The Real Sin of Sodom

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Steve Greenberg re-examines the real sin of the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and considers the modern-day implications of their misdeeds.

Jerusalem Gay Pride. Wiki Commons/Guy Yitzhaki

Jerusalem Gay Pride. Wiki Commons/Guy Yitzhaki

This week [in 2006], daily riots erupted in Jerusalem’s streets as the Haredi (“Ultra-Orthodox”) community violently protested the upcoming Jerusalem Gay Pride march, scheduled for November 10. Haredi youths pelted police officers with large stones, blocks, bottles, angle irons, and wood planks. Posters lined the streets promising the payment of thousands of shekels to any zealot who would kill a “sodomite” marching in the parade. The riots were so intense that it became necessary for Haredi rabbinic leaders to come to the scene with megaphones and encourage the crowds to disperse. In another act of intolerance, the Edah Haredit, a right-wing Haredi rabbinical court, pronounced a rabbinic curse – a
pulsa danura
– on those organizing the march and against the policemen defending the marchers.

The fear voiced by many religious leaders is that the pride march (which had been originally scheduled for August, but postponed due to the war in Lebanon), will turn Jerusalem into Sodom. Indeed, the religious press – Jewish, Christian and Moslem – has been rife with warnings of the dire consequences of abandoning the holy city to the corruptions of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were destroyed for their wickedness.

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. For generations, men who were accused of sodomy were humiliated, persecuted, tortured, and put to gruesome death in imitation of the violent divine destruction of Sodom. Today, the people who carry placards reading, “God hates fags” know this must be so by reading their Bible.