For the week ending 11 June 2005 / 4 Sivan 5765

Her and Hers

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

I understand that the Torah prohibits certain specific physical contact between two men, and that other forms of physical intimacy between men are also forbidden as a result of this. In my mind this is similar to prohibited unions between men and women where a specific act is explicitly forbidden, and other acts, while less severe, are also prohibited. My question is if the Torah forbids such physical contact between two women. I am not aware of any mention of this in the Torah. I apologize for asking such a question, but this is also Torah and I want to learn. Thank you in advance for responding.

Dear Anonymous,

You are right. There is no explicit prohibition written in the Torah regarding relations between women. In fact from Rambams statement in his Commentary on the Mishna (Sanhedrin, ch. 7) that "women having relations with one another is immoral, but there is no punishment for it, neither from the Torah nor the Rabbis" one might think there is no prohibition at all.

However, "no punishment" doesnt mean theres no prohibition. Rambam in Mishna Torah (Isurei Biah 21:8) explains that a Torah prohibition is indeed derived from the verse against following in the ways of the ancient Egyptians: "For women to intertwine with each other is prohibited and is included in the acts of the Egyptians of which we are warned, Like the practice of the land of Egyptyou shall not do (Lev. 18:3). Our Sages say, What did they do? A man married a man, a woman married a woman. (Torat Kohanim 8:8)". The term "marriage" was used only because that was the norm but the act is forbidden even outside the context of marriage (Tosefot, Yevamot 76).

As a concluding note, it is very important to stress that it was our intention to address only your specific question regarding what the sources say about intimate physical contact between women. We are in no way insensitive to the suffering of people troubled by these issues and empathize with their turmoil, as the Torah commands one to be caring and compassionate to anyone in pain. Also, although we described these issues as prohibitions of immorality, the certain distinction between the act and the person must be made. As in all transgressions, the fact that a person has an inclination to do, or does prohibited acts, does not undermine his or her inherent value as a person.

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