Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The real sin of Sodom

If one actually pays attention to Chazal, one might conclude that the long tradition of equating the sins of Sodom to sexual depravity is not warranted and probably unfair to the sexually depraved. Rashi, for instance, in glossing this parshah, refers, instead of homosexual practices, to the death through torture of a maid who gave charity to a beggar. Avot 5:13, in delineating a character trait which "some say is the character of Sodom," focuses on materialistic thinking and not sexuality ("he who says what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours". Ezekiel describes "Sodom and her daughters", as haughty, rich, idle, and totally lacking in charity, with sexual immorality thrown in as a undetailed afterthought (if it is mentioned at all--we would be presuming that the prophet in fact meant sexual immorality when he used the term "abominations", and not one of the other types of behavior to which Scripture applies that term). Rabbinic tradition, filling in the details of Ezekiel's condemnation, shows us a society in which justice was routinely perverted--in fact, where normal "justice" was perverse--and philanthropy not merely lacking but against the law (as the case of the maid whom Rashi mentions illustrates), and to be a stranger, an outsider, was ipso facto a crime.. Someone beat you up? Then they get to charge you a medical fee because they drew blood. The caution which Lot uses to keep his hospitality secret is easily understandable if one keeps these traditions in mind. Less understandable is why the Sodomites allowed Lot to settle among them. Perhaps because he had many possessions, and could keep up with them in the practice of proud idleness. The parshah begins with Abraham's hospitality, and continues with his pleas to spare the Cities of the Plain: the very virtues of concern for one's fellow human being which Sodom was so woefully lacking.

Pride, greed, overemphasis on material goods, turning justice upside down and inside out, disdain of the poor and the weak, intolerance of those who are alien in language or culture, refusal to concern oneself with the good of one's fellow human beings--these were the sins of Sodom, the depravities for which He Who Judges in Truth condemned it. (I will leave it to the reader to determine how far the parallels apply to contemporary America and Israel.) Sexual immorality gets barely a nod, and homosexuality is mentioned in the Scriptural narrative only to point out the other sins of the Sodomites. They planned homosexual rape not primarily as a means of sexual gratification but as a tool of dominance. They wanted to rape Lot's guests for the same reason that the strong rape the weak in prison--to show who was the boss.

And when the Judge of All the World does call up the case of Universe v. Sodom for trial, Scripture attributes to Him the behaviors which mark the character that is the anti-type of Sodom. He is not proud: He goes Himself to see what the facts of the case are, and allows Abraham his chance to plead for the doomed cities. He does not rush to judgment based on hearsay and the opinions imbibed from others; as he did with the Tower of Babel, He goes Himself to see what the facts of the case are. He does condemn an entire group, but judges them as individuals, taking care to bring out Lot and his family before the destruction begins. It is the fault of the Sodomites that only Lot and his daughters survive: Abraham whittled down the saving remnant to a mere handful, but still Sodom could not produce enough to fill up even that small quota. He tolerates the sins of Sodom to the point that it becomes clear to everyone but the people of Sodom themselves not merely why Sodom is condemned but why it must be condemned as antithetical to everything a truly civilized society should be.

Turn from the time of Abraham Avinu to the time of Chaim Qoton. This week, if the plans of the human planners are allowed to work, the so-called Gay Pride Parade will be taking place in Jerusalem. Superficially, at least, it is the religious who are intolerant, who are (in some instances) offering violence as punishment for the affront of not thinking and acting as they think. The world looks on, and treats the fact that the lifestyle and acts of the paraders are moral and rational. Indeed, by the values of the world, they are moral and rational, and it is the religious who are immoral and irrational. It so happens that the values taught by the world and the values taught by the Torah differ rather radically at this point, and there are many who try to soothe the conflict into nothingness, who try to reconcile the one with the other and make the values taught by the Torah conform to the values taught by the world. I would say such people should not call themselves Jews: or at least, should not call themselves believers in the Torah.

We must accept the fact that the values of the world and the values of the Torah are fundamentally different, and because we are Jews, we choose (or at least, we ought to choose) to fit our values and judgments and actions on the values of the Torah and not those of the world. The values of the Torah are those that G-d wishes us to have. The values of the world are those that other humans have worked out. Often the two do not conflict, but sometimes they do conflict, and one must choose between what G-d teaches and what men teach. To believe in the Torah is, by definition, to choose in such cases to follow what G-d teaches. And in the case of homosexuality and other sexual lifestyles and practices, the Torah says rather clearly, in places other than this parshah, that they are wrong; and if the world say they are right, then the world itself is wrong.

The reason why the Torah prohibits homosexuality and similar things is because they are perversions and misuses of the sexual impulse. The world defines the purpose of sexuality as pleasure, with reproduction an accidental product that can be aborted if the pleasure seeker does not want to be bothered with the results of reproduction. The Torah defines the purpose of sexuality as reproduction, with pleasure a secondary goal. In the context of a union which is seeking to produce a new generation of humans, pleasure is fine. We may note that Abraham and Sarah apparently were enjoying themselves that way even during the time when both believed Sarah unable to have children. But some sexual acts with no possibility of healthy reproduction. That is why all the forbidden unions and practices are forbidden--because they can only result in pleasure, and not in reproduction (or at least, not in reproduction that will yield healthy children raised in a stable household). With most other sexual mispractices, reproduction, albeit of an unhealthy kind (physically and/or emotionally unhealthy) , is a possibility. With homosexuality, it is biologically impossible. It can only be done for the sake of pleasure. It is (with bestiality, condemned almost in the same breath by the Torah) the most obvious denial of the reproductive purpose and the most obvious affirmation of the pleasure purpose. We may perceive different reasons why some people are born with a sexuality that focuses on their own gender, and why G-d created them that way, and what purpose He has in such cases. But being born with such a sexuality is no excuse for putting it into action. Homosexual sex is sex for the sake of pleasure, and wrong just as any other sexual act done only for the sake of pleasure--adultery, bestiality, incest, and the rest--is wrong. (For an different but interesting take on this matter, read a post from ADDerabbi from a year ago, see here:

The world refuses to accept this: the world and the paraders are intolerant of what the Torah teaches on this point. We must face the fact that is they who are the intolerant ones. It is they who thrust themselves forward, who act proudly and greedily, who look down on those who do not agree with them, who scorn the teachings of the Torah and those who follow those teaches, who seek to invert the accepted social norms. It is they who, by demanding that everyone else accept their view, are intolerant. And so they repeat the fundamental sin of Sodom, albeit not in the way that most people think.


yitz.. said...

there are a couple of typos, most notably: who scorn the teachings of the Torah and those who follow those teaches, who seek to invert the accepted social norms. In the last paragraph.

Jack's Shack said...

Just shaking my head.

oswald czolgosz said...

No different than the reason for the mabul, according to Rashi. Same thing - theft.

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