What Was the Crime of the Sodomites?
"And the people of Sodom were wicked and sinful toward haShem, exceedingly."
This verse seems parenthetical to the story being told, the narrative of the physical separation of the assets of Avraham and his nephew, Lot. Lot chooses to graze his flocks in the very fertile plain of the southern Jordan valley, surrounding Sodom and another four towns, leaving Abraham in the rugged terrain of the mountains.
What was the Sodomites' sin?
Other than the general description in this verse, the Torah leaves us in the dark. However a fuller background is related to us by various allegories in the Talmud and the Midrash.
Most people associate Sodom and Gomorrah with sexual licentiousness -- the English word sodomy has come to us from name of this sinful place.
But I believe their evildoing was largely something else. Though our sources do mention sexual immorality being prevalent in the region, it provides us with no specific examples. No, their iniquity is primarily from another quarter. It is a combination of racism, xenophobia, and perhaps jingoism. No one of these words precisely describes the Sodomite experience. Xenophobia is the fear of anything foreign, but in Sodom we are talking about the fear of anything foreign interrupting or usurping a perfect existence.
"So Lot raised his eyes and saw the entire plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere . . . like the garden of haShem, like the land of Egypt . . . ."
To describe the fertility of this part of the world, the Torah mentions two other, very different, though ideal locations, both noted for their fecundity. The first, the Garden of Eden, Paradise, was watered by four rivers. Here the Lord himself planted and cultivated every possible tree, vegetable and grain. Here everything seemed to grow by itself to perfection. Without human intervention.
And the second, Egypt, the land watered by the Nile. Alluvial soil washes down the river to form a floodplain. The Egyptians don't have to pray to God for rain -- the water always comes, unbroken, all year long, every year. Just dig a canal from the river to irrigate your field.
And so it was in the Jordan Valley. The river flowed continuously, all year around, watering the fertile plain. The populace had no need for God, no need for prayer and no need for His codes of morality. They grew the most delicious fruit and vegetables in the world, grazed the fattest sheep on earth.
The Torah tells us they called the plain Emek haSiddim. In a play on words, the Midrash interprets this as the Valley of the Fields, so-called because the five towns, of which Sodom and Gomorrah were the most prominent, were surrounded by many fields, growing all sorts of plants, and providing abundant grass for grazing.
Of what were the people of the plain guilty? Their culpability lay in the fact that they wanted to retain this paradise for themselves, to the exclusion of all others, all outsiders.
Why was the cities' fate sealed at this time? The Torah relates that when the angels arrived to the city, they found Lot "was now sitting at the gate of Sodom". Throughout the Bible, "sitting at the gate" is a code word for judgment (cf. Boaz, Mordechai). Traditionally, in this part of the world, courts of law met at the city gate. Lot had just "now" been appointed the chief justice of Sodom.
Lot was a complicated, almost schizophrenic, character. Abraham was Lot's foster father, his own father, Haran, having died when he was a small child. He spent many years in Abraham's house, exposed to Abraham's ethical and moral lifestyle, especially his renowned hospitality. So Lot saw righteousness and uprightness from an early age. But as he became independently wealthy, the good life started to take precedence, effecting his behaviour. Theft by his employees no longer bothered him.
He relocated to the plain, and eventually to the city of Sodom itself. Here he was exposed to further affluence, easy money, and to negative influences.
Sodom's statute books contained many evil laws, designed to keep foreigners away and to maintain a high living standard. But because they were not an overly moral lot, they would bend the rules when it suited them, especially if their palms were appropriately greased. So the full force of the law was not always applied.
But now, with the "righteous" Lot at the helm of the justice system, rules were rules and could never be broken, for any reason whatsoever. Enforcement was absolute, without mercy. So "criminals" were all punished to the full letter of the law.
And what were the laws of Sodom? They were formulated to do everything possible to "discourage" tourists, who may overstay their visa.
For example, the local hotel was furnished with "special" beds. On arrival, a guest was given a bed that was not the right size for his height. If he was too tall they cut off his legs; if she was too short, they stretched her. All this because the law specified a visitor must fit exactly into the hotel bed.
In another legal precedent, the Talmud relates the case of a young girl (according to some sources, Lot's daughter, married to one of the local nobles) who, "in defiance of the laws of Sodom forbidding the giving charity, once carried out bread hidden in a pitcher, to a poor man. When this was discovered, the people daubed her with honey and placed her on a wall. Bees came and consumed her."
In accordance with their laws, whenever a stranger passed though, they robbed him, on the pretext that he was a rogue.
Once two young girls went down to the river to "drink and draw water. 'Why are you so pale?', one asked the other. She answered that her food was gone and she was all but at death's door. The former filled her pitcher with flour and they exchanged pitchers. When the Sodomites discovered this, they burnt her, because, by law, all charity was forbidden."
Why were they like this? Because they wanted to preserve their paradise for themselves and for themselves only. After the Dispersion from Babel these people wandered towards Canaan. The came to the plain and quickly realised how ideal the area was. And they did not want to share it with anyone. And they wanted to maintain a certain minimum living standard. So jealously did they guard their life style, that they would kill for it, but only within the scope of their legal system. So they created a warped justice system to maintain a hallowed lifestyle. In place of God, they spiritualised the earth.
While sexual promiscuity and adultery are mentioned in the texts vis-à-vis the Sodomites, I think that there is a general assumption in our sources that any evil society eventually degenerates to this level. However, the fear of outsiders was the driving force behind the evil.
This is demonstrated on the evening Lot brings two visitors to his house, under the cover of the darkness he assumes will leave his "crime" undetected. In order to disperse the rioting horde outside his door, he offers his two virgin daughters to the crowd.
But no matter how promiscuous the peoples of the Plain may have been, they were far more concerned of ridding their area of the visitors (one view is that they desired to sodomise them, "bring them out that we may know them" before slaughtering them -- perhaps this is the source of the term) and now of Lot too for committing the capital offence of bringing strangers into his house, showing them Abrahamic hospitality.
Perhaps the laws the people of the Plain legislated were extreme (to say the least) but is their thinking not widespread in our "modern" world?
Governments love immigration -- more taxes can be collected. Big business does too -- more customers for their products. But immigration always carries a social. Society is effected by it, not always in a positive sense.
In middle ages Europe (possibly with the exception of England), society was based on the city state. Each state was ruled by a duke or prince. Each city levied taxes to run its affairs. This system of government was probably the European version of what was happening in other parts of the world, where populations were divided according to [extended] family or tribal [further extended family] groupings.
The tax burden was not necessarily applied equally to all citizens of the city. Jewish responsa are replete with questions relating to an individual residing in a city other than his hometown. Jews generally were charged a global, communal tax which each location divided as it saw fit or was able. Jews were expelled from cities in which they had lived, sometimes for generations. At first glance this would seem a short-sighted policy by the ruler. But expelling his Jews allowed the ruler to lay his hand on Jewish property, a cash windfall greater than the next few years of taxation. A cash-strapped tyrant may find this a quick solution. This is scenario likely occurred in Spain and Portugal at the close of the fifteenth century, when Jewish assets were seized by the crown following the Expulsion.
Moving from city to city was an option generally open only to the wealthy merchant class. Dukes welcomed these individuals because they brought business and employment to city (indirect income) and of course paid large direct taxes. Poor people, not much more than serfs, were stuck, for generations, in the one location.
Our theme seems to carry forward into our century too. Unless one has money, one, in most instances, cannot pick up and choose a new home. Before the "return" of Hong Kong to the Chinese, many Hong Kongers desired to migrate to the U.K and to Australia (and other choice locations). These people held British passports, but the London government managed to pull off a manoeuvre, effectively disenfranchising "poorer" residents. Australia was open, but only to those who had at least half a million liquid dollars to invest in an Australian business.
In the thirties and forties, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the concept of Pan-Arabism, the idea that all Arabs are a distinct people with a common language, history, and culture, was touted across the Moslem middle east. But even today, a citizen of Syria cannot take up residence in Tunisia, nor can a Moroccan relocate to Egypt.
And try, even today with the opening up of Europe, to emigrate (from anywhere) to Switzerland. Unless you have a little nest egg put away for the purpose. And even then it can take many years to complete the process.
There have been exceptions. After saying in 1938 that they have no Jewish problem and didn't want one, Australia did open its doors to Jews and other European refugees after the world war. And Australia was greatly enriched for it. Before that Australia had what was known as the "White Australia Policy". No explanation needed. There was some flack to this programme early in the twentieth century. How did the Australian parliament counter this? They welcomed all races to Australia, so long as they could pass a dictation test in any language. Well not quite any -- there was a list of fifty approved languages -- it just so happened all were European.
At this moment a debate is raging in Australia as to how much to allow the population to grow. The government foresees a population of 35 million (current it's a little over 20). Opposition to the plan claims that such a large population cannot be supported by the natural resources of the continent, especially water. Additionally the increase, largely Asian would dilute Australia's culture. Heard this argument before? What laws will the Australians enact to keep out the yellow horde?
An interesting aside, this week former Labor Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, suggested Australia sell space in the middle of the outback as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Hawke told us no-one ever goes there anyway, except for a few Aboriginals that is, "and I spoke to them and they don't seem to mind".
The United States saw the writing on the wall. That immigration could enrich. Between about 1850 and 1920, millions of foreigners made America home, first coming from Germany, later from Russia and many other locations. But if you're a Mexican today residing in your home country, try and become a U.S. citizen. There are a limited number of green cards available each year. Websites promise a successful result in the lottery. There are a lot gullible people around, willing to spend money on am impossible dream.
People smugglers are the lowest of the low (well there are also producers and marketers of child pornography too, and there is said to still be an active slave trade between Africa and Saudi Arabia). These scum are active today. The boat people, Sri Lankans wanting to get into Australia, are being organised by these gangsters who are happy to take all their savings. They then sink their boats in the hope that by the law of the high seas, an Australian vessel will happen to be in the vicinity and pick them up, and take them home with them. Mexicans are trucked daily somewhere across the U.S. Mexican line -- more often than not to be returned that evening.
France and Belgium raped Africa, I think far more than the British. The British at least built up the countries they pillaged. They left something behind. De Gaule (as I write the name I realise for the first time what it means -- what kind of name is that -- sort of like Astérix, Obélix or Fred Flintstone) had no choice but to allow African Moslems into France when he pulled out of Algeria. It was life or death for many if they stayed. And these refugees brought their relatives and friends, who brought their relatives and friends, who . . . ad nausium. Until the French arrived at today's situation where [legal and illegal] Moslems number over twenty percent of the population of France.
Israel has the "Law of Return". This is another word for restrictive immigration. Everyone is welcome as long they are Jewish. Well why not? If the Swiss, who don't have a national language or identity (they're French, Italian and [largely] German) can restrict immigration even of their three component countrymen, why can't the Jews have their own state for their own?
But the forces of evil have also found ways to water down the Jewishness of Israel. First we were knowingly flooded with Russian non-Jews. Government ministers who protested the trend were publicly chastised and even mocked. Then we were flooded by cheap foreign workers. We saw the disastrous effect of this on Germany, where cheap Turkish workers were brought in as builders' labourers. Somehow the authorities didn't take into account that these workers were bringing their libido with them. Natural growth increased their segment of population, at the same time as the German indigenous population declined below Z.P.G. A new threat to Israel is now coming from Sudan. This situation is so illogical that its ridiculous, but humaneness is more politically correct today than common sense. Remember Darfur.
England and Holland -- the very fabric that makes them English, Welsh, Dutch, etc, is being worn away, from the centre.
I think a look at England, France, Belgium and Israel show that (unless you are a post modern socialist, who believes the whole world everywhere belongs equally to everyone) to maintain diverse societies in different locations around the world, we need to maintain a basic population within fixed borders. A level of immigration can be effectively, even beneficially, absorbed. How much? Hard to know, but it's obvious what is too much.
Please remember, there's nothing wrong with cultural diversity. It enriches us, not robs us of our humanity as the post modernists would have us believe. We are not all the same, and we shouldn't all strive to be the same. The world doesn't have to be, no should not be, of only one flavour. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks. I don't need to eat the same food, the same taste, wherever I go. Bill Bryson, in The Thunderbolt Kid, laments the days of his youth, when an annual visit to grandma meant a once a year visit to a certain eatery along the way, with its own unique dishes. No longer -- all replaced with plastic food served in modern squeaky clean premises, each identical to the next. Is it really convenient that once you enter a Wal-Mart complex, you don't know anymore where in the U.S. you are? They are all identical.
Each culture is a product of its unique location, habitat and climate. It cannot be transported to another locality, exist in a different place. A big global melting pot, political correctness, produce manila people. We are not automata. We are first individuals, then a culture and a nation and only then contributing members of the human race.
So again, if you agree with my line of thinking, then what is wrong with the Sodomites' philosophy? After all, they were merely concerned with maintaining their standard of living with their own legally acquired borders, borders that were set up, unlike many countries set up by [former] Europeans (Australia, the U.S., Canada, Latin America, all established on lands already occupied by aboriginal nations) in a previously unpopulated region.
Was it only their methods that were wrong? Let's look again at our original verse: "And the people of Sodom were wicked and sinful toward haShem, exceedingly". I think the keyword here is "haShem -- God". Like the generation at Babel, these people were rebelling against God. They had an ideological perspective. It was the worship of the self, of my possessions, my acquisitions, my lifestyle.
This, I believe is the key lesson. Borders, national identity, nationhood are not bad in themselves. Godlessness, by the might of my hand, by my intellect, is what leads to immorality.
But we must keep our uprightness and our natural, ingrained sense of justice. The seven Noahide laws are laws that are not obvious, thus humanity needs specific instructions for the Divine Creator. But, implicit in the laws given to Noah, are things that are obvious to everyone, no matter what his background. We don't need to be commanded to honour parents, to not take another's private property, to not rape a man or a woman, and much more.
No matter how lofty the goal, immorality is never an excuse for inhumanity.
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