05 November 2014

Sodom, Rabbi Ingram and tolerance

Rabbi Chaim Ingram wrote this week on the portion in the Bible concerning Abraham and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He alludes to tolerance and intolerance and same-sex marriage. It's a very good read. Tell me what you think, won't you?

"Why is the famous passage of Abraham’s plea for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorra such a seminal statement of Jewish ideological outlook?

Abraham’s series of entreaties to G-D to spare the populations of five wicked cities including Sodom and Gemorrah if even 50 then 45, 40, 30, 20 or even 10 righteous inhabitants are to be found there(Gen. 23-32)  is often cited by thinkers of a leftist-libertarian persuasion as a seminal example of, as they put it, “the Jewish value of tolerance”.

Actually nothing could be further from the truth.  What Abraham does not do – and what he would do were he “tolerant” in the leftist-libertarian sense – is to ask G-D  “Please tell me – what is the nature of their sin?  And anyway, ‘sin’ is such a judgmental word is it not? Why do You wish to destroy them? Is it because they are pursuing alternative lifestyles to mine? Perhaps G-D, You ought to embrace their diversity. Isn’t multiculturalism a wonderful thing?  After all, surely it is arrogant to suppose there is only one absolute truth in the world! Can You not see their actions as equally valid truths? After all, I am pursuing my mission and they are pursuing theirs as they see it.  Please can I go and investigate their culture and then I will call a meeting and propose a detailed resolution on what I believe is the best way to proceed.”

That would have been a “tolerant” response.  It would also have meant the end of Abraham’s unique moral influence and mission as av hamon goyim the father of a multitude of nations and the end of his special relationship with G-D.

Abraham’s greatest virtue is not tolerance.  It is unconditional compassion..  He is not the least bit interested in learning about the “alternative lifestyle” of the citizens of  Sodom and Gemorrah. If G-D says that their actions (which included the shedding of innocent blood, corruption, perversion of the course of justice, sodomy, same-gender marriage, robbery with violence and forced eviction) are sins then sins they are.  But that does not mean that Abraham is about to give up on the perpetrators of these sins. Maybe they had no parental example. Maybe they can be helped to change their ways. Even if  there were just ten people there who could help to change the culture, surely, pleaded Abraham to G-D, you must give the cities another chance!

It is fascinating that those people who are the most passionate advocates of  ‘tolerance’ as we have illustrated it above are the most vitriolically intolerant of those who dares to challenge their particular set of values.  Anyone who disagrees with their approach must be a ‘fundamentalist’ or a ‘reactionary’ or ‘obscurantist’ (to cite just a few of the tolerant brigade’s intolerant epithets).  Abraham on the other hand, because he chooses compassion over tolerance ends up being neither uncompassionate nor intolerant of any soul.

Judaism’s ideological approach vis-a-vis the world is a unique and remarkable one. It is absolutist when it comes to belief in G-D but pluralistic with regard to how G-D should be worshipped by the world’s family of believers. It is absolutist in its belief that Torah is G-D given and therefore the repository of absolute truth to the exclusion of all other ideologies;  but pluralistic with regard to how Torah is to be embraced by the world’s family of nations - by Jews via the 613 mitsvot, by Gentiles via the seven universal laws of humanity which would mean that even pre-Messiah a nation could live by broad Torah ideals and be deemed righteous. Judaism is not tolerant of those societies who breach these broad Torah ideals; but it is compassionate of all those within these societies who find themselves without anchor, caught up in a maelstrom not exactly of their making and seeking safe haven in a tempestuous world. Anyone demonstrating such compassion is a true disciple of our father Abraham."                                                    -Rabbi Chaim Ingram

 Others' thoughts:

Barbara Lardinais lives in Toledo, Ohio, (I think) also writes about Abraham's prayer of negotiation here:
Prayer

Also from Bible "Got Questions" website: 
Sodom and Abraham

And from my teaching series on the book of Genesis, you might like to read the whole sermon on Genesis 18:
Guess who's coming to dinner

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