What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shabbat 65 – Lesbian Sexuality

A general thesis about wearing something decorative in public on Shabbat:

“Abaye said: Rabbi, R. Eliezer, and R. Simeon b. Eleazar all hold that whatever detracts from a person[‘s appearance], one will not come to display it.”

That is to say, the removal of it would detract and therefore is unlikely to be removed. The example is a gold tooth. There is little fear that someone would take out her tooth to show it off, and therefore be guilty of “carrying” on Shabbat.

But let’s leave that for the more interesting aside having to do with female homosexuality:

“R. Huna said: Women who commit lewdness with one another are unfit for the priesthood.”

That is to say, they are not eligible to marry a priest (there were, of course, no female priests.)
Now this is a fascinating statement. While male homosexual behavior is condemned biblically (a serious problem, but one that has been overcome in textual analysis), the Torah is silent on lesbian sexuality. So this Talmud statement is important. Its significance is that this is a very minor rebuke. Any non-virgin, especially a divorcee, is disqualified from marrying a priest – and the priesthood was only symbolic by Huna’s day anyway! So there is an acknowledgement that homosexuality ends virginity, but little more. Huna’s statement is repeated and then made even more clear with a subsequent reflection in Yevamot 76a:

“And even according to R. Eleazar, who stated that an unmarried man who cohabited with an unmarried woman with no matrimonial intention renders her thereby a harlot, this disqualification ensues only in the case of a man; but when it is that of a woman the action is regarded as mere obscenity.”

In other words lesbian sexuality, while labeled as “promiscuous,” is seen by the ancient rabbis as less of a “sin” than the greater problem of pre-marital heterosexual behavior. Maybe those who condemn should think a bit more about their own history.

Of course, by this logic the answer would be marriage! A fine idea.

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