Before you call it an "abomination", you better know what the Hebrew actually says.
The wonderful thing about the Internet is we can now find these things out for ourselves. No longer is Scriptural interpretation the sole domain of pulpits in churches or lecture halls in seminaries.
I'm referring to Leviticus 18:22 which many people quote when condemning homosexuality:
"You shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
The New International Version calls abomination, detestable, which is an equally unreliable translation of the Hebrew toevah.
Yesterday, Rabbi Robert Silvers of B'nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL published commentary on this word in the Jewish Journal. My experience with rabbis is that they generally have a pretty good idea of what the Hebrew says because many of them have also studied it and might even speak its modern counterpart.
Hebrew Scriptures would be known as Old Testament for us Christians. My experience with most Christians--and people in general--is that they are fairly knowledgable of various English translations of the Scriptures but have very little knowledge of what the Hebrew (and Greek) contextually say.
Rabbi Silvers writes:
The word used Biblically regarding the prohibition of homosexuality is toevah, which we translate in English as "abomination." The word toevah is used extensively in the Bible regarding food prohibitions, idolatrous practices, magic and ethical violations. Unlike what the English translation implies, toevah did not usually signify something intrinsically evil, but something which was ritually unclean or offensive for Jews. In the Torah, eating shrimp (shellfish) is toevah. (I know plenty of Jews today who in fact eat shrimp and shellfish.) In the Book of Genesis, Joseph invites his brothers to dine with him (when he is living in Egypt), but the Torah tells us that Egyptians don't dine with Hebrews because it is toevah. (I'm pretty sure that today most of us go out to dinner with friends who aren't Jewish.)
A toevah, therefore, is something that offends the accepted order, ritual or moral. But we understand that society has changed, the "accepted" moral order that existed generations ago with its bias toward people of other color, religions, or gender has changed. No longer should homosexuality be viewed through the ancient archaic lens of toevah. If you do, then you better stop eating shrimp and going out to dinner with your non-Jewish friends.
Or if you are going to use the Old Testament Scriptures to condemn homosexual people, you better give up eating shellfish and pork, wearing poly-cotton blends, or seeding your lawn with a grass mix. Also, start owning some slaves while you're at it. That's acceptable in both the Old and New Testaments.
In other words, we need to be more consistent with the parts of the Bible we choose to practice or preach and the parts we don't--especially when we use the Bible to prooftext our positions.
I was directed to Silvers' article last night in the Relevant Faith Class I attend at my church. There we're allowed to debate and deliberate the Scriptures, culture, and religion. We had an interesting conversation about what "abomination" really means. I was proud of the civility that folks in my class demonstrated when discussing what can be a rather contentious topic.
Rabbi Silvers thoughtfully concludes with this:
"I hope and pray we can all be more tolerant. But I also hope and pray that we can be more educated regarding and in applying Biblical scripture to our lives."
Amen, Rabbi. I couldn't agree more.
Our lack of Scriptural knowledge of what the Hebrew actually says and then using it to judge, alienate, and condemn people, perhaps that's the abomination.