Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

God, Shrimp, and Homosexuality

Samuel Silver

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Shrimp and homosexuality -- a strange sounding combination. The Bible forbids the eating of shrimp and other shellfish for Jews as part of the kosher dietary laws. It also forbids homosexual behavior for all humans, Jew and non-Jew alike. In an attempt to justify and normalize homosexual behavior while ridiculing religious opposition, secular fundamentalists claim Judaism and Christianity equate the two because the Bible describes both as "abominations." They are wrong.

Secularists are fond of ridiculing religion and the Bible by pointing out what they think are internal inconsistencies, even attributing them to multiple authors. The problem is that they base their inconsistencies on invalid translations, misunderstandings, and ignorance of the Jewish Oral Law; all needed to properly interpret the Hebrew Bible. Most secularists are not even aware of, much less knowledgeable in, the rich and extremely sophisticated higher levels of religious scholarship necessary to analyze and understand the Bible. They use their higher degrees of secular education to falsely argue with "their" own elementary understanding of religion. Not a fair fight! Consequently, they think religious people are ignorant, superstitious, and downright dangerous.

Go to an Internet search engine, type in "abomination" and "shellfish," and you will be amazed at the ignorant misinformation being passed off as "biblical" analysis. One of the most ridiculous, but clever, is www.godhatesshrimp.com. The same misuse of biblical language was even used seriously as a "progressive" put-down of religion on NBC television's "West Wing."

These attempts at "argument by ridicule" are completely baseless for at least four fundamental reasons:

Translation: The words in the original biblical Hebrew, although loosely translated by some as "abomination," are completely different and linguistically unrelated: toeivah for homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18:22) and sheketz for shrimp/shellfish and kosher food (Leviticus 11:10). Since these words are completely different in derivation, there is no linguistic basis for direct comparison, much less religious equivalence.

Abomination to whom? With shrimp (Leviticus 11:10), the full phrase is "they shall be a detestable thing to you." The description of homosexual behavior as an "abomination" excludes any reference "to you." For shrimp, this might be interpreted as "detestable to the Jewish people," but for homosexual activity, there is an implied "abomination to God," not "to you" - a major difference.

Another interpretation of the lack of "to you" for homosexual activity points to the universality of this prohibition, compared to the laws of kosher food, which are applicable only to "you," the Jewish people. Judaism considers homosexual behavior a universal prohibition for all mankind as one of The Seven Noahide Laws.

No, God does not "hate" shrimp, but He does instruct the Jewish people that they should not eat it as one part of their particular spiritual regimen to be a "holy people" and a "light unto the nations."

Punishments: The "punishments" for homosexual activity include death and kares (spiritual excision), but death and kares are not punishments for violation of kosher dietary laws. Punishments assigned to negative commandments within the Torah were not necessarily intended for human enactment, but serve as a deterrent and a guide to the relative importance of the commandments. Obviously, homosexual behavior is a much more serious sin than eating shrimp. Sexual immorality, including homosexual behavior, is also one of Judaism's three cardinal sins.

Public Sanction: After listing the various prohibited sexual unions, including homosexual acts between two men, God immediately adds an unusual warning not to follow in the immoral ways of some of their neighbors: Keep my charge "so that none of the abominable statutes that were practiced before you will be done..." (Leviticus 18:30).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains this verse as follows: "Sexual excesses among the Canaanite population had not only ceased to be considered as abominations but had, in fact, become sanctioned by custom or religious cult. They had become 'statutes,' or 'institutions.' As stated in Isaiah 24:5: They have changed the law into the opposite; i.e., they have elevated immorality to become law." If Rabbi Hirsch had not written this 130 years ago, one could easily assume he was writing in 2004 to warn us not to elevate immorality into law through the public sanction via "statute" of same-sex marriage.

There is no warning against "statutes" and public sanction for shrimp or other non-kosher food.

The comparison of shrimp and homosexuality is not even as valid as comparing apples and oranges. It is completely false and irrelevant. But that hasn't stopped intellectually dishonest secular fundamentalists from spreading disinformation in an effort to ridicule religion and demonize religious people. Shame on them!

Samuel Silver is Chairman of Toward Tradition (www.towardtradition.org), a national movement of Jewish and Christian cooperation, fighting anti-religious bigotry and secular fundamentalism. Reprinting allowed.

Read the entire article on the Toward Tradition website.

Posted: 7/10/04

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