Last issue, we discussed the one universal revelation – that we each radiate Divine light; that every human being is, in a sense, sacred, and possessed of certain rights - that’s the basis of the Seven Noahide Commandments. The Bible emphasizes that everybody everywhere is “on notice” of this fact - the holiness of the individual person. This basic principle of higher consciousness is the root of all that men call “natural law.”
We wrote: “Seven kinds of acts – crimes – contradict that one great Principle (that the individual is sacred) to the point of reducing it to mockery and making it appear ridiculous. These – egregious acts, things that are obviously bad - are what the nations need to outlaw. Everybody ought to acknowledge their badness. The world shouldn’t need the People of Israel or Torah to tell them that, either. All they need to know, and follow, is that one great Principle.
Stealing from someone – for instance - is an egregious denial of his or her humanity. Worshipping an indecent “god” or supposed “higher value” that celebrates cruelty and meanness perverts the very concept of holiness. Aborting a fetus that’s already literally taken on the image of man lacking any substantial reason for the killing casts contempt on all humanity. Taking the gift of human sexuality and using it to oppress and degrade someone is a crime – an egregious crime and obvious wrongdoing – against humanity.
What people tend to forget, when discussing Divine laws, is that they are never in any way unfair, unjust, excessive, cruel, or inappropriate at all. “They [God’s laws] are faithful and delightful forever” (Siddur). The Seven Laws only forbid things that are obviously and clearly criminal.
Since the English terms, below, aren’t exact equivalents to the Torah’s categories, we enclose them in quotation marks.
“Incest” – by man or boy, erotic relations (not necessarily genital intercourse) with his mother, his father’s wife, or his sister on his mother’s side.
Fatherhood isn’t always obvious and not every culture recognizes paternity. But if one definitely does have a father, deliberately sexually engaging with his woman, or wife (whether or not she is one’s mother), is adulterous, incestuous, repulsive - and criminal.
“Bestiality” – man or woman, boy or girl, erotic intercourse (not necessarily genital intercourse) with any animal.
“Adultery” – man or boy, erotic intercourse (genital intercourse) with another’s man’s wife.
A wife (a spouse, whether or not two are formally married) sleeps under the same roof with her husband; if she normally doesn’t, or frequently “sleeps” with other men, as a prostitute, she may not be that much of wife.
“Rape” – a male, whether boy or man, sexually coercing and oppressing a man or boy, or a woman or girl.
Rape, obviously, is a sex crime, but it’s also a theft crime. Assault, battery, kidnapping, rape – they all violate one’s personhood, autonomy, dignity, self-worth, right to be secure from others’ violence, right not to be degraded and not to be detained, etc. So they’re all crimes of taking; thievery. But rape is also, obviously, a sex crime. And also a blasphemy – an insult against God.
Here’s the brief on homosexuality that we’ve been promising you from last year.
People tend to ascribe details to God’s Law that aren’t there. Yet it’s really quite straightforward: only a blatantly savage, oppressive, heedless act falls into the category of something that everyone needs to ban at all times, forever.
Every such act, even if it’s not particularly significant in scope (e.g., the theft of a small sum from its owner), casts contempt on the sacred – on the victim’s humanity and also on the human in the perpetrator(s).
Now, contrary to some conventional-minded teachings, genuinely non-oppressive, non-abusive expressions of sexuality between men or boys, or, for that matter, between women or girls, do not fall into the category of blatantly savage.
We admit, our ideas about this have undergone change. Previously we wrote – absurdly, we think now - that the Noahide Law conformed to the Torah’s (the People of Israel’s unique law code, handed down from Sinai) ban on all and any purposeful male-male sexual contact.
The problem with this declaration was two-fold. In no particular order:
- The classic texts speak only of anal and vaginal intercourse (in terms of homosexuality, “of lying with man as with woman”). “For Noahides, the crime of forbidden intercourse is for vaginal and anal intercourse only – not oral.” A colleague of ours wrote that: Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron, in “Guide for the Noahide; a Complete Guide to the Laws of the Noahide Covenant and Key Torah Values for All Mankind,” 2d ed. Lightcatcher Books, Springdale, Arkansas (2010), p. 37. It’s from the great Mishneh Torah or Yad Hazaka by Maimonides: the Yad Hazaka, Book of Judges, Laws and Kings and Wars [Hilchot Melachim] 9:9(7).
No textual support exists for any Seven Laws prohibition against oral sex, say, or mere caresses, or kissing, or other displays of homosexual affection.
We disagree with R’ Bar-Ron when he argues that all anal intercourse between males, even without coercion or violence, comes under the Seven Laws’ ban. In fact, there is no unanimity among Torah scholars that purely consensual homosexual acts – something less than forced anal intercourse, say – truly threaten the great civilizing Principle of the sacredness in man.
This one fact alone demolished our prior thinking. When the classic texts don’t support a proposition, and when scholars disagree on the scope of some supposed Seven Laws restriction, the only restrictions that can be regarded as universally compelling are those upon which they all agree. This is a basic rule in Noahide Law studies. (If supposed experts can’t all agree on a Noahide Law ban, it can’t be all that obvious, eh?)
Clearly, oppression, cruelty, rapacity, using a human being like a rented donkey, or worse; vicious exploitation; inflicting injury upon others recklessly, heedlessly or with expressly mean or ill-intent; acts constituting injustice, in God’s eyes: those are the features of a Seven Laws crime.
When they aren’t there, you simply don’t have a Seven Laws crime – the kind of crime that obviously endangers goodness and justice in society.
An example: from the Seven Laws’ dietary prohibition against “eating a limb torn from a living creature. People sometimes ask if “prairie oysters,” the sometimes thrown-away product of bull or sheep castration, falls under the ban. No! The Seven Laws ban appalling acts - clearly wrongful acts – such as, for instance, eating a creature alive, devouring its very limbs, heedless of its pain and of any obligation to treat lesser creatures kindly. Eating “prairie oysters” doesn’t touch that!
Every Seven Laws violation indisputably inflicts some injury. If the harm, if there is any, isn’t recognizable but only hypothetical – take the case of theft, say, where something is definitely taken, versus mere violation of a taboo, where nothing that’s genuinely sacred suffers any manifest injury – it’s not a Seven Laws crime.
- Many people nowadays insist that people should be free to make their own sexual decisions – even including “gender-bending” decisions - for themselves.
This is further proof that there is, in fact, no consensus whatever about all male homosexual activity being plainly contrary to the sacred light in man. A true Seven Laws violation needs to be clearly, very obviously contrary to the sacred. But, when it comes to acts of genuinely consensual homosexual “romance,” many people across all the world’s nations don’t regard them as being particularly dangerous, and some would even regard them as holy.
The Seven Laws crimes against one’s fellow men all involve hurting someone else unjustly. Where the “harm,” if there is any, isn’t relatively obvious, how can it be a Seven Laws violation?
What does fall under the ban? In our considered opinion: Rape. Rape in this context extends from vaginal and anal penetration by force or threat of force [what Noahide Law in the United States, for instance, calls rape in the first degree] to every imposition of sexual attention that combines cruelty, coercion, heedless exploitation, or oppressive violation of the victim’s right not to suffer it.
Coercing weaker people sexually is a huge field of criminality and is, indisputably, perverse. Afflicting the weak and defenseless sexually is a perennial problem of mankind. These crimes aren’t hard to define, either: they are obvious; we all know them when we sees them. Naturally, some people pretend to be victims who are really only playing, but frank, outright oppression happens all the time and can generally be proven.
Rape doesn’t happen just to women, obviously. And men and boys have the right, just as women (and girls) do, not to be coerced into submitting to unwanted sexual attentions.
Male authority figures taking advantage of boys entrusted to their care – that is loathsome. Crushing a civilian population by raping the women and torturing the men by humiliating them sexually and raping them – those all but universal practices of savage bullies have a long history.
ALL men oppose being homosexually raped. Specifically, (just) being forced to submit to homosexual activity, or coerced into playing a homosexual role, even short of anal penetration, is nothing that any man – possibly excepting a very few men, of radically perverse inclinations - wants for himself, nor his children, nor for anyone he’s ever cared about.
We believe that homosexual “rape” is properly defined broadly, rape constituting any attempt to impose homosexual activity (including “mere” caresses, kisses, or other unwanted attention) on any boy or man. Because men and boys have all the rights of human beings in general, to not have to suffer being dominated sexually and forced into sexual activity.
By Michael Dallen*
*Rabbi Michael Katz, First Covenant Foundation director, rejects this “brief on homosexuality.”
Can men and boys honestly consent to having sex with each other? We think they can – that it is, at least, possible (if they’re of-age, not being tricked or overwhelmed by gifts and money, nor threatened, nor bullied, and in full possession of their faculties, etc.). Which means that we – unlike Rabbi Katz - can’t see how such activity falls under any Seven Laws ban.
These Torah passages - 1) “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman: it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22); 2) “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing: they shall be put to death. Their bloodguilt is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13) – directly command Israel, and only Israel. (God holds the Jews to a higher standard than the nations.) The values expressed in them are universal – these practices (involving anal intercourse) are to’eva/perverse abomination – but, in fact, even among Israel, they aren’t practically enforceable. There’s no Torah-law mechanism for addressing private, non-public, non-provable conduct by two males.
Incidentally, Israel’s ban on homosexual conduct less than anal intercourse (kissing, caressing, etc.) comes from the Rabbis and Sages, not from the Revelation at Sinai. How then could it come under the Seven Laws?
Indeed, if the Seven Laws simply banned homosexual sodomy (i.e., anal intercourse), the practical exception that exists for Jewish “gays” – no interference by the authorities in such private activities – wouldn’t stand up to the universal prohibition. And that’s not consistent with Torah Law.
Finally, we deeply respect Rabbi Katz’s thoughts on these subjects. These issues all need more exposition and we look forward to discussing them. (Rabbi Katz has already prepared a responsive piece – we mean to bring out a special edition of Covenant Connection to highlight it. Please look for it!)
Next issue, God-willing, we will discuss the idea of a “shulchan aruch” – a detailed code of ethical and spiritual laws and customs, like the Jewish People’s shulchan aruch (“The Prepared Table”) – for the nations.