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    Sodom & sodomy – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. This may not be a “nice” question, but is the word sodomy connected with the Biblical town of Sodom?

    The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – painting by John Martin, 1852

    A. Sodom, in the Dead Sea region, had a bad reputation from the days of the Bible: “The men of Sodom were very evil and sinful before the Lord” (Gen. 13:13).

    The rabbis say that middat s’dom – “the way of Sodom” – is to be hard-hearted and lack generosity (Ket. 103a, Bava Batra 12b, etc.). The judges in Sodom, according to the Talmud (Sanh. 109a/b), were liars and perverters of justice.

    Rabbinic literature does not limit the way of Sodom to homosexuality, but calling such acts sodomy does arise out of the Biblical story of Lot and the men of Sodom; Gen. 19:5-8 states that when two messengers were lodging in Lot’s house, the people of the town said, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them”.

    “Know” is a Biblical reference to sexual contact, and Rashi and other commentators explicitly add, “so we may vent our lust upon them”. Lot, unwilling to give the visitors up to the men of Sodom, offers the townspeople his own two daughters and says, “Do to them what is good in your eyes”.

    This does not make Lot into such a tzaddik, but what he is trying to do is to prevent any harm befalling his guests. The Ramban says this reveals Lot’s hospitality but also his wickedness.

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