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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