Criticizing a proposal to require all websites with more than 50,000 users a day to be legally responsible for the content of reader comments, Avner Pinchuk, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, wrote that the proposal “seeks to make the Internet lie on a mitat Sdom [bed of Sodom], to cut its limbs in accordance with the measurements of the mainstream media.”
Effectively blocking free comment, he wrote, “will castrate the Internet and leave us all without a uniquely important platform for expression.”
The bookish phrase mitat Sdom refers to the Jewish tradition that the people of the biblical city of Sodom – whose residents were considered so morally bankrupt that God destroyed their city, according to the account in Genesis – treated their guests to a special kind of hospitability by fitting them to the size of the bed rather than the bed to the size of the guests, according to the midrash, or rabbinical interpretation, set down in Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud. Short people were stretched out and tall people had their legs cut off. Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, was said to escape this special treatment by claiming that he had vowed to sleep on the floor as a sign of mourning since his mother’s death.
A similar tale is found in Greek mythology, in which Procrustes ran a house by the side of the road where he offered guests the same kind of one-size-fits-all bed, racking his guests to make them taller or cutting off their legs to make them shorter.
Like a Procrustean bed, a pre-established pattern into which someone or something is arbitrarily forced to fit, a mitat Sdom refers to a situation or place that does not allow for freedom of action or room to maneuver – like an online world in which comments are unduly restricted, according to Pinchuk.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at email@example.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day. Click here to get Word of the Day sent directly to your inbox.