Michael Brown

In the aftermath of the allegedly “homophobic” comments made by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, the man known as “America’s most famous rabbi” has offered a dissenting opinion. Between the rabbi and the duck hunter, who got it right?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, dubbed “America’s most famous rabbi” by Newsweek magazine, is a close personal friend of mine and a frequent debating opponent on theological and social issues. It is his opinion that evangelicals in America have overstated their case against homosexuality, making it the scapegoat for many of our greatest social ills as well as exaggerating its sinfulness in the eyes of God.

Is he correct?

Writing in the New York Observer on December 23rd, he claims that “No country in the world is more obsessed with homosexuality than America. And judging from the constant religious attacks against gays, you would think it’s the only sin in the entire Bible.”

As for it being called an “abomination” in the Torah, Rabbi Shmuley notes that the word “appears approximately 122 times in the Hebrew Bible, including eating nonkosher food (Deuteronomy 14:3) . . . and bringing a blemished sacrifice on God’s altar (Deuteronomy 17:1).”

He also notes that the word “abomination” can refer to moral sins like “envy, lying and gossip” in Proverbs, while in the New Testament the equivalent terms “seems to be implying that love of money is an abomination, which might give some of the televangelists flying in G5s pause before going after gays.”

Is there anything controversial in what he has written here in terms of the meaning of the word “abomination” in the Bible? Not to my mind, based on studying these texts for decades myself.

But his next claim is certainly controversial (and it is one that he and I have previously debated at length). He writes, “I am an orthodox Rabbi, and I freely acknowledge that the Bible clearly labels homosexuality a sin. However, it is not a moral sin but rather akin to the prohibition of lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread on Passover. It may violate the divine will, but there is nothing immoral about it.”

Homosexual practice is “not a moral sin”? Really?

He further explains that, “The essence of an ethical violation, as opposed to a religious infraction, is injury to an innocent party. This is not the case with two unattached adults entering a consensual relationship that is not based on deception or lies.”

Rabbi Shmuley has espoused this position for many years now, and it is an opinion that has been strongly renounced by other Orthodox rabbis and academics.


Michael Brown

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, including

Can You Be Gay and Christian?

, and he hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.