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Peninei Halakha > Simḥat Ha-bayit U-virkhato > 04 – Safeguarding the Covenant of Circumcision > 17. The Torah’s Attitude to Those Who Commit Homosexual Intercourse

17. The Torah’s Attitude to Those Who Commit Homosexual Intercourse

The Torah calls male sexual relations “to’eva” (Vayikra 18:22). The Sages explained the connotation of this word: “You are straying with it (to’eh ata bah)” (Nedarim 51a). In other words, the purpose of the sex drive is for husband and wife to unite in holiness and joy, and for this union to create children and sustain the world. In contrast, those who sin in this way direct their desire toward people of their own gender, thereby damaging the sanctity of marriage and the continuity of the world.

Nonetheless, those who commit this sin should not be treated more harshly than those who commit other grave sins, such as desecrating Shabbat. Just as those who desecrate Shabbat are called up to the Torah as long as they do not sin out of spite, so too those who commit this sin should be called up to the Torah, as long as they do not sin out of spite. This is especially true if it is possible that they are careful to avoid the severe sin of homosexual intercourse itself.[19]

Moreover, many people who fall prey to this sin are not defiant in any way. Rather it pains them that their inclination compels them to sin. Only God, Master of heaven and earth – Who created all souls, knows all thoughts, and examines all hearts – understands what drives every person, and can judge them in truth and mercy in accordance with their challenges and suffering.

It is important to stress that even if a man does not succeed in overcoming his urge, and he sins by having homosexual intercourse, he is still obligated in all the mitzvot, and he must strengthen himself as much as he can, any way that he can. Even in relation to this sin, for each and every day and every single time he succeeds in overcoming his desire and refrains from sinning, he will receive great reward.

We must accept the Torah law which declares that homosexual sex is a grave sin. If we are presented with the opportunity to dissuade people from this sin, it is our obligation to try to do so. Nevertheless, we must also love a person who is unsuccessful in overcoming his urge, and realize that there is great value in each and every mitzva he fulfills. As long as he does not externalize his orientation and does not sin defiantly, we should draw him closer to the religious community, so that he can grow stronger in Torah study and mitzva fulfillment as best he can. We know that the value of evil is finite, while the value of good is infinite. Similarly, the gravity of sins is finite, while the value of mitzvot is infinite.

If a man with a strong homosexual inclination has not found a woman to marry, and he still overcomes his evil inclination and refrains from sinning, he is among those whom God declares every day to be pious (Pesaḥim 113a). When he successfully binds his desires for the glory of Heaven, he demonstrates the absolute, hallowed value of Torah and mitzvot. He is improving the world greatly (as we will explain below in 7:6 with regard to infertile men). The light of his unwavering dedication to Torah illuminates the entire world, adding life and blessing to all families.

[19]. If the severity of a sin is expressed by the severity of its punishment, then desecrating Shabbat and committing male homosexual acts are equally severe; both are punishable by stoning (m. Sanhedrin 7:4). Homosexual intercourse is described as “to’eva” because it misdirects the power of life. This is the same reason that the Torah describes idol worship as “to’eva” (Devarim 7:26, 13:15, and 17:4). In fact, classifying a sin as “to’eva” does not necessarily indicate that it is punishable by death. Eating forbidden foods is also called “to’eva” by the Torah (Devarim 13:3), as is remarrying one’s first wife if she has since married and divorced someone else (Devarim 24:4), and yet the penalty for committing these sins is not death, but lashes (MT, Laws of Sanhedrin 19:4).

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Editor: Nechama Unterman