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Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition Hardcover – February 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Defying more than 3,000 years of Torah tradition and belief, Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi who recently publicized his homosexuality, embarks on a thorough, if questionable, trek to reevaluate the overt biblical prohibition of male-male relations. Central to his argument is a rereading of Leviticus 18:22, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence" (JPS translation) to be understood as "And (either a female or) a male you shall not sexually penetrate to humiliate [;] it is abhorrent." The story of Sodom's destruction, the love between David and Jonathan and the creation of Adam and Eve figure prominently as sources of new and interesting perspectives, yet they are all based on subjective evaluations that bear no textual confirmation. While he is obviously well versed in Torah knowledge and rabbinic law, Greenberg admits that he is "not a disinterested party on the matter of homosexuality"; indeed, many of his arguments stretch the truth or omit vital segments of biblical text to reach their desired conclusion, and, in addition, are fraught with expressions of unease such as "maybe" and "perhaps." This is not to say that his attempt bears no fruit. He effectively portrays the plight of closeted and openly gay Orthodox Jews who struggle daily with their sexual desires and with the knowledge that the Torah and the rabbis forbid homosexuality. While Greenberg's controversial biblical claims on this long-taboo topic may infuriate some and gratify others, his book arouses deep empathy for Orthodox homosexuals.
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"Wrestling with God and Men—as useful for Christians as it is for Jews—not only brings new and fresh thinking about our current debate over homosexuality but interweaves theology and history with Greenberg's own personal journey in a way that is enlightening, instructive, and inspirational. I heartily recommend this book to Christians who wish to take their Hebrew scriptures seriously and who are willing to examine their own responses to this raging debate."—The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

"[Greenberg] effectively portrays the plight of closeted and openly gay Orthodox Jews who struggle daily with their sexual desires and with the knowledge that the Torah and the rabbis forbid homosexuality."—Publishers Weekly


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (February 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299190900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299190903
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,696,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By S. Marks on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The task of trying to reconcile preconceived ideas about sexuality and religion is not an easy one. Rabbi Steven Greenberg tackles these with great respect to both Judaism and also his own sexuality. As an orthodox Jew myself, I have always struggled with the feeling that too many of my co-religionists look for problems rather than solutions, and it is gratifying that Rabbi Greenberg has taken the latter approach to this thorny issue.
Wrestling with God and Men gives some special insights to texts that I thought I knew well and I think should be accessible even outside of Orthodox or even Jewish circles. However, I think it is of most important for Orthodox Jews to take the time to read this book - no matter what their opinion on homosexuality and Judaism may be, in the same way that they should also view Trembling Before God - the film that preceded/interrupted this book. It is important that we face the challenges that the world provides us, rather than either pretending that they don't exist or that they are someone else's problem.
While Judaism provides us with a way of life, the accretion of bias and discrimination that has built up over the ages does not mean 'this is the way it must be, because it has ALWAYS been like this'. To echo Rabbi Goldstein, if in the last 50-100 years Orthodox Jewry has been able to tackle issues as complex as and central as women's role in our community and faith, then I am confident that with time, we will be able to deal with the broader issue of sexuality, too.
The one thing that I have taken away from this book, is that ultimately it is an incredibly special thing to be able to love another human being and to have them love you to and I cannot believe that God would have it any other way, no matter if that love be for somone of the opposite or same sex.
If you wish to be informed about these issues and better understand how to relate to your fellow human beings - read this book.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Wrestling with God and Men" is the most erudite, compelling, and utterly satisfying book on homosexuality in religion that I've ever read. Rabbi Greenberg weaves the scholarship of our ancestors into a glorious tapestry, demonstrating not just the fact of homosexuality within the fabric of Judaism, but the more fundamental necessity of this inclusion.
Rabbi Greenberg would seem to prefer we believe that he is like "Daniel the Tailor", the champion of the oppressed, who challenged his Rabbis for failing to balance their jurisprudence and values with the biblical concern for justice and fairness. (Greenberg, pg 212). However his holy scholarship suggests that Rabbi Greenberg is more like Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, former chief rabbi of Israel, who invited "Jews everywhere to return to their ancestral land and restore their ancient spirit" (Greenberg, pg 242).
In all likelihood, this book could not have been written in any other age. It needed the living experiences of an openly-gay Rabbinic mind to realize an honest gay perspective and approach to our sacred texts.

If you are considering buying this book, please buy several copies and donate them to your local Hillel, Chabad, Yeshiva and Shul. All people who are "wrestling with god" should read this book!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steven F. Kindle on July 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
If you are a Christian, you may think that an Orthodox Jewish rabbi comes from such a different way of approaching our shared Scripture
that little would result from a lot of effort. Think again! This remarkable book is captivating from beginning to end and filled with
innumberable insights that grace virtually every page. Along the way, you may, as I discovered, come away with a whole new appreciation for Orthodox Judaism.
It s one thing to find a helpful book. It s quite another to find one helpful and delightful to read. Here are a couple of sentences worth mulling over: "Gayness is no more an automatic intentional rejection of procreation than is straightness a sworn promise of it." And, "Nature is a text that can say almost anything we want it to say while appearing to have said nothing but what is evident." Both of these statements
are found on the same page. This man can turn a phrase.
After quoting from a letter from a near-suicidal gay Orthodox Jew, (a feature familiar to many pastors and their gay parishioners) Rabbi Greenberg states his purpose for writing the book. "For the sake of this young man and many men and women very much like him, the first goal of this book is to demonstrate that, contrary to the
assumptions of many liberal and traditional Jews, an argument can be made in defense of gay relatioships from within the canon of traditional Jewish textual resources. What this man needs is not permission to have sex with men. That is hardly enough. What he needs is a way to envision a life of love, intimacy, and commitment with a man in the context of a religiously alive Orthodox community. The task of writing on this topic is to make a path that is responsible to these human realities and deeply
commit to God and Torah.
Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B. F. Mooney on October 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book, while it may not be perfect or without some hesitencies and perhaps weaknesses, breaks important ground and is a work of courage. It should be read for that reason alone. It is a start that others can build on.

Just recently, I heard a prominent New Testment scholar speak in a seminar at a church on the vital, indeed pressing need for Christians to revist the entire question of the claimed biblical condemation of same-sex relationships. His arguments were very much anchored - not on theology - but on mistakes in interpretation of biblical words and phrases, based ultimately on flawed linguistic and (a)cultural misinterpretations. The parallels with Rabbi Greenberg's stuggle struck me; and all the more more so, when I saw the host Baptist church has a seminar WITH Rabbi Greenberg scheduled for November!

We must openly and honestly reconsider religious positions on the topic of homsexuality, and never has the time been more ripe for doing so. This is very appropriate to consider from several viewpoints, and yet another fruitful area for open and honest sharing of insights between Jewish and Christian communities. I believe OUR God - our common, one God - is first and foremost a God of infinite love, and that human love, betweeen two people, goes beyond mere or simple sexual orientation, that it is precious (as all love is) to our God.

Read the book; review the questions; and God bless all who do so with honesty and caring.
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