Thursday, November 24, 2005

parshat Vayera: The Sin of Sodom

The sin of Sodom possibly included Sodomy. Chazal instead stress their cruelty to strangers and their inhospitality.

Why? Where did Chazal get this idea?

Certainly not from an attitude that all homosexual sex between two men only gives pleasure to the more active of the two. That is nonsense. It is nonsense of the type that Rabbis, excellent speakers all, would deliver from the pulpit (except for its slight New-Ageiness), but nonsense nonetheless.

Why nonsense? First show me that the Torah, in either the story of Sodom, or in the command against homosexuality, exhibits this attitude. Show me from the text. Give me text-internal evidence. Don't read back attitudes into the text. In general, people unwittingly read back their own attitudes into the text. Here, it is reading an attitude we don't ourselves hold but are positing, with no proof, that Chazal had.

If you want to understand what drove Chazal to this view, you need to closely examine the text. Do a close reading. Read the midrashim, and see what textual cues Chazal pick up on. Also, read the text in its broader context.

In the case of Sodom, there seem to be reasons on both the macro and micro level for concluding that Sodom's sin was its mistreatment of guests.

A. Goofus and Gallant
A macro-reason is as follows:
Angels came to Avraham in Elonei Mamrei, and the same angels came to Lot in Sodom. The episode in Sodom is related to, and is indeed part and parcel with the episode with Avraham. The angels were treated quite differently in Elonei Mamrei and in Sodom. Since the stories are juxtoposed, on a peshat level, the reader is supposed to contrast the two stories.

I like to say that Goofus and Gallant form a midrashic middah. Follow the link if you are unfamiliar with them, but they were a regular feature in the kids' magazine Highlights. Some common situation was presented (e.g. a classmate forgot his lunch), and Goofus misbehaves and fails at life, while Gallant is, well, gallant, and a goody-two-shoes, and succeeds.

Avraham is Gallant. See to what extremes he goes to give honor to his guests, and treat them like royalty. The midrash there expands upon the great lengths he goes to treat his guests right, but this is obvious even to the casual reader.

Compared with Avraham, Lot's treatment of the guests pales. One midrash picks up on this and compares the two. But forget Lot. Consider the treatment by the people of Sodom. The Sodomites are Goofus. Guests come, and they wish to rape and perhaps murder the guests. What kind of way is that to treat guests?!

This alone is sufficient to account for Chazal's zeroing in on this sin. It is obvious, and has nothing to do with sodomy.

B. Comparison with the concubine of Giveah
Another macro-reason
is comparison with the story of pilegesh beGiveah, starting in Shoftim 9:1. It makes no sense addressing the issue of Sodom without also referencing this story. There, a man comes with his concubine to Giveah, and the men there wish to "know" the man. The owner of the house refuses, and offers the concubine and his own daughter. He sends out the concubine, who is raped and murdered.

There are many many parallels between the two stories of Sodom and Giveah, even in details I did not mention above, as well as in choice of language. This was done consciously by the later author of Shoftim, because he saw the parallels between the two stories. There is also Biblical interpretation at play. Things that might have been interpreted one way if the story in Sodom stood alone are interpreted in a specific other way by the author of Shoftim, thus concretizing that one interpretation.

To give but one example: In Sodom, they want to "know" the man. This might mean "beat him up" or "murder him." Of course, the verb ידע is used on occassion in Tanach to denote sexual intercourse. But still, the verse says nothing explicitly. Lot offers his two virgin daughters. That seems to suggest that they want to "know" someone sexually. But perhaps this is just an attempt at a bribe, so that they will not harm his guest. After all, the Sodomites refuse. (Of course, perhaps one could say this is because they prefer men, and thus we have a third proof...) However, once we make the link to the concubine in Giveah, who the men take and indeed rape and kill, we get a specific interpretation of the actions of the Sodomites as well.

In Shoftim, there definitely is a lack of hospitality. They are compared unfavorably with the gentiles, who presumably would (or might) have treated guests more hospitably. Consider:

יא הֵם עִם-יְבוּס, וְהַיּוֹם רַד מְאֹד; וַיֹּאמֶר הַנַּעַר אֶל-אֲדֹנָיו, לְכָה-נָּא וְנָסוּרָה אֶל-עִיר-הַיְבוּסִי הַזֹּאת--וְנָלִין בָּהּ. 11 When they were by Jebus--the day was far spent--the servant said unto his master: 'Come, I pray thee, and let us turn aside into this city of the Jebusites, and lodge in it.'
יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲדֹנָיו, לֹא נָסוּר אֶל-עִיר נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵנָּה; וְעָבַרְנוּ, עַד-גִּבְעָה. 12 And his master said unto him: 'We will not turn aside into the city of a foreigner, that is not of the children of Israel; but we will pass over to Gibeah.'
יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְנַעֲרוֹ, לְךָ וְנִקְרְבָה בְּאַחַד הַמְּקֹמוֹת; וְלַנּוּ בַגִּבְעָה, אוֹ בָרָמָה. 13 And he said unto his servant: 'Come and let us draw near to one of these places; and we will lodge in Gibeah, or in Ramah.'
יד וַיַּעַבְרוּ, וַיֵּלֵכוּ; וַתָּבֹא לָהֶם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, אֵצֶל הַגִּבְעָה אֲשֶׁר לְבִנְיָמִן. 14 So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down upon them near to Gibeah, which belongeth to Benjamin.
טו וַיָּסֻרוּ שָׁם, לָבוֹא לָלוּן בַּגִּבְעָה; וַיָּבֹא, וַיֵּשֶׁב בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר, וְאֵין אִישׁ מְאַסֵּף-אוֹתָם הַבַּיְתָה, לָלוּן. 15 And they turned aside thither, to go in to lodge in Gibeah; and he went in, and sat him down in the broad place of the city; for there was no man that took them into his house to lodge.
Nobody took them in. They were left in the street. Talk about lack of hospitality.

That this is wrong is underscored by the exchange with the old man (who plays the part of Lot):

טז וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ זָקֵן, בָּא מִן-מַעֲשֵׂהוּ מִן-הַשָּׂדֶה בָּעֶרֶב, וְהָאִישׁ מֵהַר אֶפְרַיִם, וְהוּא-גָר בַּגִּבְעָה; וְאַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם, בְּנֵי יְמִינִי. 16 And, behold, there came an old man from his work out of the field at even; now the man was of the hill-country of Ephraim, and he sojourned in Gibeah; but the men of the place were Benjamites.
יז וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָאִישׁ הָאֹרֵחַ--בִּרְחֹב הָעִיר; וַיֹּאמֶר הָאִישׁ הַזָּקֵן אָנָה תֵלֵךְ, וּמֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא. 17 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the wayfaring man in the broad place of the city; and the old man said: 'Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?'
יח וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, עֹבְרִים אֲנַחְנוּ מִבֵּית-לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה עַד-יַרְכְּתֵי הַר-אֶפְרַיִם--מִשָּׁם אָנֹכִי, וָאֵלֵךְ עַד-בֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה; וְאֶת-בֵּית יְהוָה, אֲנִי הֹלֵךְ, וְאֵין אִישׁ, מְאַסֵּף אוֹתִי הַבָּיְתָה. 18 And he said unto him: 'We are passing from Beth-lehem in Judah unto the farther side of the hill-country of Ephraim; from thence am I, and I went to Beth-lehem in Judah, and I am now going to the house of the LORD; and there is no man that taketh me into his house.
And this is stressed again later, when the old man urges them not to stay out in the street. Lack of hospitality is a big deal in the story in Giveah, and it is present in the Sodom story as well, if you look closely enough. There is a parallel being made:

In Bereishit 19, Lot sees the angels, and they wish to stay in the street, and he urges them not to, perhaps suspecting what treatment they can expect at the hands of his fellow Sodomites:
א וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵי הַמַּלְאָכִים סְדֹמָה, בָּעֶרֶב, וְלוֹט, יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר-סְדֹם; וַיַּרְא-לוֹט וַיָּקָם לִקְרָאתָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה. 1 And the two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he fell down on his face to the earth;
ב וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּה נָּא-אֲדֹנַי, סוּרוּ נָא אֶל-בֵּית עַבְדְּכֶם וְלִינוּ וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם, וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּם, וַהֲלַכְתֶּם לְדַרְכְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי בָרְחוֹב נָלִין. 2 and he said: 'Behold now, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way.' And they said: 'Nay; but we will abide in the broad place all night.'
ג וַיִּפְצַר-בָּם מְאֹד--וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ. 3 And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
We may easily read the inhospitality of the residents of Giveah into the residents of Sodom, in that they would also not have invited the angels into their home, but would have left them in the street.

This is all on a macro-level, and it is all on the level of peshat.

C. The Protection Due A Guest
When someone comes under the shade of one's roof, etiquette, custom and morals all impose an obligation of ensuring that person's safety. Perhaps Lot's action of offering his virgin daughters (or the old man in Giveah's similar offer) was a bit extreme, but to focus on the unfairness to the daughters is to focus on the wrong point and thus miss the message of the narrative. Lot, like Avraham, accorded his guests with great honor and was willing to give up of his own house to ensure their safety.

Lot says:
ז וַיֹּאמַר: אַל-נָא אַחַי, תָּרֵעוּ. 7 And he said: 'I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly.
ח הִנֵּה-נָא לִי שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ אִישׁ--אוֹצִיאָה-נָּא אֶתְהֶן אֲלֵיכֶם, וַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶן כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם; רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל, אַל-תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר, כִּי-עַל-כֵּן בָּאוּ, בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.'
Note the statement רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל, אַל-תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר, כִּי-עַל-כֵּן בָּאוּ, בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי, "only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof." This is hospitality. And the Sodomites exhibit the opposite.

Lot's good treatment of his guests - paralleling that of Avraham - in verse 3: וַיִּפְצַר-בָּם מְאֹד--וַיָּסֻרוּ אֵלָיו, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה, וּמַצּוֹת אָפָה וַיֹּאכֵלוּ = "And he urged them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat" is to be compared with the immediately following action of "all the men of Sodom" who gathered outside his door.

D. The Sodomy Angle
Even if the Sodomites wished to sodomize the guests, this is not their sin. If sodomy were the issue, then there would be no need, from a narrative perspective, to attack Lot and his guests. They could engage in sodomy among themselves! The sodomy is the vehicle by which they wished to abuse guests to their town, and so the sin, on a peshat level, is the mistreatment of guests, not of homosexuality.

Compare with the sin of Onan, of masturbation, known as now as onanism. In Bereishit 38:7-10:
ז וַיְהִי, עֵר בְּכוֹר יְהוּדָה--רַע, בְּעֵינֵי ה; וַיְמִתֵהוּ, ה. 7 And Er, Judah's first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה לְאוֹנָן, בֹּא אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אָחִיךָ וְיַבֵּם אֹתָהּ; וְהָקֵם זֶרַע, לְאָחִיךָ. 8 And Judah said unto Onan: 'Go in unto thy brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her, and raise up seed to thy brother.'
ט וַיֵּדַע אוֹנָן, כִּי לֹּא לוֹ יִהְיֶה הַזָּרַע; וְהָיָה אִם-בָּא אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אָחִיו, וְשִׁחֵת אַרְצָה, לְבִלְתִּי נְתָן-זֶרַע, לְאָחִיו. 9 And Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it came to pass when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother.
י וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינֵי ה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיָּמֶת, גַּם-אֹתוֹ. 10 And the thing which he did was evil in the sight of the LORD; and He slew him also.
On a peshat level, the sin was not masturbation. It was depriving his brother of offspring within a levirate marriage. The way in which he accomplished this sin was via masturbation. Of course, midrashically, we can take this verse to mean that the sin was the masturbation alone. But not on a peshat level.

Similarly, the sin of Sodom might have involved Sodomy, but the real issue was that they would use this as a means of abusing visitors. (Perhaps this is similar to what the poster mentioned above was saying, but there is a world of difference.)

E. Other Verses In Tanach Referring to the Sin Of Sodom
Chazal would of course be congnizant of other verses in Tanach that identify the sin of Sodom. Thus Yechezkel 16:49-50, mentioned by commenter "Cosmic X" on that post on Maven Yavin:
מט הִנֵּה-זֶה הָיָה, עֲו‍ֹן סְדֹם אֲחוֹתֵךְ: גָּאוֹן שִׂבְעַת-לֶחֶם וְשַׁלְוַת הַשְׁקֵט, הָיָה לָהּ וְלִבְנוֹתֶיהָ, וְיַד-עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, לֹא הֶחֱזִיקָה. 49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fulness of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
נ וַתִּגְבְּהֶינָה, וַתַּעֲשֶׂינָה תוֹעֵבָה לְפָנָי; וָאָסִיר אֶתְהֶן, כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאִיתִי. {ס 50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. {S}

F. Close Readings of Individual Pesukim
Chazal also do close analysis of individual pesukim, something we have not focused on at all until now. Sometimes this will involve midrashic methods, and sometimes just a nuance of the text.

As one example of nuance, consider what happens when Lot goes out to reason with the men of Sodom:

ח הִנֵּה-נָא לִי שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ אִישׁ--אוֹצִיאָה-נָּא אֶתְהֶן אֲלֵיכֶם, וַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶן כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם; רַק לָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵל, אַל-תַּעֲשׂוּ דָבָר, כִּי-עַל-כֵּן בָּאוּ, בְּצֵל קֹרָתִי. 8 Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.'
ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ גֶּשׁ-הָלְאָה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֶחָד בָּא-לָגוּר וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפוֹט--עַתָּה, נָרַע לְךָ מֵהֶם; וַיִּפְצְרוּ בָאִישׁ בְּלוֹט מְאֹד, וַיִּגְּשׁוּ לִשְׁבֹּר הַדָּלֶת 9 And they said: 'Stand back.' And they said: 'This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs play the judge; now will we deal worse with thee, than with them.' And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and drew near to break the door.
In their attack on Lot's legitimacy, they ask how he can play the judge when he is only a
"sojourner." As a newcomer {he split from Avraham a few perakim back}, he has almost the same status as these strangers. Thus, they first make him a non-resident to deprive him of his voice, and then say they will deal with him worse than they will his guests. See how they treat foreigners!

This is all without appealing whatsoever to midrash. Close midrashic reading of pesukim will no doubt yield gems which will serve to bolster this existing theme.

And so, the question posed by ADDeRabbi:
if the problem with Sodom is complete lack of social welfare, why does the Torah virtually ignore that element and focus specifically on this act of sexual violence. It seems out of place.
is no question, and is in fact false. The Torah does not virtually ignore that element of "social welfare." Chazal just read the text a lot more closely, and accurately, than most modern readers do.


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