Sunday, January 03, 2010

Gays, Top Trumps and Whether God Hates Shrimp

For those cool kids (like me) who spent their primary school days playing Top Trumps, ‘abomination’ probably means a sea-green hulk like monster with tight speedos, weighing in at 980lbs, and possessing superpowers of 98. For everyone else meanwhile (and believe me you missed out), the word probably conjures up actions beyond the moral pale, abominable behaviour which can never be countenanced.

I thought back to that hulk like monster while reading about the recent Yeshiva University forum discussing Being Gay In The Orthodox World and the harsh response to it. The discussion itself involved four participants who described heart wrenching stories – of earnestly seeking a wholesome life with wife and kids but being held back by their genetic make up; of desperately seeking acceptance from friends and family; of struggling to maintain their relationship with God and the religion they love.

The response meanwhile (unsympathetic as it was perhaps predictable) focussed on the aspect of homosexuality as a toevah, an abomination.

The ‘gay debate’ will probably be around for a while yet. But putting aside the first part of the infamous verse in Vayikra (the ‘lying with a man’ bit), I wonder whether our understanding of the second part, (the pronouncement of the act as a ‘toeva’) might have been overly influenced by Top Trumps.

We first encountered the term ‘toeva’ last week when Joseph refers to the problem of being a shepherd in Egypt. We later read about it regarding the prohibition of eating certain sea creatures (which is where the website comes in).

Rather than as abomination, it’s reasonable to translate the term as ‘taboo’ – something problematic in certain cultures, but not morally forbidden (whatever one’s views of shrimp, it’s hardly abominable).

Whether this realization makes any difference to those who zealously crusade against same sex relationships is unclear.

But at the very least it may cause some of us to question whether our shrill response to the issue has more to do with God or with our own personal insecurities.

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