Copyright 2010 by and Gary Konecky, 2011 by Gary Konecky

As previously mentioned, the sin of Sodom is frequently and always incorrectly cited as being a condemnation of homosexuality.  Therefore, it seems very important to understand exactly what happened in Sodom that lead to its destruction.  A very detailed discussion of those acts can be found in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a – 109b) and that entire discussion follows.

For the Jewish people, the Talmud is second only to the Hebrew Bible in sacredness.  The Talmud is part of the oral Torah that was given to the Jewish people during the revelation  at Mount Sinai.  It is imperative to study Talmud if one is to understand the Hebrew Bible. 

If you have never studied Talmud, you will find this passage challenging.  The language of the Talmud is terse.  The Talmud assumes a very good working knowledge of the entire Hebrew bible.  To prove a point, often the Rabbis of the Talmud will quote a verse of scripture and assume that you know the entire incident that verse refers to, as well as have an in depth understanding of that verse. 

Often the Rabbis will also make a statement and assume you know what that statement means.  For example, part of this passage says:  “Rab Judah said: [They were] wicked — with their bodies [i.e., immoral]…”  Editors added the words in square brackets [ ], as the language of the Talmud is so terse that it is common for only key words or sentence fragments are written.  Sometimes terms are not defined.  In this particular quote, the term “wicked - with their bodies” is not defined as the sages assumed readers would know the prohibited conduct was adultery. 

To aid you in understanding this passage, there are numbers in parenthesis ( ).  These numbers lead to notes following the passage that will help you better understand the text.

With this in mind, let us now look at this excerpt from the Talmud:

THE MEN OF SODOM HAVE NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME etc. Our Rabbis taught: The men of Sodom have no portion in the future world, as it is written, But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly:(11) wicked - in this world, and sinners — in respect of the world to come.(12) Rab Judah said: [They were] wicked — with their bodies [i.e., immoral] and sinners — with their money [i.e.. uncharitable]. ‘Wicked — with their bodies,’ as it is written, How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?(13) ‘And sinners — with their money,’ as it is written, and it be sin unto thee.(14) ‘Before the Lord’ refers to blasphemy; ‘exceedingly’ — that they intentionally sinned. A Tanna taught: Wicked — with their money; and sinners — with their bodies ‘Wicked — with their. money,’ as it is written, And thine eye be wicked against thy poor brother;(15) ‘and sinners — with their bodies,’ as it is written, and I will sin against God.(16) Before the Lord — this refers to blasphemy. Exceedingly — this refers to bloodshed, as it is written, Moreover, Manasseh shed innocent blood exceedingly.(17)

Our Rabbis taught: The men of Sodom waxed haughty only on account of the good which the Holy One, blessed be He, had lavished upon them. What is written concerning them? — As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it it is burned up as it were with fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold. There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lions passed by it.(18) They said: Since there cometh forth bread out of [our] earth, and it hath the dust of gold, why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth. Come, let us abolish(19) the practice of traveling(20) in our land, as it is written, The flood breaketh out from the inhabitants,’ they are forgotten of the foot; they are dried up, they are gone away from men.(21)

Raba gave the following exposition: What is meant by the verse, How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be slain all of you: ye are all as a bowing wall, and as a tottering fence?(22) This teaches that they used to cast [envious] eyes at wealthy men, place them by a leaning wall, thrust it upon them, then go and take their wealth. Raba expounded: What is meant by the verse, In the dark they dig through houses, which they had marked for themselves in the daytime: they know not the light?(23) This teaches that they used to cast [envious] eyes at wealthy men, and entrust balsamum into their keeping, which they placed in their storerooms. In the evening they would come and smell it out like dogs, as it is written, They return at evening: they make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city.(24) Then they would go, burrow in, and steal the money, [and as for their victim — ] They cause him to go naked without clothing,(25) that they have no covering in the cold.(26) They lead away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow's ox for a pledge.(27) They remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks, and feed them.2(8) And he [the victim] shall be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.(29) R. Jose taught this in Sepphoris. That night [after his lecture] three hundred [houses] were broken into in Sepphoris. So they came and harassed him. Said they to him, ‘Thou hast shown(30) a way to thieves!’ He replied, ‘Could I have known that thieves would come?’(31) When R. Jose died, the gutters of Sepphoris ran with blood.(32)

[Reverting to the misdeeds of the Sodomites] they ruled: He who has [only] one ox must tend [all the oxen of the town] for one day; but he who has none must tend [them] two days.(33) Now a certain orphan, the son of a widow, was given oxen to tend. He went and killed then’ and [then] said to them [the Sodomites], ‘He who has an ox, let him take one hide; he who has none, let him take two hides.’ ‘What is the meaning of this?’ they exclaimed. Said he, ‘The final usage [i.e., the disposal of the ox when dead] must be as the initial one; just as the initial usage is that he who possesses one ox must tend for one day, and he who has none must tend two days; so should be the final usage: he who has one ox should take one hide, and he who has none should take two.’ [Likewise, they ruled,] He who crosses with the ferry must pay one zuz [for the privilege], but he who does not, [entering by another way] must give two. If one had rows of bricks every person came and took one, saying, ‘I have taken only one.’ If one spread out garlic or onions [to dry them], every person came and took one, saying, ‘I have taken only one.’

There were four judges in Sodom, [named] Shakrai, Shakurai, Zayyafi, and Mazle Dina.(1) Now, if a man assaulted his neighbour's wife and bruised her, they would say [to the husband], ‘Give her to him, that she may become pregnant for thee.’ If one cut off the ear of his neighbour's ass, they would order, ‘Give it to him until it grows again.’ If one wounded his neighbour they would say to him [the victim], ‘Give him a fee for bleeding thee.’ He who crossed over with the ferry had to pay four zuzim, whilst he who crossed through the water had to pay eight. On one occasion, a certain fuller happened to come there. Said they to him, ‘Give us four zuzim [for the use of the ferry].’ But, protested he, ‘I crossed through the water!’ ‘If so,’ said they, ‘thou must give eight zuzim for passing through the water.’ He refused to give it, so they assaulted him. He went before the judge, who ordered, ‘Give them a fee for bleeding and eight zuzim for crossing through the water. Now Eliezer, Abraham's servant, happened to be there, and was attacked. When he went before the judge, he said, ‘Give them a fee for bleeding thee.’ Thereupon he took a stone and smote the judge. ‘What is this!’ he exclaimed. He replied, ‘The fee that thou owest me give to this man [who attacked me], whilst my money will remain in statu quo.’ Now, they had beds upon which travellers slept. If he [the guest] was too long, they shortened him [by lopping off his feet]; if too short, they stretched him out. Eliezer, Abraham's servant, happened to go there. Said they to him, ‘Arise and sleep on this bed!’ He replied, ‘I have vowed since the day of my mother's death not to sleep in a bed.’ If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him a denar, upon which he wrote his name, but no bread was given him. When he died, each came and took back his. They made this agreement amongst themselves: whoever invites a man [a stranger] to a feast shall be stripped of his garment. Now, a banquet was in progress, when Eliezer chanced there, but they gave him no bread. Wishing to dine, he went and sat down at the end of them all. Said they to him, ‘Who invited thee here?’ He replied to the one sitting near him, ‘Thou didst invite me.’ The latter said to himself, ‘Peradventure they will hear that I invited him, and strip me of my garments!’ So he took up his raiment and fled without. Thus he [Eliezer] did to all, until they had all gone; whereupon he consumed the entire repast. A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, [hiding it] in a pitcher. On the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written, And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great(2) whereon Rab Judah commented in Rab's name: On account of the maiden [ribah].(3)

(11) Gen. XIII, 13.

(12) I.e., they are excluded therefrom on account of sin.

(13) Ibid. XXXIX, 9 - the reference is to adultery.

(14) Deut. XV, 9 — the reference is to the withholding of financial assistance from the poor.

Tanna – a sage of the Mishnah

(15) Ibid. V. previous note.

(16) V, supra n. 3.

(17) II Kings XXI, 16.

(18) Job XXVIII, 5-8.

(19) Lit., ‘cause to be forgotten.’

(20) Lit., ‘the law of the foot.’

(21) Ibid. 4.

(22) Ps. LXII, 4.

(23) Job XXIV, 16.

(24) Ps. LIX, 7.

(25) Job XXIV, 10.

(26) Ibid. 7.

(27) Ibid. 3.

(28) Ibid. 2.

(29) Ibid. XXI, 32.

(30) Lit., ‘given’.

(31) Or, ‘Did I then know that ye are thieves’ — i.e, that there are so many thieves amongst you (Rashi)

(32) An expression denoting the great loss that was felt. — This is really irrelevant here, but that R. Jose has just been mentioned (Rashi).

(33) This was a measure of oppression against the poor.

(1) These are fictitious names meaning, Liar, Awful Liar, Forger, and Perverter of Justice.

(2) Heb, rabbah, …, Gen. XVIII, 20.

(3) …, a play on …

Source:  The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation. 

Even if you did not understand the entire passage, the gist of the passage is clear.  Almost the entire discussion centers on how the men of Sodom stole money from others.  From this sin came corrupt courts, violence, torture and murder in their quest to steal as much as possible.  In the end, this theft became the sin that leads to the destruction of Sodom.

It is also worth noting that nothing in this passage refers to homosexuality.  Indeed, the only sexual sin alluded to in the entire passage is adultery.  My understanding of adultery, as used by the sages of the Talmud, is that it is a sex act between a man and a married woman, a heterosexual sin.

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