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"Two Women Who Were Sporting with Each Other": A Reexamination of the Halakhic Approaches to Lesbianism as a Touchstone for Homosexuality in General

Admiel Kosman and Anat Sharbat
Hebrew Union College Annual
Vol. 75 (2004), pp. 37-73
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23509233
Page Count: 37
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
"Two Women Who Were Sporting with Each Other": A Reexamination of the Halakhic Approaches to Lesbianism as a Touchstone for Homosexuality in General
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Abstract

This is a study of the Jewish sources regarding homosexuality. We have investigated this general question by trying to see the whole problem from the specific angle of the sources dealing with female same-sex relationship. The Jewish sources exhibit two different interpretive approaches to homosexuality. Both approaches begin with the interpretation of the Biblical verses that prohibit male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13). The first, that we have called the "limiting interpretive approach," does not include sexual contact between women in the injunction against male homosexuality in Leviticus. According to the second approach, the "expansive interpretive approach," the prohibition comprises general opposition to all forms of homosexuality, both male and female; in certain instances it also includes opposition to the institutionalization of a homosexual single-sex relationship, whether or not such a relationship entails intercourse. An early treatment of such relationships appears in the Tannaitic midrash Sifra, that forbids the institutionalization of this type of relationship. This text, that clearly attests to the existence of the expansive interpretation in the Tannaitic literature, enables us to reject Boyarin's assumption that the verses in Leviticus, as understood by the Rabbis, ban only the anal act between men. The limiting interpretive approach makes its first appearance in the Talmud. Two issues central to our discussion emerge from a baraita in the Palestinian Talmud and two in the Babylonian Talmud sources. However Maimonides, intentionally and consciously restores the halakhah to its expansive course. A study of the Aḥronim, who could no longer ignore the law as established by Maimonides, produces three models of a comprehensive interpretive treatment of the sources.

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