No, Biblical Prohibitions on Incest Are Not about “Sexual Property”

Leviticus 18 and 20—read in synagogues last Sabbath and the upcoming one, respectively—contain near-identical lists of forbidden relationships. Most verses in these chapters refer to these forbidden acts as “uncovering nakedness,” e.g., “Do not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is the nakedness of your father” (18:8). According to the late French Bible scholar Guillaume Cardascia, and other contemporary academic biblicists, these prohibitions stem from a notion of a man’s control over his female relatives; transgression of these laws thus constitutes a violation of his property rights. Eve Levavi Feinstein explains, and dismantles, this argument:

[These] scholars have argued that ownership of a woman’s sexuality is at the core of Leviticus 18’s explanation for the various prohibitions against [sex with relatives by marriage]. A man’s father’s wife is prohibited because her “nakedness” is “the nakedness of [his] father,” which they interpret to mean that she is prohibited because she is the man’s father’s sexual property. The prohibitions on sex with other relatives by marriage—a man’s brother’s wife, father’s brother’s wife, and so on—are expressed in relation to the man. . . .

This argument, however, is fallacious. Concern about violating other men’s sexual property is the basis for the law against adultery, which appears in both lists. The prohibitions on the wives of relatives cannot simply be cases of adultery, as this would be redundant. . . .

In fact, the phrase “it is the nakedness of your father” does not mean that your father’s wife is his sexual property. This is clear from the use of the same terminology to explain the prohibition on sex with granddaughters: “because their nakedness is yours.” A man’s granddaughter is not prohibited in spite of the fact that her nakedness is his own nakedness. [as Cardascia et al. argue] but because of it. This would be inconceivable if “your nakedness” referred to sexual property.

A more fitting interpretation of “nakedness” is as a metaphor for a particular type of familial relationship. A blood relation is described as one’s “flesh”; for example, a man’s father’s sister is forbidden because “she is your father’s flesh” (Leviticus 18:12). A spouse, on the other hand, is described as one’s “nakedness.” . . . A man’s mother’s nakedness is both his father’s and her own, and she is prohibited for both reasons.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Hebrew Bible, Leviticus, Religion & Holidays, Sexual ethics

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy