S’dom Isn’t Gaza

Quite a few religious Jews seem to be confident, for reasons I cannot wholly understand, that the wicked societies of S’dom and Amorah, which mistreat the poor, the stateless, and the oppressed, correspond to Gaza in our present, rather than to Israel. I suppose that is partly because some religious Jews are liable to confuse the IDF’s military capacities (admittedly, in a purely descriptive sense, impressive and terrifying) with the power of Divine violence.

But this reading seems to me both hermeneutically and morally mistaken. S’dom is clearly the wealthy, powerful, prosperous side, located in a well-watered plain, like the “Garden of God” or the wealthy, hierarchical “land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10). S’dom’s sin was that it neglected the weaker people around here—as Ezekiel has it, S’dom’s inhabitants were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (16:49). And as numerous midrashim point out, they were especially obnoxious to their stateless neighbors, whom they robbed; whom they refused to care for; and whom they blocked from accessing basic resources (see e.g. Sifrei Devarim 43:10).

As to whether the IDF’s violence is God’s, well… God won’t destroy S’dom if it contains even ten innocent people. I don’t think even a single defender of the State of Israel will claim the IDF abides by even remotely close to the same standard. Moreover, we have a very basic principle, confirmed by the above, by our people’s experience of the Exodus, and by the rabbis’ interpretation of the verse, “God seeks the one who is pursued” (Ecc. 3:15), that God sides with the weak and the oppressed.

In short, I don’t think this story means what some of you want it to mean. Here’s my negotiating offer—I’ll refrain, in the interest of calm and peace, from applying Genesis 19 to Israel, if in return, you refrain from applying it—in my opinion, far more tortuously and tendentiously—to Gaza. That way, we can avoid suggesting, on either side, that we’re interested, God forbid, in unleashing furious violence on an entire population.

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