Part 3. Torah
In translating and studying the Torah, I have been frequently shocked by the awesome realization that, although written by at least one human, it is a work of inhuman genius and/or divine guidance. The simplicity of the words and the ideas they convey opposed to the immense difficulty they present to an unambiguous interpretation of them often impinges on my consciousness. When it does, it produces an existential jolt in me akin to a sudden crash of thunder under a cloudless blue sky right above me. Startling, marvelous, mysterious, awesome! At those moments I am deeply humbled and shaken, while thankful to have been inspired to embark on and complete my journey of discovery. As I implied in the introduction, I feel privileged beyond words -- as well as frightened out of my wits.
Now on to the meat and potatoes of this Part 3! Except for this next section, it is basically a critique of portions of the Torah, but also contains some of my thoughts concerning (1) Moses’ authorship of the Torah and (2) me. The sections included below are:
The significance of the Torah (and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures)
This section is the result of a recurring dream of mine in which I believe the Lord communicates with me. The last time it happened was Friday early morning, December 30, 2016. The message came to me in a few fleeting ideas and images. But to fully describe it, I have to write far more words than I heard and felt.
The Lord asked, “Why was the Torah, actually the Hebrew Scriptures, given to the children of Israel? Did I intend the Hebrew Scriptures to be for the Jews alone? The first answer is: Because they are the children of My faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I chose them as My beloved possession. The second answer? A resounding NO!! It's for everyone.”
“It’s true I gave the Hebrew Scriptures to the Jews and addressed it to My beloved son, Israel, but I intend it to be for the entire world. I asked My children to be My light to the people of the world. I gave Israel the Torah as a guide for living a light-generating life. If they had obeyed Me, the world would by now be Jewish and there would be no wait for the end times. But they refused Me. They repeatedly betrayed My trust.”
“I had two potential plans for the Jews (and the world). Either plan would work. Plan A was that they would honor Me by joyously and faithfully living according to My commandments, statutes, and ordinances that I dictated to Moses. They would then enjoy unimaginable prosperity and the many spiritual and physical gifts I would grant them -- awesome wisdom, hidden knowledge, unmatched intelligence! -- that they would then pass on to the rest of the world. Oh yes, and an expanding population to fill the biblical land of Israel! Not as a reward for their faithfulness, but simply because I love them! But did they love Me? No, they stubbornly refused to shine My light, rebelled against Me and ignored My advice to them. They are even ashamed to speak of Me. I know what they think, ‘So primitive, so childish!’ So Plan A was forsaken.”
“Plan B is the process My Jews stubbornly selected for themselves. It involves unbridled fear, frequent suffering and premature death, and continual undeserved and unreasonable hatred toward them by most of the world. Not a punishment, mind you! But the consequences of their faithlessness. So how will Plan B work to accomplish My goal? As the centuries pass, sooner or later, insightful gentiles and other non-Jews will begin to marvel at the ‘impossible’ survival of this small nation. They will begin to speak of and write about this surprising marvelous state of affairs. Eventually a so-called ‘critical mass’ will arise whereby an explosive number of people will recognize this miracle, speak of it, and come to understand that.the Jews really are the chosen people -- chosen to release the news to the world that I, the Creator of the universe, exist. At such time, the world will gather together and worship Me as I have had My prophets describe in the Torah and in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. Then time as you know it will cease.”
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
When parts of the Torah were written
First I believe that the Torah, or at least Genesis and parts of Deuteronomy, were written some time after the events described there. Seven passages convince me of this, five in Genesis and two in Deuteronomy. I offer them here and remark on them to a limited extent. They are Gene. 19:37 and 38, Gene. 26:33, Gene. 32:33, Gene. 35:20, Deut. 10:8, and Deut. 34:6.
The first two of these refer to the sons of the daughters of Lot, who were conceived after Lot’s daughters had sex with their father while he was in a wine-induced stupor.
וַתֵּלֶד הַבְּכִירָה בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ מוֹאָב הוּא אֲבִי מוֹאָב עַד הַיּוֹם
Gene. 19:37 And the first-born bore a son and called his name Moab – he is the father of Moab until today.
וְהַצְּעִירָה גַם הִוא יָלְדָה בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ בֶּן-עַמִּי הוּא אֲבִי בְנֵי עַמּוֹן עַד הַיּוֹם
Gene. 19:38 And the younger, she also bore a son and she called his name Ben-ammon – he is the father of the children of Ammon until today.
I believe the wording of these verses is deliberate. These are the only two verses in the Torah in which the words until today are used when the progenitor of a people is mentioned. And progenitors are mentioned in four other verses in Genesis and none of them specifies a time relationship. They are Gene. 4:21, 9:18, 10:21, and 36:9.
The other verses dealing with time are about customs, practices or names of places. They are Gene. 26:33, Gene. 32:33, Gene. 35:20, Deut. 10:8, and Deut. 34:6:
וַיִּקְרָא אֹתָהּ שִׁבְעָה עַלכֵּן שֵׁם הָעִיר בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה
Gene. 26:33 And he called it Shibah. Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba until this day.
עַל כֵּן לֹא יֹאכְלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת גִּיד הַנָּשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר עַל כַּף הַיָּרֵךְ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי נָגַע בְּכַף יֶרֶךְ
יַעֲקֹב בְּגִיד הַנָּשֶׁה
Gene. 32:33 Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve which is on the hollow of the thigh until this day, because he reached into the hollow of the thigh of Jacob, on the sciatic nerve.
וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה עַל קְבֻרָתָהּ הִוא מַצֶּבֶת קְבֻרַת רָחֵל עַד הַיּוֹם
Gene. 35:20 And Jacob erected a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel's grave until this day.
בָּעֵת הַהִוא הִבְדִּיל יְהוָה אֶת־שֵׁבֶט הַלֵּוִי לָשֵׂאת אֶת־אֲרֹון בְּרִית־יְהוָה לַעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לְשָׁרְתֹו
וּלְבָרֵךְ בִּשְׁמֹו עַד הַיֹּום הַזֶּה
Deut. 10:8 At that time the Lord separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him, and to bless in His name until this day.
וַיִּקְבֹּר אֹתֹו בַגַּיְ בְּאֶרֶץ מֹואָב מוּל בֵּית פְּעֹור וְלֹא־יָדַע אִישׁ אֶת־קְבֻרָתֹו עַד הַיֹּום הַזֶּה
Deut. 34:6 And He buried him in a gorge in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor, and no one has known his burial place until this day.
Next, we are also told in the Torah that Moses did indeed inscribe at least a part of it, and that he wrote it in a scroll, not on tablets of stone. We learn this from Exod. 17:14 below. Following Joshua’s victory over Amalek, the Lord tells Moses to write about the battle and the remarkable story surrounding it. We also learn it from Exod. 34:27, where the Lord is referring to the commandments He has dictated to Moses. At least one other part of the Torah was also written by Moses, Deuteronomy Chapters 28 and 29. In Deut. 29:20 Moses refers to the “curses” of the covenant.
At this point in the monologue it’s appropriate to mention my thoughts about Moses having written the Torah. Most orthodox Jews believe he wrote the entire five books. Now let’s face it, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he probably knew no Hebrew, written or spoken. His mother, who had wet-nursed him, probably taught him some rudimentary Hebrew, but she would have left him by the time he was no more than two or so years old. At the time of the Exodus he was eighty years old, and would have forgotten any words he had learned as an infant. He would have known Egyptian fluently, though, having likely grown up in the house of Pharoah, and also the language of the Midianites, with whom he’d spent his years of exile from Egypt. When could he have learned Hebrew? He had had almost no contact with the Israelites up to that time of his adult life. Now the Israelites were most likely fluent in Egyptian, and that must have been the language in which Moses communicated with them, at least until after the first few years of their travels in the wilderness. Maybe God taught him Hebrew while he was on the mountain? If not, what he wrote under the guidance of the Lord, he probably wrote in Egyptian. So as it was ultimately written in Hebrew, an educated Israelite scribe must have translated Moses’ writings (or dictation) into Hebrew and transcribed it on another parchment at some point in time.
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרֹון בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהֹושֻׁעַ כִּי־מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר
עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם
Exod. 17:14 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the scroll and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”
וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה כְּתָב־לְךָ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּי עַל־פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית
Exod. 34:27 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write for yourself these words, for according to these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
וְהִבְדִּילֹו יְהוָה לְרָעָה מִכֹּל שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אָלֹות הַבְּרִית הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתֹּורָה הַזֶּה
Deut. 29:20 and the Lord will separate him from all the tribes of Israel for trouble like all the curses of the covenant that are written in the scroll of this Torah,
Next I will discuss some of the difficulties I have with four parts of the Torah. The first of these is Genesis 3, about the serpent and Adam and Eve. The second is Exodus 21, in which the Lord appears to provide instructions for various scenarios. The third part deals with Levi. 18:22 and 20:13, which prohibit homosexuality. The fourth part deals with five other verses in Leviticus that have been understood by the sages to deal with masturbation. I believe they were wrong. If you are interested in my many other difficulties with other verses in the Torah, please visit my translation at www.rubinspace.org.
Genesis 3, the story of the so-called fall of mankind, appears to contain a number of what I think are serious flaws. I have critical remarks about most verses in the chapter. Heresy maybe, but in my opinion, the scribe was not divinely inspired in writing this story. In telling it, I believe he was recording an often-repeated fable. I suspect it was the ancients’ way of explaining the harsh world. I will concentrate on just a few aspects of the chapter that I feel are quite naive (view all of them on my other web site).
First of all, the serpent appears to be rather dull minded. He seems to think he has to resort to cunning and subterfuge to convince the woman to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is rather foolish. Doesn’t he realize that she is more na´ve and innocent than a three-month old infant? He seems to be unaware that until she will have eaten the fruit, she can have no understanding of good and evil. Can you imagine this degree of innocence? I doubt that anyone can. I know I can’t. I can’t in any way put myself in the woman’s place. Apparently, the reason she ate the fruit was not because the serpent convinced her she could and not die, but because it looked good to her (Gene. 3:6). The man and woman couldn’t have realized that ignoring God’s warning was wrong. Right and wrong were unknown concepts to them until they ate the fruit. We have been so ingrained with the idea that the woman had committed the first human sin, that we have trouble being completely objective in judging this incident and her guilt. The truth is, however, that Eve didn’t know she was doing wrong until the fruit entered her mouth, or perhaps after it was digested.
My next remarks have to do with Gene. 3:7 in which Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. So they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves. I find it very difficult to accept this as a realistic response to their newfound knowledge.
At first glance this verse might appear to be expressing a cultural prejudice. Why would knowing of good and evil cause the man and woman to be self-conscious about their nudity? Objectively speaking, nudity is neither good nor evil. But implied or hinted at by the wording, while hidden within the verse, may be the obvious reality that they immediately became aware of their libido. But what is wrong with that? If they were man and wife, wasn’t sex appropriate and proper for them? That hadn’t been forbidden to them. On the contrary, in Genesis 1 they were commanded to fill the earth. Were they now embarrassed for God to see them naked? Why would that be? He created them naked; so why would that seem wrong to them? Again, the scribe’s attempt to illustrate their new knowledge is not very inspirational. Wouldn’t they have immediately realized how wrong their disobedience was? Wouldn’t that have overwhelmed them with guilt and remorse, dulling their senses to their interest in each other or in their nakedness? If I had received this message from a divine source, I would likely say something like, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew they had done a terrible wrong by disobeying God, and they were overcome by fear and dread.” Would that have ruined the story? Maybe so, maybe not. It might have changed Judaism and Christianity, though.
Continuing to Gene. 3:10, in which the man responds to God’s insistent questions that he was afraid because he was naked, I have to wonder about the following. Was the man really afraid because he was naked? Sporting the fig leaf, he was no longer naked, anyway. Wouldn’t he have been afraid because he knew he’d sinned by ignoring God’s admonition? He must have known that with a certainty because he’d tasted the forbidden fruit of the tree. He now understood the difference between right and wrong. Was he lying to God, trying to hide the fact that he had eaten of the forbidden fruit? Would that have fooled anyone, much less the Lord?
But if Adam didn’t know of his “sin” until he ate the fruit, why should he be blamed for eating it? Wasn’t he unaware of good and evil until the fruit entered his mouth or stomach? The two humans were uncorrupted until then. With these questions, we are faced with a dilemma, a serious deficiency that doesn’t seem to present a satisfactory way around it.
As I said, the story appears to be an attempt, awkward as it may be, to explain why life is so difficult. Blame the first humans. If they had only listened to God and heeded His warning, the world would be a haven of peace and goodness. We and the animals would all be vegetarians and life would be a continual delight. But the woman and her man succumbed to temptation without understanding the consequences. Shades of Pandora’s Box!
Well, I struggled with this dilemma and came up with four possible explanations for the seemingly undeserved punishment of the humans (see Gene. 3:15-19).
First, it might be that God is not just and cares only that His commands are obeyed. With disobedience, punishment must follow. This possibility flies in the face of what Moses tells us, and of the sayings of the prophets, so I won’t accept it. God is just and merciful, we are told again and again
Secondly, the whole affair might have been instigated by God in order to justify His plan to banish humanity from paradise. Numerous verses in the bible allude to God’s bringing about a particular situation for His own purpose, so this option may carry some merit for many readers. But not for me! I don’t believe that God works that way, because it isn’t logical. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and I must accept that the Creator of the universe is), need He resort to that kind of manipulation of circumstances? If God is manipulative, why stop with just setting up circumstances? Why not simply bring about the desired result? In this case, why not create the first humans out in the world rather than in Eden?
The third possibility is that these passages stand as a perpetual warning to future generations that ignorance, even the ultimate innocence of the first two humans, doesn’t preclude the consequences of sin. This explanation seems reasonably appropriate to me. After all, the world is fraught with danger, and dreadful traps abound. Carelessness, ignorance, naivetÚ can easily get someone killed, maimed or hurt. Whether there is justice in that, I can’t judge. I just don’t know enough. And, truthfully, neither does anyone else.
The fourth possibility is that this episode is a foretaste of the perfidy and disobedience and surrender to temptation later displayed by the Israelites starting in Exodus and continuing throughout the remainder of the bible (even to the present day?). In other words, this could be a veiled prophecy. If you study my bible translation, you will see that other later episodes lend themselves to similar suppositions. I believe that this is the most proper possibility.
Next I will comment on aspects of Exodus 21.
Aspects of Exodus 21
Mind you, this is the chapter following the introduction of the Ten Commandments. Before remarking about this chapter, I first offer a confession that many of its words leave me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, stretching my faith in its divine inspirational origin. I find it difficult to imagine the Lord specifying some of these ordinances. I have struggled to find any rationale for many of them with little success. I find that they offend my sense of right and wrong, and I have to fight back a desire to question God on many of the ensuing points, not always successful at restraining my indignation. If my forefathers had not questioned God, I would feel very queasy about doing it.
My first problem with this chapter is the contrast between the disposition of a bought Hebrew slave (male) and a bought maid-servant. In Exod. 21:2 the man is to be treated very fairly. He is to go free after six years, but he can choose to remain with his master. Circumstances are permitted for his owner to encourage his remaining, but the slave is free to choose his fate without incurring any penalty. A woman, on the other hand, is not to be released at any time; she would be released only if she were deemed “unsatisfactory” by her owner or betrothed. Basically, she has to stay until she is tossed out (Exod. 21:6 and 21:11).
Then in Exod. 21:15 we learn that someone who slaps his parent must die. The sages conjecture that the blow has to leave a bruise. If the young man lightly slaps his father or mother, he would not die. Does this mean that a blow leaving a bruise constitutes a violation of the fifth commandment, while a light slap does not? Doesn’t make sense to me!
After this we are told in Exod. 21:17 that anyone who curses a parent must also die. Talk about corporal punishment! Can a disrespectful child not be afforded a second chance? Apparently not! Other aspects of this chapter are troublesome to me, primarily because they leave much room for misinterpretation and mischief. If you would like to delve further into this chapter, I refer you again to my other web site.
Next I deal with the issue of Levi. 18:22 and 20:13. I have a lot to say about this -- in fact, an entire diatribe. The central subject of this discussion is male homosexuality. This is a difficult subject to address because of its inherently abhorrent nature for many people, because of this biblical prohibition, and because of the overly simplistic approach we take to describing it. But address it we must. To a significant proportion of our population (about 7 to 10 percent?), it is vital that we do. We are obligated to do so because of new knowledge that has surfaced about homosexuality in the last few decades.
The bible says “You shall not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.” or words to the same effect in only two places, both in Leviticus (Levi. 18:22 and 20:13). Should we now take this proscription and apply it without another thought or shred of compassion? Should we automatically, like robots, immediately condemn with abhorrence? Or should we first attempt to understand, to comprehend? Should we try to put ourselves in the place and time of the ancients and delve into their understanding of things? I believe we have to do the latter. I believe that God does “desire” our obedience -- but not blind, unyielding, unfeeling obedience. He requires equally our love and wisdom. Otherwise, when telling us to choose His way versus our way, would He have explained that we were choosing between life and death? But how do we love? How do we choose life over death? If we are to love, then I believe we must come to a realization that all God’s creatures are His creation. We must strive to understand and embrace this reality. For loving God entails loving His creations. When will we learn to live according to that realization? When will we accept that all humans -- not just those we like or approve of -- are our brothers and sisters, whom God implores us to love as ourselves dozens of times in the Torah? When and how will we learn to put that commandment into our everyday practices?
So attempting to do this, I asked myself, when did we first learn that there might be two forms of homosexual behavior? One is the apparently involuntary and virtually irresistible urge for a same-gender relationship (that now appears to be genetically based) and the other is the voluntary exploration of homosexual experience, perhaps out of curiosity about the unknown or different, boredom with sameness, a general desire for excitement, or in protest, anger, or frustration. Most of us even today do not differentiate these two behavior modes: Genetic or willful. When we say homosexuality we are almost invariably referring to an act or lifestyle in which two people of the same sex arbitrarily indulge in non-procreative sexual behavior. Now, though, we have been told that it’s not that simple. Now we must understand that there is that differentiation. The delineation between two forms of homosexual behavior described above is real; it has become clinically recognized. We cannot ignore that if we are to love the Lord.
When an ancient scribe received the inspired thought that lying with another of the same sex was an abomination, what was the context which led to the resulting expression of that inspiration? Remembering that we are to interpret his writing within the environment of the scribe’s times and experience, we must assume that he knew that these “unnatural” acts occurred, that they were common practice and visible to the general population, often occurring as part of the worship of a local god, and that they were all of the same kind of behavior, motivated by the same general emotions. There was no reason for him to differentiate between two different forms of this behavior. There was no way for him to know that some of those behaviors were dictated by internal drives that many humans could not resist if they experienced them. To the scribe they all looked alike. They were abhorrent idol worship or the wanton ways of the misguided. They had no way to recognize two different behaviors, that dictated by genetics and that indulged in curiosity, conformity or nonconformity, or whatever. There was no understanding of the differentiation or its necessity. Just as the scribe of Genesis 1 might have taken God’s message of “energy” as meaning “light,” so this scribe (if different) made this message regarding homosexual behavior a homogeneous abomination.
Today we are coming to the realization that a difference exists. Once we have learned that a behavior of ours may be genetically predisposed or dictated in a proportion of the population, we are obligated to reexamine our perceptions of that behavior. As reasonable people, once we have learned this, we are required to determine whether in any behavior there is a genetic component and, if so, differentiate it from the same behavior that is voluntary and under our control. In a way, the bible itself informs us that we must do this. Where a difference is recognized, the Torah engages in rudimentary forms of differentiation in behavior. For example, the act of killing is separated into the involuntary accidental taking of another’s life and premeditated vicious murder. Elaborate rules (and the setting aside of refuge cities) are contained in the Torah to protect the accidental killer. But where the ancient scribes could not possibly make a differentiation because of lack of knowledge, we must do it for them.
So the point of all this is that I believe I’ve been led to understand that lying with mankind as with womankind is an abomination when it is done willfully out of mischief, curiosity, conformity or nonconformity, or in worship of idols. I believe the Lord has led me to recognize that this is the reason the prohibition appears only in the book of Leviticus and no where else in the bible. It had to do with the worship practices of the pagans, all of which were an abomination to the Lord (and they are all identified as such here in Leviticus). So it is an abomination to willfully choose to be homosexual. But It cannot be an abomination to be born with mixed up genes. That’s like saying it’s an abomination to be born with a cleft lip or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
In attempting to address this excruciatingly difficult subject further, I had to ask myself: If God is all-knowing, why would He not differentiate between the two modes of behavior, one an abomination, the other an impartial result of genetics? I concluded that God did differentiate. That’s why He confined this commandment to Leviticus, which deals with all matters of worship. God deals with matters of cleanness, sexuality, and all forms of behavior throughout Numbers and Deutoronomy, but He never again brings up the subject of homosexuality. He left this clue of exclusivity to Leviticus for us to comprehend it when we were able to, when we had the knowledge to recognize the difference.
Therefore, because of the knowledge we now possess, I see it as our responsibility to help the willful homosexual change his ways because what he practices is an abomination to the Lord. And, as lovers of the Lord, we may ignore, feel compassion for, or support and console the genetic homosexual. If we don’t do this, we are like someone who condemns and vilifies the genetically disabled. We are not walking in the way of the Lord, for He tells us repeatedly to protect, defend, and care for the weak.
You may say that all this is fine, but how are we to differentiate between the two forms of homosexual behavior? Who should we educate (or condemn) and who should we tolerate or accept? Well, we now have the means by which we can make such a determination: Psychological or even gene testing. That may or may not be the answer, however. It could be -- is -- fraught with danger and controversy. As I’m not expert in these matters, I am willing to leave the answers to the experts, the clergymen, the doctors, the psychologists and psychiatrists, the philosophers, perhaps even the politicians. Whatever happens, we will find that mistakes will be inevitable. But try we must, if we love the Lord and desire to walk with wisdom and compassion in His ways.
In closing this topic, I want to say that it strikes me as odd and suspicious that the Lord mentions not a word about female homosexuality. I have a guess as to why this is so. Female homosexuality may not have been a pagan worship practice in Canaan. I’ve been led to believe that it might have been later in Greece and Rome, but it may not have been a thousand years earlier. However, female-animal sex may have been an early pagan worship practice. And that is prohibited (Levi. 18:23, as well as male bestiality).
Another difficult subject, but one that must also be addressed.
The prohibition of masturbation is based on five verses, Levi. 18:21 and 20:2, 3, 4, and 5 (see these verses below). I claim these verses may have nothing to do with masturbation but deal instead with the idolatrous sacrifice of Israelite children.
To understand why I claim this, we first have to examine the other verses in the Torah that mention “seed” as possibly related to this subject. That’s because the five verses cited above (and displayed below) all address the dedication of seed to an idol, Molech. There are 65 other verses to be examined. They are:
Thirty-six in Genesis -- 3:15; 4:25; 9:9; 12:7; 13:16; 15:3; 15:5; 15:13; 15:18; 16:10; 17:7, 8, 10, 12, and 19; 19:34; 21:12; 22:17 and 18; 24:7; 24:60; 26:3, 4, and 24; 28:4, 13, and 14; 32:13; 35:12; 38:8 and 9; 46:6 and 7; 48:4, 11, 19.
Four in Exodus -- 28:43, 30:21, 32:13, 33:1.
Ten in Leviticus -- 15:16, 17, 18, 32; 19:20; 21:15, 17, 21; 22:3 and 4.
Five in Numbers -- 5:28; 14:24; 17:5; 18:19; 25:13.
Ten in Deuteronomy -- 1:8; 4:37; 10:15; 11:9; 28:46, 59; 30:6, 18; 31:21; 34:4.
Sixty-five verses in all. In total, there are 131 verses in the Torah that mention “seed,” but the remaining 66 verses refer to vegetation and we can ignore them in the discussion of this topic.
There are also three verses in Leviticus that deal with discharge of semen or seed. They need not be addressed. They would add nothing to the discussion.
Now we will look at the five verses in Leviticus on which the prohibition of masturbation is based.
וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת־שֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה
Levi. 18:21 “And you shall not give any of your seed to dedicate to Molech, and you shall not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.”
וְאֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל תֹּאמַר אִישׁ אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִן־הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִזַּרְעֹו לַמֹּלֶךְ
מֹות יוּמָת עַם הָאָרֶץ יִרְגְּמֻהוּ בָאָבֶן
Levi. 20:2 “Moreover, to the children of Israel you shall say, ‘Any man from the children of Israel or from a stranger sojourning in Israel who will dedicate any of his seed to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.’”
וַאֲנִי אֶתֵּן אֶת־פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתֹו מִקֶּרֶב עַמֹּו כִּי מִזַּרְעֹו נָתַן לַמֹּלֶךְ לְמַעַן טַמֵּא
אֶת־מִקְדָּשִׁי וּלְחַלֵּל אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי
Levi. 20:3 “And I shall withdraw My presence in that man, and cut him off from among his people, because he has dedicated some of his seed to Molech, so that My sanctuary is defiled and My holy name is profaned.”
וְאִם הַעְלֵם יַעְלִימוּ עַם הָאָרֶץ אֶת־עֵינֵיהֶם מִן־הָאִישׁ הַהוּא בְּתִתֹּו מִזַּרְעֹו לַמֹּלֶךְ לְבִלְתִּי הָמִית אֹתֹו
Levi. 20:4 “And if the people of the land at all hide their eyes from that man in his dedicating any of his seed to Molech to not put to him death,
וְשַׂמְתִּי אֲנִי אֶת־פָּנַי בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וּבְמִשְׁפַּחְתֹּו וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתֹו וְאֵת כָּל־הַזֹּנִים אַחֲרָיו לִזְנֹות אַחֲרֵי
הַמֹּלֶךְ מִקֶּרֶב עַםָּם
Levi. 20:5 then I shall set My face on that man and on his family and cut off him and all who follow after him to commit idolatry after Molech from among their people.”
To start with, notice that the first four of these verses use the two words “dedicate [or dedicating] ... seed.” This combination of words doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Torah. Then in the fifth verse notice the words “commit idolatry.” Thus the gist of these five verses is that the man who dedicates his seed to Molech is committing idolatry and thereby profaning the sanctuary of the Lord.
Now I’m not going to repeat any of the other 65 verses cited above here. I’ll simply summarize them, because they all (except for five others in Leviticus) say pretty much the same thing. In the remaining 55 verses (plus the other five in Leviticus) the word “seed” always refers to future generations in every case. Gene. 3:15 is a typical example:
וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב
Gene. 3:15. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. She shall crush the front of you and you shall bruise the heel of him.”
Notice the words “your [the serpent’s] seed and her [Eve’s] seed.” It should be patently obvious that future generations are being referred to here.
It should be reasonable to assume that the five verses above don’t refer to a man masturbating, but one who is sacrificing one or more of his children to an idol in the sanctuary.
To summarize this discussion, the five verses on which the prohibition of masturbation is based all mention dedicating seed, that is, children, in the sanctuary. The other five in Leviticus not referring to future generations all mention the flow or discharge of seed, which is indicative of semen. And the rest all refer to future generations.
The verse in Genesis I mentioned near the start of this discussion, Gene. 38:9 (and 10, which is a continuation of that verse) refers to an episode concerning a man by the name of Onan. The Torah contains a commandment to cover a specific situation: If a married man dies before he gives his wife any offspring (presumably a son), his brother is required to marry her and produce offspring for his brother. Onan refuses to follow the commandment and instead spills his semen on the ground. The Lord “punishes” this act of contempt for His commandment (and contempt for Onan’s dead brother) by bringing about his early demise. Here are the two verses:
וְהָיָה אִם־בָּא אֶל־אֵשֶׁת אָחִיו וְשִׁחֵת אַרְצָה לְבִלְתִּי נְתָן־זֶרַע לְאָחִיו וַיֵּדַע אוֹנָן כִּי לֹּא לוֹ יִהְיֶה הַזָּרַע
Gene. 38:9 But Onan knew that the seed would not be his. And it was, when going in to the wife of his brother, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he give seed for his brother.
וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיָּמֶת גַּם־אֹתֹו
Gene. 38:10 And what he did was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and He slew him also.
These two verses form another part of the basis for the biblical prohibition on masturbation. The words “what he did” in 38:10 receive a great deal of weight from scholars. The belief among them is that they refer to his act in 38:9, that is, Onan’s spilling of his semen. But I believe that their interpretation of these words is unduly literal and narrow. The words can’t simply refer to the previous verse, but must instead refer to the entire incident, that is, to Onan’s contemptuous violation of the commandment.
Notice that the second “it” in 38:9 does not refer to Onan’s seed, because in that verse seed means child (or children) -- offspring, not ejaculate. There can be no doubt that the pronoun refers to Onan’s ejaculate. The Hebrew is a bit loose with the grammar of the verse, leaving much to the imagination of the reader. But doesn’t it seem unreasonable to believe that Onan masturbated before his sister-in-law? Doesn’t it seem more reasonable to assume that what he did was withdraw as he ejaculated?
As a result of the foregoing discussion I claim that the Torah makes no mention of masturbation, neither prohibiting it or condoning it. The matter is simply ignored. [Return to Rubinspace.org]
My Love of the Torah
After all this long critique, you may mistakenly conclude that I have little respect for the Torah. Let me assure you that the opposite is true. My entire “understanding” and discussion are based on my love and awe of its message. As I’ve mentioned, I believe the words of the Torah are inspired by God, that His inspiration was recorded by men. It is the human recording and interpretation that I believe we must intelligently, and reverently, question. I feel certain that the writing was the result of the scribe’s own interpretation of what he received from heaven. And that interpretation was an outgrowth of his cultural background and knowledge of the time. As loving servants of the Lord, we must critically ponder the words he/they wrote in the Torah.
I recognize the trap this presents. Because we humans are better at rationalizing than we are at being rational, I know we can convince ourselves of virtually anything. We can even arbitrarily choose what we want to accept and what we want to reject, without even realizing how arbitrary the choice is. But fear of this result must not allow us to remain blind.
On the other hand, while I see the danger in unbounded questioning, I also see an equal danger in blind acceptance. The same sort of rationalization is found at that end of the spectrum as well. Blind obedience to words that are assumed to be infallible has led to innumerable awful tragedies throughout human history. Let’s face it. Numerous forces are always operating to push passionate people to extremes. But, admit it: History demonstrates that extremism on the liberal side tends to lead more to hurtful words, while extremism on the conservative side tends to lead to punishment of the opposition. Go ahead, tell me I’m biased.
Let me reiterate in closing that I believe a somewhat similar danger lies at both ends of the spectrum (the more dangerous possibly at the extreme of blind belief), and we should strive for a middle ground: Open, considered, tolerant, intelligent debate in an attempt to achieve divine understanding. Now you may answer that this process has been going on for more than 2,000 years without much success, except as induced by the prevailing ruling powers at any given time. I have to agree up to a point. Where I disagree is in the details. This two-thousand-year period of discussion has been straddled by rules. One rule is that heresy is punishable by stoning. Also, typically one who argues against the ruling class at any given time is either ignored, criticized, ostracized, or punished. Now I see it as imperative that we listen to and evaluate dissenting voices. Virtually all of humanity’s forward progress has been fueled by dissent, as first exhibited by Abraham. As I see it, progress and enlightenment is what the Lord “desires” of us. See Part 4, The Universe, for more on this.
Following my heart
We are told in the Torah (Numb. 15:38, 39, and 40) not to follow our own heart. Yet I have followed my own heart from the beginning of my fantastic journey. Good people have admonished me for this. So why am I not ashamed and begging for divine forgiveness? Why am I continuing to disregard these verses? Why are so many of my discussions based on heart-felt emotions? Let’s see if I can answer these questions to everyone’s satisfaction.
Here are the three verses I mention above. Really only Numb. 15:39 is important to this discussion, but I’ve included the other two for continuity and context. The Lord is speaking to Moses.
הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל־כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל־צִיצִת
Numb.15:38 “Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make a fringe for themselves on the corners of their garments for their generations, and they shall put a thread of blue with the fringe of each corner.”
וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתֹו וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹת יְהוָה וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא־תָתֻרוּ אַחֲרֵי
לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם
Numb. 15:39 “And it shall be to you for a fringe that you shall regard it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, and not seek after your own heart and after your own eyes -- because you are harlots following them –
לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם
Numb. 15:40 in order that you may remember and observe all My commandments and be holy for your God.”
Now I can tell you my answer to the questions I’ve posed above. We must look carefully at what v. 15:39 says. Here’s how I read it. There are two parts to the verse. The first is that we should remember the commandments and observe them. The second is that we should not seek after our own heart. Now as I see it, these are two distinct and separate alternatives. Either you follow the commandments or you seek after your own heart.
But what if we seek after our own heart and follow the commandments? The Lord is not saying we shouldn’t do that. In fact, I believe we can’t avoid following our hearts. I follow my own heart in almost everything I do. And so do you! And all the rest of us as well! Even when we do something selfless, we are still following our heart. You can follow your heart by observing the commandments, or you can follow your heart by ignoring God and the commandments. That’s our choice. I believe there is no other. But following our heart is not a choice. We do it no matter what.
So I refuse to not follow my heart. My heart is for the Lord, and that’s what counts. I interpret the bible’s verses as my heart dictates. I don’t believe I’m necessarily right in my interpretations. I often believe I could be wrong, and I often doubt my own arguments in favor of or against a given interpretation. I’m a poor judge of my own words. I need others to assess them. I am open to counter-arguments; in fact, I welcome them. However, when I hear one, I always judge for myself whether the argument is sound. And I try to be objective. I tell you if you want to follow the Lord, you must also recognize and accept that you are following your own heart as well.
For more on this idea, take notice of what the Lord tells Moses when he is about to take the gifts from the people for the building of the Tabernacle. The verse is Exod. 25:2.
דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ־לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבֹּו תִּקְחוּ אֶת־תְּרוּמָתִי
Exod. 25:2 “Declare to the children of Israel that they shall bring an offering to Me. From everyone whose heart will make willing, you shall take My offering.”
The pronoun you in the last phrase is plural, indicating that Moses need not be alone in receiving the people’s gifts. In other words, it’s addressed to all of us.
I understand the second part of this verse as a critically important indication of what the Lord asks of us. The gifts for Him are only to be given willingly. The phrase whose heart will make willing can be idiomatically translated as who volunteers or who wishes to donate. No gifts given grudgingly or to earn favor are acceptable.
This understanding expands to include not just these particular gifts, but everything that we do in service to the Lord. However we may serve Him, we are to do it without grievance, without reluctance, without misgivings. We give our service, a gift to the Lord, with whole and eager and joyous heart. We give without considering reward and simply out of our love for the Lord. Whatever we do without this purity of heart is not desired of us. I consider this realization to be a unique pillar of Mosaic Judaism. That is the Judaism I espouse and cherish.
Next, look at Exod. 31:6. the Lord is speaking to Moses about the workers on the Tabernacle.
אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי אִתֹּו אֵת אָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן־אֲחִיסָמָךְ לְמַטֵּה־דָן וּבְלֵב כָּל־חֲכַם־לֵב נָתַתִּי חָכְמָה וְעָשׂוּ
Exod. 31:6 “And I, behold, I have appointed with him Aholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. And I have put wisdom in the heart of everyone wise-hearted so they can make all that I have commanded you:
The verse continues from there with more details, but this verse carries the important message on which I want to focus. Notice that the Lord looks to wise-hearted people to be His servants. In them He places wisdom. Now am I wise-hearted? I don’t know, but I believe He has shown approval of my work on numerous occasions when I have asked Him. And that’s good enough for me.
Next we have Moses speaking to the people in Exod. 35:5
קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה כֹּל נְדִיב לִבֹּו יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת
Exod. 35:5 ‘Take an offering to the Lord from yourselves. Any one willing in his heart, let him bring an offering of the Lord of gold and silver and brass,
And this verse continues with the specific items to be given. Notice here the phrase similar to that in Exod. 25:2 above: “willing in his heart.” The Lord indeed wants us to follow our heart -- when it leads to Him.
Finally we close with Exod. 35:21 and 22. Moses is relating the events of the bringing of gifts for the Tabernacle.
וַיָּבֹאוּ כָּל־אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂאֹו לִבֹּו וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר נָדְבָה רוּחֹו אֹתֹו הֵבִיאוּ אֶת־תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה לִמְלֶאכֶת
אֹהֶל מֹועֵד וּלְכָל־עֲבֹדָתֹו וּלְבִגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ
Exod. 35:21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him up and everyone whose spirit made him willing, they brought the offerings of the Lord for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.
וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים עַל־הַנָּשִׁים כֹּל נְדִיב לֵב הֵבִיאוּ חָח וָנֶזֶם וְטַבַּעַת וְכוּמָז כָּל־כְּלִי זָהָב וְכָל־אִישׁ
אֲשֶׁר הֵנִיף תְּנוּפַת זָהָב לַיהוָה
Exod. 35:22 And they came, the men followed by the women, all of willing heart; they brought bracelet and earring and signet ring and buckle, all articles of gold; and every person who wielded an offering of gold to the Lord.
Here’s my bottom line: The Lord knows our heart. He knows it is a motivator. It can motivate for evil, but it can also motivate for good. It is the motivation to evil that He speaks against, not the motivation for good.
End of topic.