What was Sodom's Sin?
(כ) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה' זַעֲקַ֛ת סְדֹ֥ם וַעֲמֹרָ֖ה כִּי־רָ֑בָּה וְחַ֨טָּאתָ֔ם כִּ֥י כָבְדָ֖ה מְאֹֽד׃ (כא) אֵֽרֲדָה־נָּ֣א וְאֶרְאֶ֔ה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָ֛הּ הַבָּ֥אָה אֵלַ֖י עָשׂ֣וּ ׀ כָּלָ֑ה וְאִם־לֹ֖א אֵדָֽעָה׃
(20) Then the LORD said, “The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave! (21) I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me; if not, I will take note.”

(א) וַ֠יָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים סְדֹ֙מָה֙ בָּעֶ֔רֶב וְל֖וֹט יֹשֵׁ֣ב בְּשַֽׁעַר־סְדֹ֑ם וַיַּרְא־לוֹט֙ וַיָּ֣קָם לִקְרָאתָ֔ם וַיִּשְׁתַּ֥חוּ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה׃ (ב) וַיֹּ֜אמֶר הִנֶּ֣ה נָּא־אדושם ס֣וּרוּ נָ֠א אֶל־בֵּ֨ית עַבְדְּכֶ֤ם וְלִ֙ינוּ֙ וְרַחֲצ֣וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּ֖ם וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֣ם לְדַרְכְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לֹּ֔א כִּ֥י בָרְח֖וֹב נָלִֽין׃ (ג) וַיִּפְצַר־בָּ֣ם מְאֹ֔ד וַיָּסֻ֣רוּ אֵלָ֔יו וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אֶל־בֵּית֑וֹ וַיַּ֤עַשׂ לָהֶם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה וּמַצּ֥וֹת אָפָ֖ה וַיֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ (ד) טֶרֶם֮ יִשְׁכָּבוּ֒ וְאַנְשֵׁ֨י הָעִ֜יר אַנְשֵׁ֤י סְדֹם֙ נָסַ֣בּוּ עַל־הַבַּ֔יִת מִנַּ֖עַר וְעַד־זָקֵ֑ן כָּל־הָעָ֖ם מִקָּצֶֽה׃ (ה) וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ אֶל־לוֹט֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ אַיֵּ֧ה הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַלָּ֑יְלָה הוֹצִיאֵ֣ם אֵלֵ֔ינוּ וְנֵדְעָ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃ (ו) וַיֵּצֵ֧א אֲלֵהֶ֛ם ל֖וֹט הַפֶּ֑תְחָה וְהַדֶּ֖לֶת סָגַ֥ר אַחֲרָֽיו׃ (ז) וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אַל־נָ֥א אַחַ֖י תָּרֵֽעוּ׃ (ח) הִנֵּה־נָ֨א לִ֜י שְׁתֵּ֣י בָנ֗וֹת אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־יָדְעוּ֙ אִ֔ישׁ אוֹצִֽיאָה־נָּ֤א אֶתְהֶן֙ אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם וַעֲשׂ֣וּ לָהֶ֔ן כַּטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶ֑ם רַ֠ק לָֽאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָאֵל֙ אַל־תַּעֲשׂ֣וּ דָבָ֔ר כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן בָּ֖אוּ בְּצֵ֥ל קֹרָתִֽי׃ (ט) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ ׀ גֶּשׁ־הָ֗לְאָה וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ הָאֶחָ֤ד בָּֽא־לָגוּר֙ וַיִּשְׁפֹּ֣ט שָׁפ֔וֹט עַתָּ֕ה נָרַ֥ע לְךָ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם וַיִּפְצְר֨וּ בָאִ֤ישׁ בְּלוֹט֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַֽיִּגְּשׁ֖וּ לִשְׁבֹּ֥ר הַדָּֽלֶת׃ (י) וַיִּשְׁלְח֤וּ הָֽאֲנָשִׁים֙ אֶת־יָדָ֔ם וַיָּבִ֧יאוּ אֶת־ל֛וֹט אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הַבָּ֑יְתָה וְאֶת־הַדֶּ֖לֶת סָגָֽרוּ׃ (יא) וְֽאֶת־הָאֲנָשִׁ֞ים אֲשֶׁר־פֶּ֣תַח הַבַּ֗יִת הִכּוּ֙ בַּסַּנְוֵרִ֔ים מִקָּטֹ֖ן וְעַד־גָּד֑וֹל וַיִּלְא֖וּ לִמְצֹ֥א הַפָּֽתַח׃

(1) The two angels arrived in Sodom in the evening, as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them and, bowing low with his face to the ground, (2) he said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night, and bathe your feet; then you may be on your way early.” But they said, “No, we will spend the night in the square.” (3) But he urged them strongly, so they turned his way and entered his house. He prepared a feast for them and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (4) They had not yet lain down, when the townspeople, the men of Sodom, young and old—all the people to the last man—gathered about the house. (5) And they shouted to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may be intimate with them.” (6) So Lot went out to them to the entrance, shut the door behind him, (7) and said, “I beg you, my friends, do not commit such a wrong. (8) Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please; but do not do anything to these men, since they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (9) But they said, “Stand back! The fellow,” they said, “came here as an alien, and already he acts the ruler! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” And they pressed hard against the person of Lot, and moved forward to break the door. (10) But the men stretched out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. (11) And the people who were at the entrance of the house, young and old, they struck with blinding light, so that they were helpless to find the entrance.

(מט) הִנֵּה־זֶ֣ה הָיָ֔ה עֲוֺ֖ן סְדֹ֣ם אֲחוֹתֵ֑ךְ גָּא֨וֹן שִׂבְעַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְשַׁלְוַ֣ת הַשְׁקֵ֗ט הָ֤יָה לָהּ֙ וְלִבְנוֹתֶ֔יהָ וְיַד־עָנִ֥י וְאֶבְי֖וֹן לֹ֥א הֶחֱזִֽיקָה׃ (נ) וַֽתִּגְבְּהֶ֔ינָה וַתַּעֲשֶׂ֥ינָה תוֹעֵבָ֖ה לְפָנָ֑י וָאָסִ֥יר אֶתְהֶ֖ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר רָאִֽיתִי׃ (ס)
(49) Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy. (50) In their haughtiness, they committed abomination before Me; and so I removed them, as you saw.
אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בָּאָדָם. הָאוֹמֵר שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, זוֹ מִדָּה בֵינוֹנִית. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, זוֹ מִדַּת סְדוֹם. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, רָשָׁע:

There are four types of character in human beings: One that says: “mine is mine, and yours is yours”: this is a commonplace type; and some say this is a sodom-type of character. [One that says:] “mine is yours and yours is mine”: is an unlearned person (am haaretz); [One that says:] “mine is yours is yours is yours” is a pious person. [One that says:] “mine is mine, and yours is mine” is a wicked person.

ההוא דזבן ארעא אמצרא דבי נשיה כי קא פלגו אמר להו פליגו לי אמצראי אמר רבה כגון זה כופין על מדת סדום
It is reported that a certain person bought land along the boundary of his father’s property. After some time the father died. When they came to divide the estate, this person said to his brothers: Give me my portion of the estate along my boundary. Rabba said: In a case such as this, the court compels people to refrain from conduct characteristic of Sodom. The court forces a person to waive his legal rights in order to prevent him from acting in a manner characteristic of the wicked city of Sodom. Since it makes no difference to the brothers which portion they receive since the parcels of land must be of equal value, whereas it matters to this brother that the area he receives should be adjacent to the land he already bought, the court forces the others to give this brother his portion along his boundary.
ואמר רבה בר רב הונא אמר שמואל אם עירבה רגילה לעצמו וזה שאינה רגילה בו לא עירב והיא עצמה לא עירבה דוחין אותה אצל שאינה רגילה בו וכגון זה כופין על מדת סדום
And Rabba bar Rav Huna said that Shmuel said: If the alleyway which the residents of the courtyard were accustomed to utilizing established an eiruv on its own without the courtyard, while the alleyway which they were not accustomed to utilizing did not establish an eiruv, and also the courtyard itself did not establish an eiruv with either alleyway, we divert the residents of the courtyard to use the alleyway, which they are not accustomed to utilizing. This is because there is one alleyway in which it is prohibited to carry due to the lack of an eiruv, and a second alleyway in which it is permitted to carry; while it is prohibited for the residents of the courtyard to carry. As explained above, were they to utilize the alleyway which they are accustomed to utilizing, the other residents of the alleyway would also be prohibited to carry from their courtyards into the alleyway, despite having established an eiruv for their own alleyway. However, if they use the other alleyway, the residents of that alleyway will not lose anything; since they did not establish an eiruv, it is prohibited for them to carry in that alleyway regardless. In a case such as this, one compels another to refrain from behavior characteristic of Sodom. We force a person to waive his legal rights in order to prevent him from acting in a manner characteristic of the wicked city of Sodom. If one denies another use of his possessions, even though he would incur no loss or damage by granting use of his property, his conduct is considered to be characteristic of Sodom. The courts may sometimes compel such a person to waive his legal rights.
ארבע דייני היו בסדום שקראי ושקרוראי זייפי ומצלי דינא דמחי ליה לאיתתא דחברי' ומפלא ליה אמרי ליה יהבה ניהליה דניעברה ניהליך דפסיק ליה לאודנא דחמרא דחבריה אמרו ליה הבה ניהליה עד דקדחא דפדע ליה לחבריה אמרי ליה הב ליה אגרא דשקל לך דמא
There were four judges in Sodom and they were named for their actions: Shakrai, meaning liar, and Shakrurai, habitual liar, Zayfai, forger, and Matzlei Dina, perverter of justice. These were the judgments that they rendered: In a case of one who strikes the wife of another and causes her to miscarry, they would say to the woman’s husband: Give the woman to the one who struck her, so that she will be impregnated for you again. In a case of one who severed the ear of another’s donkey, they would say to the owner of the donkey: Give the donkey to the one who caused the damage, until the ear grows back. In a case of one who wounds another, they would say to the injured party: Give the one who wounded you a fee, as he let your blood.

ת"ר אנשי סדום לא נתגאו אלא בשביל טובה שהשפיע להם הקב"ה ומה כתיב בהם (איוב כח, ה) ארץ ממנה יצא לחם ותחתיה נהפך כמו אש מקום ספיר אבניה ועפרות זהב לו נתיב לא ידעו עיט ולא שזפתו עין איה לא הדריכוהו בני שחץ לא עדה עליו שחל אמרו וכי מאחר שארץ ממנה יצא לחם ועפרות זהב לו למה לנו עוברי דרכים שאין באים אלינו אלא לחסרינו [מממוננו] בואו ונשכח תורת רגל מארצנו שנאמר (איוב כח, ד) פרץ נחל מעם גר הנשכחים מני רגל דלו מאנוש נעו

The Sages taught: The people of Sodom became haughty and sinned due only to the excessive goodness that the Holy One, Blessed be He, bestowed upon them. And what is written concerning them, indicating that goodness? “As for the earth, out of it comes bread, and underneath it is turned up as it were by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and it has dust of gold. That path no bird of prey knows, neither has the falcon’s eye seen it. The proud beasts have not trodden it, nor has the lion passed thereby” (Job 28:5–8). The reference is to the city of Sodom, which was later overturned, as it is stated thereafter: “He puts forth His hand upon the flinty rock; He overturns the mountains by the roots” (Job 28:9). The people of Sodom said: Since we live in a land from which bread comes and has the dust of gold, we have everything that we need. Why do we need travelers, as they come only to divest us of our property? Come, let us cause the proper treatment of travelers to be forgotten from our land, as it is stated: “He breaks open a watercourse in a place far from inhabitants, forgotten by pedestrians, they are dried up, they have moved away from men” (Job 28:4).

הויא להו פורייתא דהוו מגני עלה אורחין כי מאריך גייזי ליה כי גוץ מתחין ליה אליעזר עבד אברהם אקלע להתם אמרו ליה קום גני אפוריא אמר להון נדרא נדרי מן יומא דמיתת אמא לא גנינא אפוריא
The Gemara continues to discuss the sins of the people of Sodom: They had beds on which they would lay their guests; when a guest was longer than the bed they would cut him, and when a guest was shorter than the bed they would stretch him. Eliezer, servant of Abraham, happened to come there. They said to him: Come lie on the bed. He said to them: I took a vow that since the day my mother died I do not lie on a bed.
דעבר במברא ניתיב חד זוזא דלא עבר במברא ניתיב תרי דהוה ליה (תורא) [דרא] דלבני אתי כל חד וחד שקל' חדא א"ל אנא חדא דשקלי דהוה שדי תומי או שמכי אתו כל חד וחד שקיל חדא א"ל אנא חדא דשקלי
Furthermore, they declared in Sodom: Let one who crosses on a ferry give one dinar as payment; let one who does not cross on a ferry, but walks in the river, give two dinars. In addition, when there was anyone who had a row of bricks, each and every one of the people of Sodom would come and take one brick and say to him: I am taking only one, and you are certainly not particular about so inconsequential an item, and they would do this until none remained. And when there was anyone who would cast garlic or onions to dry, each and every one of the people of Sodom would come and take one and say to him: I took only one garlic or onion, and they would do this until none remained.
כי הוה מתרמי להו עניא יהבו ליה כל חד וחד דינרא וכתיב שמיה עליה וריפתא לא הוו ממטי ליה כי הוה מית אתי כל חד וחד שקיל דידיה
When a poor person would happen to come to Sodom, each and every person would give him a dinar, and the name of the giver was written on each dinar. And they would not give or sell him bread, so that he could not spend the money and would die of hunger. When he would die, each and every person would come and take his dinar.
הויא ההיא רביתא דהות קא מפקא ריפתא לעניא בחצבא איגלאי מלתא שפיוה דובשא ואוקמוה על איגר שורא אתא זיבורי ואכלוה והיינו דכתיב (בראשית יח, כ) ויאמר ה' זעקת סדום ועמורה כי רבה ואמר רב יהודה אמר רב על עיסקי ריבה:
There was a young woman who would take bread out to the poor people in a pitcher so the people of Sodom would not see it. The matter was revealed, and they smeared her with honey and positioned her on the wall of the city, and the hornets came and consumed her. And that is the meaning of that which is written: “And the Lord said: Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great [rabba]” (Genesis 18:20). And Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Rabba is an allusion to the matter of the young woman [riva] who was killed for her act of kindness. It is due to that sin that the fate of the people of Sodom was sealed.

אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי אֲפִלּוּ אֲנִי מְבַקֵּשׁ לִשְׁתֹּק, דִּינָהּ שֶׁל רִיבָה אֵינוֹ מַנִּיחַ אוֹתִי לִשְׁתֹּק. מַעֲשֶׂה בִּשְׁתֵּי נְעָרוֹת שֶׁיָּרְדוּ לִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְמַלֹאת מַיִם, אָמְרָה אַחַת לַחֲבֶרְתָּה לָמָּה פָּנַיִךְ חוֹלָנִיּוֹת, אָמְרָה לָהּ כָּלוּ מְזוֹנוֹתֶיהָ וּכְבָר הִיא נְטוּיָה לָמוּת, מֶה עָשְׂתָה מִלְּאָה אֶת הַכַּד קֶמַח וְהֶחְלִיפוּ נָטְלָה זוֹ מַה שֶּׁבְּיַד זוֹ, וְכֵיוָן שֶׁהִרְגִּישׁוּ בָּהּ נְטָלוּהָ וְשָׂרְפוּ אוֹתָהּ, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֲפִלּוּ אֲנִי מְבַקֵּשׁ לִשְׁתֹּק, דִּינָהּ שֶׁל נַעֲרָה אֵינוֹ מֵנִיחַ אוֹתִי לִשְׁתֹּק, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב: הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ, הַכְּצַעֲקָתָם אֵינוֹ אוֹמֵר אֶלָּא הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ, וְאֵיזוֹ זוֹ דִּינָהּ שֶׁל נַעֲרָה.

Said R Levi, Even if I wanted to keep silent, the requirement of justice for a certain girl will not allow me to keep silent. There was the case of two girls, who went down to draw water from the well. One said to her friend, Why are you pale? The other said, All the food is gone from our house and we are ready to die. What did the other do? She filled the jug with flour and exchanged it for her own. Each took the one of the other. When the Sodomites found out about it, they took the girl (who had shared the food) and burned her. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, Even if I wanted to keep silent, the requirement of justice for a certain girl will not allow me to keep silent. What is written is not, 'In accord with their cry', but, 'according to her cry', referring in particular to the girl.


The Real Sin of Sodom, by Rabbi Steve Greenberg

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is surely the best known of the biblical narratives used to condemn homosexuality. For over a millennium, preachers have employed it – with dramatic effect – to prohibit and punish sex between men. The word “sodomy,” invented by an English churchman to describe male intercourse, helped to transform male sexual relations into an unparalleled evil.

Despite the common perception that the sin of Sodom was rampant sexual vice, Jewish literature has largely rejected this reading. The Prophet Ezekiel locates the sin of Sodom in its inhospitality, its cruelty and perversion of justice, and not in homosexuality. He describes Sodom as arrogant and insensitive to human need. The residents of Sodom had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility, yet they refused to support the poor and the needy.

The people of Sodom are not only protective of their wealth and punishing of acts of charity; they are also desperate to force everyone to fit a single measure. They have a well-to-do gated community that makes sure no beggars disturb their luxury and peace. They have zoned out poverty. But what makes Sodom the “right” kind of neighborhood is that no difference is tolerated. “Our kind” of folk are welcomed and protected, while all the rest are excluded or eliminated. It can hardly be incidental that the locus of this one-size-fits-all violence is a bed that serves as a guillotine and a rack. The place of sleep, comfort, and sexual pleasure in Sodom has been transformed into a place of threat and malice, a device of torture for strangers.

Eliezer saves himself from being amputated or stretched by the mourning of his mother. Mourning the dead is a particularly selfless expression of relationship and love. The people of Sodom treat all who are not inside the walls as being as good as dead; Eliezer treats the dead with an honor and presence that makes their memory a living reality. Sodom is a place where compassion is punished brutally, as the story of the young maiden suggests. Eliezer is saved from Sodom’s evil not by his sword or cunning, but by his own loving beyond all boundaries or benefit — by a loving which, like a mother’s love, has no reasons.

What bought down the wrath of God upon Sodom was not homosexuality, but inhospitality and cruelty, arrogance and greed, callousness, fear of loss, and ultimately, violence against the stranger. Indeed, we cannot let [our communities] become like Sodom — a city where humiliation and even violence against people who are different is judged to be the epitome of moral decency and religious integrity.