“Then the Lord caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants.”
At first sight, and indeed on each subsequent reading, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most shocking in the Torah.
After all, what lesson can a Liberal Jew find in a story that ends with two cities destroyed, their residents killed and Lot’s wife turned to salt for “looking back” (Genesis 18:16-19:25)?
The origin of God’s desire to destroy the Sodomites is obscure: “The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave!”
There is more detail in the ensuing account of depravity regarding their treatment of Lot, which is enough to turn any stomach.
But while our sages accuse the Sodomites of a multitude of sins, the worst of all is that no one stood out to object to the hideous soiling of their society.
When Abraham pleaded with God to spare those innocents of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Torah account certainly suggests there was not one innocent male to be found (the women are not talked of).
So while Liberal Jews will recoil at the Torah account of Sodom and Gomorrah, there is a clear lesson in there.
To conscientiously object, especially when it runs contrary to popular thought, is immensely difficult and potentially damaging to the individual who does so. But to abstain from doing so is in itself sinful.
That is why Liberal Judaism demands that we stand up – to take moral responsibility to prick the conscience of society when it is in danger of “abusing human freedom” by choosing hatred, selfishness and greed over love, care and generosity.
Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue