Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition

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    For millennia, two biblical verses have been understood to condemn sex between men as an act so abhorrent that it is punishable by death. Traditionally Orthodox Jews, believing the scripture to be the word of God, have rejected homosexuality in accordance with this interpretation. In 1999, Rabbi Steven Greenberg challenged this tradition when he became the first Orthodox rabbi ever to openly declare his homosexuality.
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Overview

    For millennia, two biblical verses have been understood to condemn sex between men as an act so abhorrent that it is punishable by death. Traditionally Orthodox Jews, believing the scripture to be the word of God, have rejected homosexuality in accordance with this interpretation. In 1999, Rabbi Steven Greenberg challenged this tradition when he became the first Orthodox rabbi ever to openly declare his homosexuality.
    Wrestling with God and Men is the product of Rabbi Greenberg’s ten-year struggle to reconcile his two warring identities. In this compelling and groundbreaking work, Greenberg challenges long held assumptions of scriptural interpretation and religious identity as he marks a path that is both responsible to human realities and deeply committed to God and Torah. Employing traditional rabbinic resources, Greenberg presents readers with surprising biblical interpretations of the creation story, the love of David and Jonathan, the destruction of Sodom, and the condemning verses of Leviticus. But Greenberg goes beyond the question of whether homosexuality is biblically acceptable to ask how such relationships can be sacred. In so doing, he draws on a wide array of nonscriptural texts to introduce readers to occasions of same-sex love in Talmudic narratives, medieval Jewish poetry and prose, and traditional Jewish case law literature. Ultimately, Greenberg argues that Orthodox communities must open up debate, dialogue, and discussion—precisely the foundation upon which Jewish law rests—to truly deal with the issue of homosexual love.
    This book will appeal not only to members of the Orthodox faith but to all religious people struggling to resolve their belief in the scriptures with a desire to make their communities more open and accepting to gay and lesbian members.

 

2005 Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, for Religion/Spirituality

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Greenberg] effectively portrays the plight of closeted and openly gay Orthodox Jews who struggle daily with their sexual desires and with the knowledge that the Torah and the rabbis forbid homosexuality."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
Defying more than 3,000 years of Torah tradition and belief, Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi who recently publicized his homosexuality, embarks on a thorough, if questionable, trek to reevaluate the overt biblical prohibition of male-male relations. Central to his argument is a rereading of Leviticus 18:22, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence" (JPS translation) to be understood as "And (either a female or) a male you shall not sexually penetrate to humiliate [;] it is abhorrent." The story of Sodom's destruction, the love between David and Jonathan and the creation of Adam and Eve figure prominently as sources of new and interesting perspectives, yet they are all based on subjective evaluations that bear no textual confirmation. While he is obviously well versed in Torah knowledge and rabbinic law, Greenberg admits that he is "not a disinterested party on the matter of homosexuality"; indeed, many of his arguments stretch the truth or omit vital segments of biblical text to reach their desired conclusion, and, in addition, are fraught with expressions of unease such as "maybe" and "perhaps." This is not to say that his attempt bears no fruit. He effectively portrays the plight of closeted and openly gay Orthodox Jews who struggle daily with their sexual desires and with the knowledge that the Torah and the rabbis forbid homosexuality. While Greenberg's controversial biblical claims on this long-taboo topic may infuriate some and gratify others, his book arouses deep empathy for Orthodox homosexuals. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299190903
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2004
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rabbi Steven Greenberg is a senior teaching fellow at CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Author's Notes
Introduction 3
1 The Birth of Gender and Desire 41
2 The Sons of God, Ham, and the Sodomites 60
3 Leviticus 74
4 Lesbian Omissions 86
5 Princely Love 99
6 Rabbinic Heroes 106
7 The Queer Middle Ages 113
8 The Legal Literature 124
9 Rav Moshe and the Problem of Why 135
10 The Rationale of Reproduction 147
11 The Rationale of Social Disruption 166
12 The Rationale of Category Confusion 175
13 The Rationale of Humiliation and Violence 192
14 Admitting Difference 217
15 Welcoming Synagogues 253
Notes 257
Bibliography 287
Index 291
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