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Source of lesbianism prohibition 2


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Iyyar 7, 5770
Dear Rabbis’, In an earlier question that was answered, you stated that Vayikra 18: specifically denounces Lesbianism. My question revolves around the issue that no where does it specfically say in that passage about lesbianism. I understand that intepretation and historical background of the surrounding civilizations and customs are sometimes factors in explanations of Torah. However, where as in Leviticus 18:22, it specifically states, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." And we understand that to be a decree against the practice of male homosexuality. It does not make mention of woman. The passage that was described simply states, "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes. " I have seen that Rabbi Blass wrote a follow up stating that the rabbis interpreted this to mean a prohibtion against Lesbianism, but once again that source or those rabbis need some explanation. I am not stating that the rabbis were incorrect but under what ideas was this intepretation taken. One idea around the prohibition of male homosexuality is the idea of wasting of the seed, as well as degrading a man. I am not making an attempt to advocate for lesbianism (as I am actually a male), I am however desiring to know more information in reference to this specific topic and its source material.
7 Iyyar 5770 Allow me first a short introduction. Since I do not know your individual understanding of the Talmud and this will be for others to read as well I will try to put things in lay terms. Sometimes the Talmudic terminology can be difficult to the seasoned learner of Talmud, how much more so to the lay person. Misconstruing Halachic terminology can lead to the gravest results. Rabbi Blass basically said all there is to be said in concise terms but I will elaborate. The Talmud, in tractate Yevamot (76a) [also Shabbat 65a] brings the opinion of R. Huna that women who engage in Lesbian relations are forbidden to marry a Kohen. The reason for this prohibition according to Rashi and other commentators in Yevamot; Tosafot, Ramban, Ritva (attributed to the Rabbenu Nissim) and the Me'iri is because they were engaged in forbidden conduct and gained the status of a "zona". Though the opinion of R. Huna that they are forbidden to marry a Kohen was not accepted, it does not diminish the negative view taken towards such conduct. The conclusion of this issue in the Talmud is that though such women are not forbidden to marry a Kohen, such conduct is regarded as a "mere obscenity." (pritzuta b'alma). The terminology "mere obscenity" can leave the wrong impression as nothing so bad happened. This interpretation is incorrect. The Rambam (Maimonides) (Rambam Issurei Biya 21: 8) says that to this conduct we apply the verse (Vayikra 18.3) "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow [any] of their customs." The Semag (Lavin 126, Sefer Mitzvot Hagadol of R. Moshe of Coucy [born 1200]) holds the same view as the Rambam, as well as the Tur (Rabbi Yaacov b' Harosh) on Even Ha'ezer 20. The quoting of the verse is to say that lesbianism is prohibited by Torah law. [See Otzar Haposkim on Even Ha'ezer 20, which quote many commentators (Levush, Tzofnat Pa'neach, Atzei Arazim) who understand the Rambam's opinion that lesbianism is forbidden by Torah law.] The Rambam, Semag and Tur all quote Chazal in the Sifra- Torat Cohanim on Achrei Mot (this week's Parsha) which brings an example of the "ways"of Egypt that a woman would marry a woman. Finally, the Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer 20:2 says that lesbianism is prohibited based on the verse in the Torah (Vayikra 18.3) "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you." and the other sources mentioned above. The ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is uncontested by any other sources in Jewish law.
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