Shabbat Re’eh

Friday, August 18 - Candles @ 7:29pm
August 19 - Havdalah @ 8:23pm
Rosh Hodesh Ellul Tuesday & Wednesday

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the word used in the Torah, toevah, which is often translated as abomination. This is a very strong word of condemnation. And it is used in regard to homosexual acts in the Torah as well as lots of other situations. Some rabbis have argued that this use, proves how exceptional and heinous the issue is. I and others have argued it is a misuse and misunderstanding of the word toevah and this and last week’s Torah reading proves it.

Last week the Torah said that any gold and silver taken from pagan tribes should not be used because it is a toevah. This week when the laws of what we can and cannot eat, the Torah also uses the word toevah. Later on, (24.4) the Torah will say that a man who has divorced his wife, if she then remarries and divorces, he may not re-marry her for it is a toevah. The Torah disapproves of trading in wives, wife swapping.

The word toevah (amongst seven terms in the Torah of disapproval) is to differentiate Judaism from pagan customs both in general and specifically, without actually implying that one is either better or worse, of that there is anything intrinsically wrong or bad about silver and gold, or non-kosher animals or sexual activity in itself. The issue is how these actions can be and are abused. The implication is that there is nothing intrinsic, food or sex is not bad or wrong. Context is what defines an act.

In Bereishit it says that Egyptians would not sit down to eat a meal with the Sons of Jacob because the Egyptians considered it a toevah (Genesis 43.32). In Proverbs the word is used to describe hypocrisy or vain prayers.

I mention this not to imply that the Torah considers homosexuality normative. It sees heterosexuality as the norm for its capacity to reproduce. But that does not mean that it is any different to any law in the Torah which God requires of us. Anything can be called a toevah if it contravenes a general law. This why the Talmud (Nedarim 51a) says that the word toevah means Toe Ata Ba, you are mistaken. Mistaken in what? In assuming this is Torah normative when in fact it is exceptional.

But there may always be exceptions, circumstances beyond our control, like genes, physical conditioning, force majeur, that call for understanding and tolerance. Humans are created differently even if the law deals in generalities. As we say in the Talmud Oness patra ley Rahmanah (Avodah Zara 54a). The Almighty excuses those who are driven by forces beyond their control.