Leviticus 18


וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר   18:1

Levi. 18:1  And the Lord spoke to Moses saying,

דַּבֵּר אֶלבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם   18:2

Levi. 18:2  “Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them, ‘I am the Lord, your God.’”

In this verse we see that the Lord may be giving Moses permission to speak with His “voice.”  I’m not sure that anyone else in the bible received that permission explicitly, but I don’t think so.  Everywhere else in the bible I attribute the expression “I am the Lord, your God” to be “spoken” by God.  However, it’s possible that the Lord was telling Moses to simply state Whom he was speaking for.  In other words, the set of internal single quotes may be inaccurate.

On another note, in this verse God tells Moses to speak to the children of Israel and say to them, ....  It is clear that He means for Moses to talk to the individuals of the Israel congregation.  And He uses a plural pronoun to refer to those who will hear His words -- them.  Recall my theory of number for second-person pronouns -- namely that the whole community is addressed in the singular while individuals within the community are addressed in the plural.  In this chapter, the opposite is true.  Because Moses will be speaking to the individuals, I would expect him to use plural second-person pronouns consistently, but much of the time he uses singular pronouns, although nine exceptions to this can be found (see if you can identify them).  Still, most of this chapter seems to contradict my theory.  There are other examples of this in the bible, but not almost an entire chapter (however, see what I say about Chapter 19).  Nevertheless, I believe my theory is still valid in a general sense.  Throughout most of the rest of the Torah the times when Moses addresses individuals in the community, he uses plural pronouns.

כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם    18:3

שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ

Levi. 18:3  “You shall not do like the pursuit of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled, and you shall not do like the pursuit of the land of Canaan where I will be bringing you, and you shall not go with their customs.”

Notice how the Lord introduces the prohibitions contained in this chapter with this verse.  He explains that the practices He prohibits are the pagan pursuits of the Egyptians and the Canaanites.  It is not clear, however, whether these pursuits were worship rituals in their temples or simply common and typical practices, customs, of those peoples.  If indeed they were part of their worship rituals (and thus justified as common practices), most of the remaining verses in this chapter may be prohibiting the same rituals.  If they were instead common practices of the people independent of their rituals, then the prohibitions of this chapter apply to Jewish life in general.  Judging by the last phrase in this verse, it would seem that at least part of these prohibitions do pertain to their customs.

אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם   18:4

Levi. 18:4  “You shall observe My ordinances, and you shall keep My statutes, to walk in them.”

                                                             “I am the Lord, your God.”

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה   18:5

Levi. 18:5  “So you will observe My statutes and My ordinances.  The person who will perform them, then through them, he shall live.”

                                                                        “I am the Lord.”

אִישׁ אִישׁ אֶל־כָּל־שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרֹו לֹא תִקְרְבוּ לְגַלֹּות עֶרְוָה אֲנִי יְהוָה   18:6

Levi. 18:6  “No person of you shall approach to any of his close kin to uncover nakedness.”

                                                                         “I am the Lord.”

Just as v. 18:3 was an introduction to the remainder of this chapter, so this verse seems to introduce the next ten verses (to v. 18:16).  In v. 18:3, that introduction explained the remaining verses.  Here, the next ten verses seem to build and expand on this verse.  However, there is some question in my mind as to whether the traditional interpretation of this verse is correct.  Most other translations agree with mine, for the most part.  Some introduce a pronoun that is not present in the Hebrew, making the verse say “... to uncover their nakedness.”  Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that the phrase in question could just as correctly be interpreted as either revealing the near kin’s nakedness or the person’s own nakedness.  In the latter case, the verse would not be introductory to the next ten verses.  It would stand by itself as an additional commandment.  To paraphrase, the first part of the verse could then be “You shall not approach to reveal your nakedness to any of your near kin.”  I don’t believe anyone can say with assurance which interpretation is the more accurate one.  Perhaps it makes no substantial difference which interpretation is more accurate. The outcome as far as prohibited actions are concerned is not very different.  These verses appear to relate to sexual promiscuity in any case where the nakedness of both parties is anticipated.  It simply reveals whether or not one more commandment gets added to the list.  For now, I am respecting the traditional view, and take this verse as introductory to the next ten.

עֶרְוַת אָבִיךָ וְעֶרְוַת אִמְּךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אִמְּךָ הִוא לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָהּ   18:7

Levi. 18:7  “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother.  She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

Up until this verse, the number of the second-person pronouns (you and your) have been plural.  Starting here, the scribe switches to singular for individuals foir the rest of this chapter..

עֶרְוַת אֵשֶׁת־אָבִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה עֶרְוַת אָבִיךָ הִוא   18:8

Levi. 18:8  “You shall not uncover the nakedness of the wife of your father; it is the nakedness of your father.”

Some commentators take the woman referred to in this verse to be the same mother as in the previous verse, but after the father has died.  I go along with other commentators who believe she is a stepmother.  After all, your mother is still your mother even after the passing of your father.  Besides, the verse before this speaks quite plainly about one’s mother.  Why would one’s mother be spoken of again here?

עֶרְוַת אֲחֹותְךָ בַת־אָבִיךָ אֹו בַת־אִמֶּךָ מֹולֶדֶת בַּיִת אֹו מֹולֶדֶת חוּץ לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָן   18:9

Levi. 18:9  “The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, born at home or born abroad, you shall not uncover their nakedness.”

עֶרְוַת בַּת־בִּנְךָ אֹו בַת־בִּתְּךָ לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָן כִּי עֶרְוָתְךָ הֵנָּה   18:10

Levi. 18:10   “The nakedness of the daughter of your son, or the daughter of your daughter, you shall not uncover their nakedness, for theirs is your nakedness.”

עֶרְוַת בַּת־אֵשֶׁת אָבִיךָ מֹולֶדֶת אָבִיךָ אֲחֹותְךָ הִוא לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָהּ   18:11

Levi. 18:11   “The nakedness of the daughter of the wife of your father begotten of your father, your sister is she; you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

עֶרְוַת אֲחֹות־אָבִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה שְׁאֵר אָבִיךָ הִוא   18:12

Levi. 18:12   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of the sister of your father; she is a near kinswoman of your father.”

עֶרְוַת אֲחֹות־אִמְּךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה כִּי־שְׁאֵר אִמְּךָ הִוא   18:13

Levi. 18:13   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of the sister of your mother, for she is a near kinswoman of your mother.”

עֶרְוַת אֲחִי־אָבִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אֶל־אִשְׁתֹּו לֹא תִקְרָב דֹּדָתְךָ הִוא   18:14

Levi. 18:14   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of the brother of your father; you shall not come near to his wife; she is your aunt.”

The first part of this verse does not yield a new commandment.  It is subsumed by Commandment 209 below.

עֶרְוַת כַּלָּתְךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אֵשֶׁת בִּנְךָ הִוא לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָהּ   18:15

Levi. 18:15   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is the wife of your son; you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

עֶרְוַת אֵשֶׁת־אָחִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה עֶרְוַת אָחִיךָ הִוא   18:16

Levi. 18:16   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of the wife of your brother; it is the nakedness of your brother.”

עֶרְוַת אִשָּׁה וּבִתָּהּ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אֶת־בַּת־בְּנָהּ וְאֶת־בַּת־בִּתָּהּ לֹא תִקַּח לְגַלֹּות עֶרְוָתָהּ שַׁאֲרָה הֵנָּה   18:17

זִמָּה הִוא

Levi. 18:17   “You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; the daughter of her son, or the daughter of her daughter, you shall not take to uncover her nakedness; they are near kinswomen.  It is lewdness.”

וְאִשָּׁה אֶל־אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלֹּות עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּיהָ   18:18

Levi. 18:18   “And you shall not take a woman to her sister to uncover her nakedness beside her in her lifetime to bring distress.”                                           [Return to Gene. 29:28]

וְאֶל־אִשָּׁה בְּנִדַּת טֻמְאָתָהּ לֹא תִקְרַב לְגַלֹּות עֶרְוָתָהּ   18:19

Levi. 18:19   “And you shall not come near to a woman in the impurity of her uncleanness to uncover her nakedness.”

וְאֶל־אֵשֶׁת עֲמִיתְךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן שְׁכָבְתְּךָ לְזָרַע לְטָמְאָה־בָהּ   18:20

Levi. 18:20   “And you shall not yield your discharge for seed to the wife of your neighbor, to be defiled with her.”

וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת־שֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה   18:21

Levi. 18:21   “And you shall not give from your seed to dedicate to Molech, and you shall not profane the name of your God.”

                                                                        “I am the Lord.”

Molech was a god of the Ammonites and Phoenicians to whom children were sacrificed by being thrown into flames.  This verse lends credence to the supposition that all the acts in this chapter may be prohibited as acts of worship to pagan gods.  Nevertheless, the sages had prohibited them in general.

More to the point of this verse, it and four others (Levi. 20:2, 3, 4, and 5) that repeat this prohibition using much the same words, form one of the bases for the prohibition against masturbation.  But I must admit, at first I was a bit confused.  I wondered, how could the ancients have known that the male ejaculate contained seed?  Without a microscope seed (sperm) is not detectable.  Actually, almost everywhere the word for seed is used in the bible, it means descendants (see Levi. 19:20 for an exception).  More uncertainty:  Semen ejaculate is referred to as discharge above in v. 18:20 and below in v. 18:23.  Then shouldn’t it be referred to in the same way in this verse, if it means male ejaculate?  So what are we to make of all this confusion?  Is masturbation prohibited by this verse?  Well, I’m not sure and I believe no one else should be either.  This verse and the others introduce too much ambiguity to make any conclusion assured.  When I encounter such ambiguity elsewhere in the bible, I am inclined to understand that any and all the possible interpretations could be correct.  So I provide for all the possibilities.  Thus I could conclude that the prohibition of masturbation is one of the two possible interpretations of this verse.  The other is that no Jew may feed his children into the fire for Molech.  But I have trouble in following my philosophy in this case, especially when I include 2Kin. 23:10 in the discussion.  On my companion site I make a pretty thorough argument for the latter interpretation, which is the one I accept.  And that is the choice I make for the commandment derived from this verse.                          [Return to 2Kin. 23:10]

I have to add that for numerous bible scholars, Gene. 38:9 is the verse that prohibits masturbation.  It is the story of Onan, who refused to obey the commandment to impregnate the childless widow of his older brother.  As a result he died prematurely, as his older brother had.  See my remarks about that verse.

                                                                                                 [Return to Deut. 18:10]

וְאֶת־זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תֹּועֵבָה הִוא   18:22

Levi. 18:22   “And you shall not lie down as the lyings down of a woman with a male.  It is an abomination.”

I have a lot to say about this commandment.  In fact, an entire diatribe.    more>>

וּבְכָל־בְּהֵמָה לֹא־תִתֵּן שְׁכָבְתְּךָ לְטָמְאָה־בָהּ וְאִשָּׁה לֹא־תַעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי בְהֵמָה לְרִבְעָהּ תֶּבֶל הוּא   18:23

Levi. 18:23   “And you shall not yield your discharge with any beast, to be defiled by it.  And a woman shall not raise up before a beast to be stretched out.  It is unnatural.”

אַל־תִּטַּמְּאוּ בְּכָל־אֵלֶּה כִּי בְכָל־אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגֹּויִם אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם   18:24

Levi. 18:24   “You shall not be defiled in any of these things, for the nations that I will be casting out before you defile themselves in all these things.”

With this verse, the scribe returns to plural second-person pronouns for individuals.

וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת־יֹשְׁבֶיהָ   18:25

Levi. 18:25   “And the land is defiled, so I will visit its iniquity on it, and the land will vomit up its inhabitants.”

The second and third vav prefixes in this verse are non-inverting.  The former vav is before a first person imperfect verb, and the latter is before a consequence of the first verb.  As far as I can tell, all other translations treat these vavs as inverting, which makes the translation come out in the past tense something like “And the land was defiled, so I visited this iniquity on it, and the land vomited up its inhabitants.”  This cannot be right, as the inhabitants have not yet been evicted from the land.  That won’t happen in Canaan for at least thirty-eight more years.  And it will be a long time before it happens in Egypt.

What is equally or more important is the idea that the iniquity of a people defiles its land.  Not only is a people defiled by the acts of its members.  The land in which they live is also defiled.  When the land is defiled, the people can expect to be vomited up by it.  Therefore we have to be watchful of what the land can except without being defiled.

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מִכֹּל הַתֹּועֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר   18:26


Levi. 18:26   “Therefore you shall keep My statutes and My ordinances and not do any of these abominations, the home-born, and the stranger sojourning among you,

כִּי אֶת־כָּל־הַתֹּועֵבֹת הָאֵל עָשׂוּ אַנְשֵׁי־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ   18:27

Levi. 18:27   for the people of the land who were before you had done all these abominations, and the land was defiled,

וְלֹא־תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת־הַגֹּוי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם   18:28

Levi. 18:28   so the land will not vomit you up by your defiling it, as it vomits up the nation that is before you.”

כִּי כָּל־אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה מִכֹּל הַתֹּועֵבֹות הָאֵלֶּה וְנִכְרְתוּ הַנְּפָשֹׁות הָעֹשֹׂת מִקֶּרֶב עַםָּם   18:29

Levi. 18:29   “For anyone who will do any of these abominations, then the souls of those who do shall be cut off from among their people.”

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־מִשְׁמַרְתִּי לְבִלְתִּי עֲשֹׂות מֵחֻקֹּות הַתֹּועֵבֹת אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשׂוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאו בָּהֶם    18:30

אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

Levi. 18:30   “So you shall keep My charge to not do any of the abominable customs that were done before you, and shall not be defiled by them.”

                                                              “I am the Lord, your God.”         [Return to rubincmds.org]

Have you noticed that there is a glaringly startling omission in this chapter?  Of all the relatives with whom sexual relations are prohibited, there is no mention of one’s daughter.  The sages have noticed this.  In fact they manufactured a commandment to correct this omission.  Maimonides included commandment 193 (Not to have sexual relations with your daughter) and attributed it to Levi. 18:10  in his enumeration of the Torah commandments Yet that verse mentions only a son’s or a daughter’s daughter; in other words, only a granddaughter.

Torah Commandments in this Chapter

194. You shall not have sexual relations with your father or mother.    V. 18:7

195. You shall not have sexual relations with your stepmother.   V. 18:8

196. You shall not have sexual relations with your sister.    V. 18:9

197. You shall not have sexual relations with your granddaughter.    V. 18:10

198. You shall not have sexual relations with your half- or stepsister.    V. 18:11

199. You shall not have sexual relations with your father's sister.    V. 18:12

200. You shall not have sexual relations with your mother's sister.    V. 18:13

201. You shall not have sexual relations with the wife of your father's

         brother..    V. 18:14

202. You shall not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law.    V. 18:15

203. You shall not have sexual relations with your sister-in-law.    V. 18:16

204. You shall not have sexual relations with a woman together

        with her daughter or her granddaughter.    V. 18:17

205. You shall not have sexual relations with a woman

         together with her sister.    V. 18:18

206. You shall not have sexual relations with a woman

        who is in her menstrual uncleanness.   V. 18:19

207. You shall not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife.    V. 18:20

208. You shall not dedicate any of your children to Molech.    V. 18:21

209. A man shall not have sexual relations with another man.    V. 18:22

210. No man or woman shall have sexual relations with an animal.    V. 18:23


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