Monday, March 2, 2009

Homosexuality - Unnatural relationship

Maharal(Be’er HaGola 6:2):…Concerning homosexuality, G‑d gave man normal sexual relations with a woman and this person has it with a male. There is no greater sin and negation of the perfection of man than this.

Rambam(Commentary to Sanhedrin 7:4): All those with whom sexual relations is prohibited, it is prohibited to be secluded with them – except with another male or an animal. That is because Jews are not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality. The reason for this is because the people are pure and they have no desire or lust for these two behaviors - which are outside the realm of nature.


  1. So it's mashma from this Rambam that yichud with another Jewish man who is "out of the closet", and has thus broken the chazakah that he has no homosexual desire, would be assur.

  2. Rambam(Commentary to Sanhedrin 7:4):
    "That is because Jews are not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality...which are outside the realm of nature."

    Igros Moshe(O.H. 4:115):
    "The desire for homosexual relations is against natural lust..."

    I don't think I'm alone - even among frum yidden - in feeling that describing homosexual desire as "not natural" seems strange. I think this is because, in the way the term is typically used among Americans today, one would call any phenomenon "natural" if it happens on its own accord (that is, without clear and active human agency) even once. This can't be what Rambam and R' Moshe mean by "natural" in this context. If that's the case, what exactly do the Rambam and R' Moshe mean by "natural"? I suspect it's something along the lines of what Tzurah describes in a comment in the previous post (see

    As a starting point, I'd love to know what exact Hebew terms are being used here (I don't have these seforim in easy reach).

    Also, I think it's important to point out that, although the accepted position is that Jews are not suspected of homosexuality, this is actually one side of a machlokes Tannaim. In M' Kiddushin Chap. 4 Mishnah 14, R' Yehudah rules that two men are forbidden to sleep together in one bed (due to concern that they might then come to engage in homosexual acts), while the Chachamim rule otherwise.

  3. Chizki,

    Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid in his Introduction to Talmud(found in the back of Masechta Berachot) states, that in in disputes amongst Tanaim, when it is one against many(as in the case you cite) the halacha is like the many.

    So I don't think that we can call this a Machloket Tanaim. I believe that this is like many cases where a minority and rejected opinion is named, so that we do not come to the same error. As R' Shmuel HaNagid explains in his introduction.

  4. Mekubal,

    I hear your point. But even a daas yachid isn't gornisht, especially when exploring the larger lay of the land of a halachic topic. My point is only that the fact that such a opinion even exists is worth noting.

    I found that Jersey Girl had posted a large excerpt from a book that brings down many sources on this topic in a different post a while ago, which I found to be very enlightening. See it here, and scroll down to find it:

    Below is something from Sh"A Even HaEzer that I didn't know about, which I found to be very interesting:

    L. Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhet Issurei Biah 22:2
    Israelites are not suspected in matters regarding homosexuality or zoophilia, therefore it is not forbidden to sequester oneself with another Jewish male. If, however, one does take special precaution to avoid being alone with another male, such an attitude is praiseworthy.

    M. Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 24
    (Quotes (L) Verbatim, then adds:) But in these times, when there is so much licentiousness, one should indeed take special precautions to avoid being alone with another male.

    So, yes, the halacha is according to the Chachamim, and I understand what the Mechaber writes to be a chumra that goes beyond basic halachic requirements. But I think it shows that the concerns that R' Yehudah had were not completely off the mark, either. It also makes me wonder what the exact nature of the disagreement between R' Yehudah and the Chachamim was.

    (Correction to my post above: the Mishnah I quoted specifies "ravakim," unmarried men, instead of men in general.)

  5. "It also makes me wonder what the exact nature of the disagreement between R' Yehudah and the Chachamim was."

    I think this is an interesting point. Did the Chachamim allow two unmarried men to sleep in the same bed because they held that Jewish men are categorically incapable of having homosexual lust, or that Jews having homosexual lust (and further, acting out on it in such a situation) is sufficiently rare that a gezeira is unwarranted.

    Same with the Rambam. When he says that Jews have no desire or lust for homosexuality and bestiality, does he mean to say that Jews are incapable of such desires and lusts, or that Jews in general do not have such desires.

    In both cases, the correct interpretation seems to be the latter.

  6. Here is the actual text from the Shulchan Aruch which does not at all read like the translation provided.

    לא נחשדו ישראל אל משכב זכר ועל בהמה לפיכך אין איסור להתייחד עמהן ועם נתרחק אפילו מיחוד זכר ובהמה הרי זה משובח וגדלי החכמים היו מרחיקין הבהמה כדי שלא יתייחדו עמהם ובדורות הללו שדבו הפריצים יש להתרחק מלהתיחד עם הזכר

    This seems to be a standard Stam V'Yesh statement where the Stam is the halacha and the Yesh is a minority point of view. Even the commentators agree that at best this is a midah chassidut and only actually applies to unmarried men laying in a bed together.

    The Yesh is in fact the opinion of the Bach, and apparently because of the commentators on the Shulchan Aruch his opinion was influenced by increased problems where he lived.

  7. Mekubal,

    Thanks for bringing the quote in the original Hebrew. I agree that the translation I found does seem to wrongly present the statement as what the standard halacha ought to be (i.e. more than simply a chumra/midah chassidut).

    Still, just the fact that the practice of refraining from yichud with men and animals is described as "harei zeh meshubach" is significant, I think, since it indicates that there is a real (if miniscule) toeles in adopting such a practice.

  8. I agree.

    Thanks for actually giving me a source that I could check.

    The Aruch HaShulchan seems, from my reading to state it a little stronger(somewhere between the realm of Chassidut and Chumra). So from an Ashkenazi perspective I see a definite leaning in that direction(which interests me given the way the Mishnah is originally brought).

    On the flip side the Chida and the subsequent Sephardi sages seem to completely disregard this. Which while standard practice for R' Ovadiah Yosef on a Stam V'Yesh statement, is typically not the practice of the Chida or the Ben Ish Chai who tended to be Choshesh on the Yesh(or the Rama). The Chida goes so far as to state that if one acts overly cautious we should suspect him.

    So I am not sure... These are definitely difficult issues.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.