anal sex must have been utterly disgusting. So we believe, for that and other reasons, that the vast majority of males in human history who experienced anal sex as recipients or “receivers” experienced it as something that was done to them - inflicted upon them - regardless of or in the absence of consent.
We just read a story about a criminal who inflicted it – anal sex - on 1,000 boys and men. Even today, while most self-declared [male] homosexuals have experienced anal sex, polls show, many have chosen not to – despite the modern availability of condoms.
Obviously, we don’t believe that anal sex is the be-all and end-all of male homosexuality. Neither do we – unlike Rabbi Katz, for instance – have a huge problem with homosexual “marriage.” We happen to think that it’s absurd, ridiculous, and – probably – only “fashionable” temporarily, but Noahides have the right to make up their own laws for themselves, even if they are ridiculous, and, we comfort ourselves, “this too shall pass.”
We also believe that God expects us to treat the great evil of oppressive and coerced sex – especially, in this context, sex acts imposed on men and boys – much more seriously and prohibitively than society has done yet.
By Michael Dallen