Lot's Wife: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

The Bible does not mention Lot’s wife by name, but the Rabbis referred to her as “Idit” (Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Vayera 8). This woman’s sorry end teaches of her life: even though she was rescued from the upheaval of Sodom, she was stricken together with the other inhabitants of the city, from which the Rabbis conclude that her actions, as well, were no different from those of the rest of Sodom’s populace. Jealous of others, she offered no hospitality to guests. The angels did not initially want to be her guests, but rather those of her husband Lot, since he was more righteous (Num. Rabbah 10:5); she even tried to bar their entry to the house. Lot’s wife divided their house into two parts and told her husband: “If you want to receive them, do so in your part” (Gen. Rabbah 50:6). Lot wanted the members of his household to participate in the meritorious act of hospitality, as had Abraham, and he asked his wife to bring them salt. She responded: “Do you even wish to learn this bad habit from Abraham?” (Gen. Rabbah 50:4). She finally complied with her husband’s request, but she acted cunningly in order to remove the guests from her house. She went to her women neighbors to borrow salt. They asked her: “Why do you need salt, why didn’t you prepare enough beforehand?” She answered, “I took enough for our own needs, but guests came to us and it is for them that I need salt.” In this manner all the people of Sodom knew that Lot was harboring guests. They stormed his house and demanded that he hand them over to the townspeople (A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).Midrash Statements that are not Scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.Aggadah [ed. Buber], Gen. 19:26). Because she sinned through salt, Lot’s wife was punished by being turned into a pillar of the same material (Gen. Rabbah 51:5).

Another explanation for Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt is based on her having four daughters, two married and two betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands remained in the doomed city, as did her two future sons-in-law (Gen. Rabbah 50:9; see also “Lot’s Daughters”). When Lot and his wife were saved from the destruction of the city, she took pity on her married daughters who had remained in Sodom and looked behind her. As soon as she saw the back of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence), she was transformed into a pillar of salt (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, ed. Higger , chap. 25).

The pillar of salt was left by God as a memorial for all time (Yalkut Shimoni on Esth., para. 1056). Moses saw the pillar of Lot’s wife when God showed him all the land of Canaan before his death (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de-Amalek, Beshalah 2). Anyone who sees Lot’s wife is required to recite two blessings. The first, “Blessed be the One who remembers the righteous,” expresses thanksgiving and praise to God for having remembered Abraham, by the merit of whose righteousness He saved Lot and his wife from the upheaval; this blessing relates to the miracle that was performed for Lot. The second blessing, “Blessed be the true Judge” (that is recited upon hearing of someone’s death), is recited for the punishment visited on Lot’s wife (BT Berakhot 54a–b). A late aggadah relates that Lot’s wife stands in her place to the present; every day passing oxen lick her feet and every morning she rises once again to her previous shape as a pillar of salt (Sefer ha-Yashar, Vayera 39).


Hyman, Naomi. Biblical Women in the Midrash: A Sourcebook. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, Inc, 1997.


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

This story has come back around to me and I am confounded in a way about it. We are commanded to be salt and light for the people of the earth, because both are good and necessary things, so why was Lot's wife turned into a pillar of something good for doing something bad? I appreciated the explanation about her becoming the pillar for her distain for salt and for using Lot's need of more to gossip about their visitors, but the idea of using something good to point to something bad is strange to me. In Christ, Andrew

In reply to by Andrew

As the article mentioned, Andrew, there were many meanings for the word "salt" in both the Old and New Testaments. In Matthew 5, we see Jesus refer to true believers as "salt of the earth." In this particular instance, he was referring to two meanings of the word salt--to preserve, and to cleanse. Followers of Christ are "preserved" by the Father for a future and forever existence. Also, they are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. In the Old Testament story of Lot's Wife, she was turned into literal salt which preserved its shape for future generations, so even during Moses' time the pillar could be seen, a sort of "warning" perhaps and a testimony to the sinful towns that had once existed there but were wiped out. In this same way, the word "covet" in the Bible can both a positive and negative meaning, depending on the context. We are told in the 10 Commandments not to "covet" (earnestly desire) what others have. In the New Testament, however, we are told to covet after (earnestly desire) the greater spiritual gifts. It all depends on context. In English, our words don't have so many different meanings, so it's easy to think one meaning must apply to all situations.

I agree Lot's wife not having been mentioned as having left with him and Abraham had to have been a local woman thus was destroyed the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah.That being the case Lot's daughters were partly of the same local seed. This would help explain the abhorrence Moab and Amon displayed towards Israel and the prohibition of either one ever joining Israel, Deu 23:3

In reply to by Shoshana

But Ruth the Moabitess was allowed to marry into Yisrael because "women are not responsible for hospitality outside the home" [and thus they were not culpable] is based on the masculine in the Torah Moabite "men" shall not enter into the Congregation of Yisrael.
["because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt;"]
This halachic ruling found in Talmud Tractate Yevamoth 76b and is based on Parsha Vayeira: Avraham is asked a halachic question when he is asked outside in the shade of the terebinth, “Where is Sarah …?” B’rashith 18.9
His answer, "In the tent," means she was responsible for what hospitality happens inside the home.
In Lot's wife's case (“Idit”), she was stingy with salt and punished for that inhospitable behavior.

Excellent exposition.

Did Midrash also participate in the ungodly rituals in Sodom 

what was Lots wife's occupation anyone know

In reply to by Martha Jean Taylor

Just a busy body,,,,,

In reply to by Michael Smith

For sure she was a busy body. She raised/ was raising 4 kids! That'll keep you busy!!!

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Lot's Wife: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 2, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lots-wife-midrash-and-aggadah>.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox