The Sin of Sodom through Rabbinic Eyes

In telling the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—part of this Sabbath’s Torah reading—the biblical text goes into much detail, but is remarkably vague about what sins provoked God’s wrath. While sodomy is the transgression most associated with this tale in the Western imagination, the rabbinic tradition tends to focus on other misdeeds. Helen Plotkin points to a midrash that depicts God being moved to action after a young Sodomite woman is killed by her fellow townspeople for surreptitiously giving flour to an impoverished friend:

This midrash paints a terrible picture: a young woman burned to death as punishment for an act of compassion. And her burning was not the work of hooligans. [The midrash] uses legal terminology—“judgment” and “case”—implying that the people of Sodom took the compassionate girl to court for sneaking food to a starving neighbor. She was tried and convicted under the law of the land. In Sodom, feeding a hungry person was a criminal act that carried the death penalty. The act that forced God’s interference was a legal one.

[A]other version of this midrash . . . takes the issue a step further. . . . According to this version, it is not the cry of the girl herself that turns God’s head. Now it is the judgment in her case that cries out.

For most people, the abuse of an abstract concept is not as emotionally compelling as the abuse of a little girl. But the idea that her treatment reflected the ethical stance of her society is truly horrifying. It suggests that in a society whose communal values are corrupt, it eventually becomes impossible for individuals to live ethical lives. Ethics and morality are not only attributes of individual people. Ethics exist or do not exist in a community. Whether individual people are good or bad, it is the collective values of the community that make ethical life possible.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Genesis, Jewish ethics, Midrash, Sodom


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy