A sign at a recent rally protesting New York's 2011 Marriage Equality Act reads

Judaism considers male homosexuality a worse sin than murder

I imagine that this is a minority opinion, but does it have any support at all in Jewish thought?


3 Answers 3


I'd bet that sign was referencing the theoretical punishment that a Jewish court could have administered, during Temple times, under Jewish self-rule, when such events were exceedingly rare and shocking, and with overwhelming evidence:

Male-to-male sex is punishable by death by stoning.

Murder is punishable by decapitation.

The Talmud states that of those two methods of the death penalty, the former is more severe; hence, if a man raped and then murdered another man, we apply the more severe punishment, in this case stoning.

Trying to use the severity of forms of death penalty to determine what's "better than" or "worse than" in G-d's book is not so simple. Working on the Sabbath is also theoretically punishable by stoning, yet the Sabbath must be violated to save a life (whereas you can't murder someone to save a life). Similarly, Judaism allows the bystander to use lethal force if necessary to prevent an attempted rape or murder; but the bystander has no business using force to prevent consenting adults from doing whatever they want. (See Rambam, Laws of the Murderer & Preservation of Life, 1:10--11).

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    Hmm, somehow my answer yesterday didn't make it through. Anyway I was going to mention that Embarassment is compared to murder, and thus such a sign would be worse!
    – avi
    Commented Jul 26, 2011 at 13:24
  • I like your answer way better than mine. Just one point, a more severe punishment is at times in order to have forgiveness on this world. Commented Jul 26, 2011 at 19:12
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    Does this imply that a homosexual act between Jews is "worse than" the same act between non-Jews? (A Noachide court can only administer decapitation, not stoning.) Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 4:20
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    @Daniel, I don't know how we figure out the whole "worse than" thing. Presumably in general, more is expected of Jews. I don't think you can compare forms of death penalties from Jews to Noahides, as Noahides have no distinction. Decapitation is both the most severe and least severe for them; only Jews have this complex gradation with added nuance.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 13:31
  • And that because in ancient time, even death penalty is "not enough" The chinese also have death by a thousand cut and the rome has crucifixion. Not because they're not jewish, but because in ancient time government need stronger incentive to keep people inline.
    – user4951
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 2:48

Although one might think to conclude that homosexuality is worse than murder based on the specific punishments court can impose upon them (stoning for homosexuality and decapitation for murder), this simplistic understanding is not borne out upon further investigation. I know I shouldn't just quote on this site, but no one says it better than the Rambam himself:

(my translation of Rambam Hilchot Rotzeach 4:8-9)

8: One who kills someone and there were not two witnesses who saw it together, rather they saw him individually, or alternatively he killed without being given warning, or the witnesses failed the interrogatory checks of the court: all these murderers are placed in a room and fed plain bread and water until their stomachs shrink whereupon they are fed barley until their stomachs break and they die.

9: We do not do this to the rest of those obligated in the death penalty. Rather, if they are obligated in the death penalty -- they are killed, and if not -- not. For even if there are sins which have stricter punishments than murder, they do not have the aspect of the destruction of society [lit: world] like murder. Even idolatry and illicit sexual relationships and the desecration of the Sabbath are not like murder for they are between man and God; murder, however, is between man and his fellow man. Anyone who has this sin in his hands is Definitely Evil. Even all the mitzvot he did his whole life will not counterbalance this sin to save him from punishment...

Consider also the Rambam in Hilchot Rotzeach 1:4 (again my translation):

4: ...And there is nothing the Torah was so particular about as much as murder, as it says (Numbers 35:33): And do not pollute the land...for the [spilling of] blood will pollute the land...

The Talmud itself actually rejects the notion of working just with statutory punishments to determine "worse"-ness. In deriving the permission to violate Shabbat to save a life, the Talmud (Yoma 85a) reasons (my summary): if one is allowed to murder a home-intruder (which is such a terrible sin that it defiles the land and causes the Shekhina to depart from the Jewish people) because he might kill someone, all the more so you can violate Shabbat (which isn't as strict) because of the possibility of potential death.

It is clear from here that the Talmud views murder as "worse" than violating Shabbat, even though the former's punishment is decapitation (roughly, the "3rd-to-most severe" form of capital punishment) while the latter's is stoning (roughly, the "most severe" form of capital punishment).

So it seems the sign holder didn't really know what he was talking about.

  • sometimes onesh and worse-ness are not connected . The rambam in regards to intermarriage says its worse than biah b'issur with a yisraelis despite more lavin with a Jewess ie. Nida kideshus znus. Bc with a goya your losing the zera forever to the Jewish people. Seems pan- halachic values play a part in deciding worseness Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 6:56
  • @Mefaresh " The rambam in regards to intermarriage says its worse than biah b'issur with a yisraelis" he does?
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 6:55
  • @mevaqesh Probably referring to mechon-mamre.org/i/5112.htm#7
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 22:25

It's is not so simple to compare sins or to measure which is worse than what, they are both very terrible, you shouldn't do any of both.

anyone saying that it is or isn't should prove it. (another question would be what kind of proof). without proof just dismiss.

in any case the problem with homosexual male activities is not only of wasted seed. the act itself is toeva.

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    Just to be clear on the usage of the term "toeva - abomination", a term which is often thrown around by the anti-same-sex-marriage crowd to indicate that this sin is much greater than others, it is a term which is used over 100 other times in the Torah referencing things from non-kosher food to blemished sacrifices. I have never seen anyone protesting outside of McDonalds...
    – Adam Simon
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 14:53
  • To be clear, I am not coming to equate these, or any, issurim, but rather trying to put things in the proper context and make sure we are all honest in our proofs and usage of Torah sources.
    – Adam Simon
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 14:55
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    @AdamSimon While we're keeping each other honest, words with the root ת.ע.ב. appear in the Torah only 31 times many of which are duplicates (eg. Deu 18:12) or not referring to specific sins (eg. Gen 46:34). Note also that neither eating non-shechted cow meat nor eating meat with milk is on that list, so I don't see why you bring McDonalds as an example. Finally as you well know non-Jews are not obligated in various laws of kosher which might be toeva to Jews, but they are in various laws of sexual conduct. I'm all for putting things in context, but I insist it be the actual context.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 17:58
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    @AdamSimon I don't see why you would distinguish to which group it is a Toeva for, but I agree it isn't 100% clear. If you think that Toeva-ness applies to non-Jews as well then I don't see why you would expect protest outside of Red Lobster, especially when non-Jews are not obligated in laws of kashrut! If you think it only applies to Jews then all the the more so no one should protest outside of Red Lobster in a country of Rov non-Jews. So again, your point is weak (and inflated by at least 70 imaginary uses of the word).
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 18:56
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    @adam The reason the Right-wing anti-treif brigade doesn't exist is because there isn't a movement trying to reconcile orthodoxy with McDonald's Cheeseburgers as there is by homosexuality ... Commented May 21, 2017 at 3:30

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