Vayikra Eighteen: Forbidden Sex

It seems like God thinks (or knows) that the Israelites are pretty dense at this point, and emphasizing His role requires a lot of repeating. Even though they’ve seen His miracles, experienced Revelation, and built the mishkan, they still need to have the point driven home repeatedly. “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: I am the Lord your God. Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes. You shall fulfill My ordinances and observe My statutes, to follow them. I am the Lord, your God (Leviticus 18:2-4).” This emphasizes the idea that the Israelites are meant to be a separate nation, not like any other minority group within a larger population, but fully immersed in their own world and laws, not subject to those of their neighbors.

So, what are these laws that the Israelites have follow, instead of those of the nations that they live in? For starters, there’s a lot about nakedness, and specifically, forbidden nakedness. A man is forbidden from uncovering the nakedness (having sex with) his father, his mother, his father’s wife, his sister, his nieces, his aunts, his daughters in law, and his sisters in law. All of this is because the connection between them is too close: these women belong to his family, and therefore are not permitted to him in this manner. Good to know. Additionally, a man can’t have relations with both a mother and her daughter/granddaughter, because this constitutes evil counsel. Personally, I just think it sounds gross, so either way I’m glad to hear that it’s not an acceptable practice.

After the list of forbidden sex partners, we hear a seemingly unrelated law. “And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:21).” What does this mean? Who (or what) is Molech, and what kind of ritual is being referred to here? Apparently, Molech is the name of a god of the Ammonites, a tribe in the region at the time. Being that this prohibition follows immoral acts that are done by the tries of the region, but are forbidden from the Israelites, we can infer that sacrificing children to Molech was a practice at the time, which is also forbidden for the Israelites. This odd interlude is followed by more forbidden sex acts though. Therefore, can we infer that there was some kind of sexual rite regarding Molech that is being prohibited here?

The list continues. We are warned against sex with animals, and sex between men. I’m not going to touch on those things right now, because for me homosexuality is such a hard topic to deal with in Judaism and I don’t feel qualified to offer my own commentary on it at this point.

The chapter ends with the reminder: I am the Lord your God. I think this repetition is meant to remind us and invoke in us an understanding that the rules of God apply even in our most private, intimate moments. We must remember Him in our private acts, because He is part of all of them, no matter what.


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