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October 28, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayera

This week’s Torah portion contains lots of interesting stuff.  But the first thing that grabbed my attention isn’t really about Abraham or Isaac.  Instead, it is about Abraham’s nephew Lot, who settles in Sodom.

Lot is visited by angels (pretending to be men) and the Sodomites want to rape them (Gen. 19:5).  Lot responds: “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.” (19:8).   At this point, the modern reader might be asking him/herself: What is Lot thinking?  What kind of person tells people to go ahead and rape his daughters (even if the alternative is raping houseguests, admittedly not a nice thing to do)?

Sarna tries to explain.  He points out that the daughters are engaged, since the text later refers to sons-in-law (19:14) who presumably are Sodom locals themselves, since they refuse to leave.*  Sarna then adds that according to “Mesopotamian law codes … betrothal was as sacrosanct as an engaged marriage.”   In other words, maybe Lot never expects the Sodomites to go ahead and rape his daughters, since they themselves would have found the idea repugnant. And perhaps he thinks that this wacky offer might bring the Sodomites to their senses- that they might say to themselves “well, if we don’t want to rape his daughters, maybe raping the guests is wrong too…”

Now of course you may counterargue: if they are as evil as the Torah says, why would they be against raping their fellow Sodomites’ fiances?

To which I respond: the text doesn’t mention any Sodomite women, just men (19:4)- an indicator of a pretty sexist society.

So maybe the Sodomite men viewed the women as basically property of their fathers and husbands, in which case raping them is merely just theft against a fellow Sodomite rather than a great moral wrong against the woman.  And since the Sodomites appear to be more hostile to strangers than to each other (judging not only from their willingness to rape the angels but also to their  statement in 19:9 that Lot “acts the ruler”) their unwillingness to settle for the women is just a reflection of their solidarity with each other, which in turn is so great that it leads to a pretty nasty level of bigotry against strangers.   In other words, even if they don’t want to rape Lot’s daughters, it is for not-such-noble reasons: that they don’t want to offend a fellow Sodomite (the fiances).

So what should we get out of this story, other than that generally rape is bad?  I would suggest that this story is one of these morally ambiguous situations that tell us: Maybe we should’t be so quick to judge.

*Why not married? Because then they would have “known a man'”.

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