Thursday, October 21, 2010

The SCREAM! Sodom, Australia & Gib'ah – degrees of similarity re: treatment of “Strangers”. Vayera 2 5771

A wind of national assertiveness is blowing, Angela Merkel declares that Multiculturalism has failed in Germany, Marco  Rubio, a rising star in the US “Tea Party” asserts “American Exceptionalism” and in Australia there is resistance to ending the imprisonment of 738 children who are imprisoned for arriving here as part of “Irregular people movement”.

Australia has positives too regarding diversity. I declare an interest, the diversity education organization that I lead as National Director has recently received a grant of over one Million dollars from the Commonwealth Government to foster respect for diversity. But, regardless of my interests, the evidence is in for both sides of the argument, with a WA farmer named Mr. Cox speaking plainly and beautifully about his having no problem with refugees moving in next to his farm[1] and wandering on to his property, at the same time as the arguments for throwing our visitors in the slammer continue.    

How do 3 societies compare, ours, Sodom's and the macabre story of an ancient Israelite town called Givea.  The most striking parallel has been averted, at least for now,  with the fortunate failure to implement the proposed policy of the alternative government of Australia of Automatic jail terms for Australians harbouring Illegal immigrants [2].  In all three cases, there are failures of hospitality, what are parallels and the significant differences.

Case 1- Sodom.
Exhibit A. The SCREAM!
The people of Sodom were cruel to visitors as a deterrence policy to protect their wealth from the rabble of other nations. Instead of detention centres, they had other ways to scream em away.   Locals approached by a poor traveller for money would write their name on their coin before giving it to the visitor, a strict policy declared that no one was to sell or give food to the visitor. Eventually, the visitor would starve to death, the Sodomites would then collect their money. One girl felt compassion for a particular visitor and broke the law, she smuggled food to him in a water jug on the way to the well. When she was caught, she was covered in honey and tied up on a roof, bees stung her and she screamed in agony[3].
Her scream is offered as one meaning of God's statement. “I will go down and see if, like her scream, they have done”[4].

Exhibit B. The Mob and the bystanders.
One newcomer to Sodom, a very wealthy migrant named Lot dared to defy the inhospitable custom and invited 3 guest to his home. It was soon surrounded by a mob who demanded that the men be handed over to be “so that we will know them” in a biblical sense of the word “know”. Lot offers his two daughters to the mob but they reject the offer. While not all of Sodom could possibly fit around the house of Lot, the fact that no one protested against this behaviour is considered as if  they all personally surrounded the house[5]

Case 2 Gib'ah
Inhospitable city, a migrant, an accomplice, a mob and bystanders again.
A Levite, a beautiful woman who is sort of the wife of the Levite man (his Pilegesh- Concubine[6]”) and a servant arrive  in the ancient Israelite town of Gib'ah in the tribal land of Benjamin. He is not invited by any of the locals, and seems set to spend the night in the street. Again, a migrant  an old man from Mt. Efrayim (a different tribe to the local Banjaminites) returning from work invites the travellers into his home. They are enjoying themselves, when a mob surrounded the house, knocking on the door, seeking “knowledge” of the man visiting.

Gang Rape, the macabre reaction and catastrophic aftermath 
The old man offered his daughter and the visiting lady, instead of the male guest. The mob is not keen, but the Levite grabs his “concubine” and takes her out the door to the mob. They gang raped her and did other “humiliating” things to her all night and sent her off at day break. She dies soon after. The story ends with the Master/husband cutting the dead woman's body up into 12 parts, sends it to the 12 tribes of Israel, makes a stirring speech telling a selective account of the outrage of Gib'ah, the criminals and the silent majority of Benajminites and sparks a civil war where tens of   thousands die.

Comparing Sodom and Gib'ah.
One factor that is worse about Sodom in comparison to Gib'ah is that in Sodom it was a premeditated policy to “remove the feet (of travellers) from amongst them”, however in Gib'ah it was simply lust[7]. Another difference was that in Sodom the Government established anti-traveller policies as law, in Gib'ah it was lawless men[8].

Case 3 - Australia
I will not canvass all the arguments, the statistics and facts and I acknowledge that these are important and worthy of serious consideration.  My purpose here is to raise questions about how these traditions can inform our moral thinking on a terrible situation. In spite of our welcoming many refugees here, in the case of boat people it seems that the two redeeming factors of Gib'ah are not at play. On the other hand, some of the gruesome torture described in relation to Sodom and the savagery  of Gib'ah are not part of the Australian situation and there is all the other complicated stuff to think about.  

It is indeed a sad day when Government whose primary function is to protect the innocent as well as its citizens, fails in that responsibility. To what extent are all Australians complicit in this?

[1]    730 Report 19-10-2010

[3]    Talmud, Sanhedrin.
[4]    Genesis 18:21.
[5]    Sifsei Chachamim 3 on Genesis 19:4.
[6]    The text refers to the Levite as both her husband and Master. It was an irregular form of marriage.
[7]    Ramban, on Genesis 19:8
[8]    Implied by Ramban, more explicit in another source, that is not handy at the moment. 


  1. Imprisoning children and placing their already suffering parents behind razor wire often for several years, depriving them of basic human necessities and sending them back to from where they fled in fear of their lives is not torture?

    We are like Sodom in this aspect. All these are consequences of official government policy.

    We are also like Gib'ah. The government has listened to another scream. Not the scream of the compassionate young woman of Sodom but the scream of the angry mob of Gib'ah. These unjust and immoral laws are the result.

  2. Powerful take on this, Gary. Interesting juxtaposition of the two screams. The way democracy plays out seems more like, swing voters and the media cycle have far too great an influence.

  3. On further reflection and considering the wider context Australia takes in a large number of migrants, there is some effort to be hospitable, there are issues of justice for people who don't destroy their documents etc. yet in this context there is a need to think very carefully about the lessons from other times to our own.