A Certain Sadness

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It’s fucking hot. Actually, while running errands, it was not too terribly hot. It’s hotter in the house than it seemed to have been out in the wild.

In 21 days, I will be leaving Minneapolis for the East Coast. It’s weird to think about and I am realizing that I have a lot that I still need to do before I go. I have no idea how I am going to get my cat over there and I am not sure how I am going to figure out not having health insurance. Do I pay for my own plan or do I buy it through Boston University. There’s a lot to determine and to think about. I am ultimately excited to be going out there. The week before I actually go to Boston, I will be spending time with Sean at Quaker Camp. I must admit that I am a little nervous but really moreso that I hope I make a good impression. Ultimately, I am really excited to be spending a week with someone I care about and love immensely.

I realize that I’ve been somewhat depressed in the past couple of days. I have no clue as to why. I’ve been spending time with a lot of truly amazing people and there is nothing going on in my life that should be making me feel this way. It’s sort of frustrating in its own way because it feels like I have no control over my personality. I think it’s more frustrating because there’s nothing that is precipitating this. I have it really good, so I shouldn’t be in this kind of mood. I hope to be getting more sleep than about two hours of quality sleep.

I’ve been reading Saul Olyan’s article, “And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying Down of a Woman”: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as well as rereading Daniel Boyarin’s article, Are There Any Jews in the “History of Sexuality”? Both discuss the issues in regarding Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as prohibiting homosexuality tout court. Olyan recognizes that in their earliest forms the laws only condemn male-male anal intercourse, with only the penetrator being condemned. Later redactors reformulated Lev. 20:13 to condemn both the penetrator and the penetrated. Olyan is careful in determining that as far as we can tell, there is no explicit reason given for the prohibition but it is likely that the prohibition did not have to do with a certain homosexual act itself, but rather it either dealt with issues of gender or issues of purity. Issues of purity are discussed in regards to semen and excrement both being agents rendering a person unclean (in the same way that the mixing of semen and menstrual blood is also condemning in Leviticus — although the priestly authors legislate that this occurs only for seven days, whereas the later Holiness school condemns the act with the death penalty). The issue of gender is dealt with by both Olyan and Boyarin. Both recognize that sexual acts in ancient Israel were gendered, the receptive or penetrated partner being feminine whereas the penetrator is masculine. Boyarin links the legislation to the creation story, where God orders creation. The act of having another man penetrated is an abomination because it is transgressing a boundary created by God, and therefore, is considered an act of metaphysical cross-dressing.

Both are important to the work of talking about the role of homosexuals in religion. Both of them argue against the Bible having a category of homosexuality. Rather, there are specific acts that are condemned. Boyarin notes that even the Rabbis understood the Bible as prohibiting only anal intercourse between two males, as their rhetoric against other forms of same-sex activity is so condemnatory that it reveals that their views on other same-sex acts are not similarly prohibited (likewise, the Rabbis focus little on anal intercourse between two males, as it’s already condemned in the Torah). Olyan is important, I think, in recognizing that Leviticus is the only legal collection in the Hebrew Bible that prohibits such activity and that we should be careful when using these verses because at the very least, they do not present a normative opinion on the practice in ancient Israel. Also, considering that Olyan presents good evidence that there is a redactional history behind such laws (in other words, originally only the male penetrator was condemned, not the penetrated male), we have an evolving view on such issues.

Therefore, if one were to take an Orthodox position on the Torah (as being both normative and divinely inspired), only one form of same-sex act is condemned in the Torah, and if we were to accept it, then we would only be prohibited from doing those acts. Of course, the law itself has a context. It reflects fundamental assumptions about purity and impurity that many no longer accept. Conservative Christians would no longer accept that menstrual blood renders a person unclean, as well as ejaculate. As well, laws about Kashrut are not observed by most Conservative Christians, which is as much about purity and impurity as Lev. 18:22 and 20:13. What is further rendered as problematic is the fact that the laws are meant to be observed in the land of Israel and are the contingency for being able to continuously dwell in the land. In other words, the law is only applicable to the male Israelite (and resident sojourner living in the land), who wishes to live in the land of Israel. Furthermore, only one same-sex act is prohibited (anal sex between two men) and originally, only the penetrator was condemned. Female-female sexual acts are not mentioned, other male-male sexual acts are not prohibited. These two laws have such a limited scope and concern that the majority of people that Conservatives claim are applicable, are actually not applicable. Using these two laws to prohibit, political issues relating to same-sex persons is now rendered immensely problematic. In other words, reading Leviticus in its proper context means that we can no longer use it to prohibit homosexuality tout court and that it refers to a specific act. I think what also leads me to be skeptical about it as prohibitions are the gender norms that it encodes. They’re simply norms that I cannot accept. It assumes that there are two genders/sexes and that these binaries are universal across cultures/social groups. Also the case that Leviticus, in particular a certain redactional phrase, is the only legal code to have such prohibitions, thus not representing a normative legal view. In the end, I think these laws should not be used as jurisprudence in our country to prohibit Queer people from inhabiting the public sphere.

Perhaps in time I’ll be able to expand upon this more. For now, I have a birthday party to go to.

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