Sunday, February 28, 2010

the law of Sodom

Nicholas D. Kristof, in a New York Times editorial, writes:
In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.)
Where did that part about gay come in? Ezekiel 16 is worth reading: it compares Jerusalem to a prostitute, and says she's worse than her sisters, who include Sodom and Samaria, because she cares about nothing but pleasure and profit. If Ezekiel had wanted to include homosexuality in Sodom's sins, you'd think he would've said so. There are anti-gay passages in the Bible, but none of them mention Sodom. Its sin in Genesis is rape.

(That Jerusalem's worse than Samaria impresses me. Samarians were Jewish heretics, the Baptists or Mormons or Unitarians of their day in the eyes of Judeans, though there's a good argument that Samarians actually follow the older form of Judaism.)

Double-checking this, I found What was the sin of Sodom? which has quotes from several Jewish sources, all supporting the idea that Sodom's sin was the sin of greed. It concludes with this:
Many many thanks to Robert Kaiser for doing the work of collecting those powerful passages about the sin of Sodom. They clarify the story (for which unfortunately I can't site a source) about the great Gaon of Vilna, who sat with voice but no vote on the Council of the Jews of Vilna. His task was to comment from a Torah perspective on new legislation proposed before the Council. When there was no such new legislation, he did not take part in the meeting. 
One day a member of the Council put forward a proposal for ending or greatly reducing the influx of Jews from poorer regions into Vilna, where they hoped for a better life. The Gaon rose to leave the meeting. "But Rabbi," said a Councilmember, "we need your comment on this proposed new legislation!" 
"What new legislation?" said the Gaon. "This was already the law of Sodom, long ago!" And he left. 
The proposal was dropped.