Leviticus 18:1-30: Sexual Conduct

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon

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At first glance, this appears to be an odd selection for the Day of Atonement.  There are a number of explanations for the choice of Leviticus 18, the underlying message of the portion is holiness, which is also what we try to achieve on Yom Kippur. A second reason is that the portion is simply a chronological continuation of the morning’s reading.  A third reason has to do with an ancient Israelite custom. Apparently, Yom Kippur afternoon was a time when young adults would go into the vineyards, seeking a potential spouse. Leviticus 18 served as a reminder of ethical sexual behavior, tying in the sanctity of marriage, behavior and Yom Kippur.

This English translation is reprinted with permission from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures published by the Jewish Publication Society.

18:1.         The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

18:2.         Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the LORD am your God.

18:3.         You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.

18:4.         My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the LORD am your God.

18:5.         You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD.

18:6.         None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD.

18:7.         Your father’s nakedness, that is, the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover; she is your mother-you shall not uncover her nakedness.

18:8.         Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is the nakedness of your father.

18:9.         The nakedness of your sister-your father’s daughter or your mother’s, whether born into the household or outside-do not uncover their nakedness.

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At first glance, this appears to be an odd selection for the Day of Atonement.  There are a number of explanations for the choice of Leviticus 18, the underlying message of the portion is holiness, which is also what we try to achieve on Yom Kippur. A second reason is that the portion is simply a chronological continuation of the morning’s reading.  A third reason has to do with an ancient Israelite custom. Apparently, Yom Kippur afternoon was a time when young adults would go into the vineyards, seeking a potential spouse. Leviticus 18 served as a reminder of ethical sexual behavior, tying in the sanctity of marriage, behavior and Yom Kippur.

This English translation is reprinted with permission from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures published by the Jewish Publication Society.

18:1.         The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

18:2.         Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the LORD am your God.

18:3.         You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.

18:4.         My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the LORD am your God.

18:5.         You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD.

18:6.         None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD.

18:7.         Your father’s nakedness, that is, the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover; she is your mother-you shall not uncover her nakedness.

18:8.         Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is the nakedness of your father.

18:9.         The nakedness of your sister-your father’s daughter or your mother’s, whether born into the household or outside-do not uncover their nakedness.

18:10.     The nakedness of your son’s daughter, or of your daughter’s daughter-do not uncover their nakedness; for their nakedness is yours.

18:11.     The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, who was born into your father’s household- she is your sister; do not uncover her nakedness.

18:12.     Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh.

18:13.     Do not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister; for she is your mother’s flesh.

18:14.     Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother: do not approach his wife; she is your aunt.

18:15.     Do not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law: she is your son’s wife; you shall not uncover her nakedness.

18:16.     Do not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is the nakedness of your brother.

18:17.     Do not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; nor shall you marry her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter and uncover her nakedness: they are kindred; it is depravity.

18:18.     Do not marry a woman as a rival to her sister and uncover her nakedness in the other’s lifetime.

18:19.     Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness to uncover her nakedness.

18:20.     Do not have carnal relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her.

18:21.     Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech, and do not profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

18:22.     Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.

18:23.     Do not have carnal relations with any beast and defile yourself thereby; and let no woman lend herself to a beast to mate with it; it is perversion.

18:24.     Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for it is by such that the nations which I am casting out before you defiled themselves.

18:25.     Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.

18:26.     But you must keep My laws and My rules, and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you;

18:27.     for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and the land became defiled.

18:28.     So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.

18:29.     All who do any of those abhorrent things-such persons shall be cut off from their people.

18:30.     You shall keep My charge not to engage in any of the abhorrent practices that were carried on before you, and you shall not defile yourselves through them: I the LORD am your God.

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