Conservative Judaism/Sodom

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Question
I don't understand your answer below to my question as there is not just one answer but at least two or more.  I wanted to know what your answer would be as a Rabbi.  

I did not provide what I thought because as far as I am concerned the Old Testament is Hebrew and Jewish and I am not and do not try and interpret Jewish writings.  I go to the experts and that is Rabbi's.

Your question was
Hello Rabbi.
Can you help me understand what the problem was with Sodom and Gomorrah to cause it to be destroyed by G-d.
Thank You
Murel

Sorry, but I don't answer homework questions.
Expert: Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Answer
Dear Murel,

I answered as I did not knowing what you were specifically asking or why? Too often students
send me their homework assignments. I hope you understand. :-)

There are several challenges to a helpful answer without differing with your own religious background and instruction.

Speaking only as one Rabbi, from the Conservative movement, I can offer several interpretations of the Biblical text. Please bear in mind that I am working from the Hebrew text which is often
not available in perfect English translation.

There are many suggestions - nothing in terms of explicit Scripture - as to the "sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are inferences from the non-specific wording:  sexual "sins" or crimes, violations of hospitality which is traditional in the Middle Eastern cultures, and lastly one form or another of financial crimes, including failure to provide for the needy.

The new (2006) Encyclopedia Judaica describes the sins without even specifying "the sin" - in an article drawn from multiple Jewish sources on "Sodom:"  

"The story of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is related in Genesis 1819: God decided to destroy them because of the grievous sins of their inhabitants. In spite of Abraham's pleas not to punish the just with the wicked, the judgment was executed, as not even ten just men could be found there. The visit of the two angels to Lot and the inhospitable behavior of the people of Sodom occurred on the occasion of the destruction. Finally, Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, and the city, together with three of the others in the plain, only Zoar being saved, was destroyed by a rain of brimstones and fire until "the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace." In later books of the Bible, the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is cited as an example of God's wrath and as a warning of future destruction (Deut. 29:22; Isa. 13:19; Amos 4:11). Jerusalem is compared to them (Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:49ff.) as are Edom (Jer. 49:18), Babylon (Jer. 50:40), and Moab (Zeph. 2:9). In all these cases, their names indicate the extent of the destruction to come as punishment for a people's sins."

Only after the Rabbinic tradition, did "the sin" of sodomy become attached to the city of Sodom, citing the prohibition against homosexuality   as if it applied to the texts of Gen. 19:58. In Rabbinic commentary and interpretation in the Midrash the topic of sexual sin is not emphasized. Rather, the emphasis is upon crimes of discrimination, greed, violation of the spirit of the law while adhering to the literal application of the law. For example:

"Sodom was the incarnation of wickedness, but wickedness of a special type. It was an evil-mindedness and hard-heartedness which consisted of the inhabitants basing their actions on the strict letter of the law. For instance, when a stranger passed through their territory, he was besieged and robbed of whatever he possessed. However, each Sodomite was careful to take only a trifle, so that when the victim remonstrated with the thieves each would claim that he had taken a mere pittance (less than a perutah) which was not worth discussion. After a while, they decided entirely to discourage wayfarers whom they felt were only coming to deplete their wealth, which God had lavished upon them to the extent that even their wheat contained gold dust (Job 28:6; Sanh. 109a). If a lost soul did occasionally wander into Sodom, they fulfilled the dictates of hospitality by giving lodging to the stranger. They had standard-sized beds on which travelers slept. If the stranger was too long for the bed, they shortened him by lopping off his feet if too short, they stretched him out (a parallel to the Procrustean bed of Greek mythology). If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him charity, bricks of gold and silver, upon which he had written his name, but no bread was given to him. When he died of starvation, each came and took his gold and silver back."  

I hope that this helps. Your faith leader may have a different interpretation, but it would have to be an inference based in English, not a specific translation of the Hebrew.

Best wishes

Rabbi Dov  

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

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Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at www.jewishfreeware.org. In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.

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I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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