Almost every law in the Torah commands proper action aside from the first few in the Ten commandments about G-d's and His oneness. In his book, Kosher Jesus, Chapt. 28, pg 163, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes, "It is inhumane to hold someone accountable for the sins of another. Judaism believes in a just G-d that holds people responsible as individuals and doesn't punish them for their ancestors' sin."

He then quotes Deuteronomy,

"Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin."

In Ezekiel, G-d declares:

"He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live... Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of the father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all My decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them."

Rabbi Shmuley later writes,

"Judaism is predicated on the belief that each of us is born neither good nor bad, but innocent. Judaism holds all are born innocent, all are accountable to G-d for their behavior — no excuses. We have a conscience, We will be judged by one thing and one thing alone: our actions. G-d, it turns out, is just."

In the chapter, he was arguing against original sin. But we could apply his reasoning to my question. Does G-d punish people for generations and kills innocent babies in the flood and the plagues in Egypt?

One view is that punishment is the result of natural consequences, which could have long-lasting effects and affect people, even for generations. If read in this way, it explains the meaning of Exodus 20:5, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation,” and Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness shall not rise up against a person for any iniquity or for any misdeed.” This interpretation is supported by the Ralbag in his commentary on Exodus 20:4-5. He states that acts have consequences, for example, if a person acts improper and is therefore punished by exile, their children will grow up in exile. G-d does not inflict punishments for generations.

Another example is Exodus 12:29 which says that all the first-born, even the cattle’s first-born were killed at midnight. This is symbolic, for the Egyptians felt that the first-born was a type of cast system. G-d wanted to strip away the pagan cast system. But is this consistent and reconcilable with the Rabbi's views?

Chief Rabbi Hertz explained the nine plagues of Egypt as natural yet exaggerated events. He is silent regarding the 10th plague in this way. Why? Perhaps he felt the need for supernatural intervention? But the 10th plague can be explained naturally, too. Some rabbis see Scripture as exaggerating some events to make a point. If we apply this to the last plague than it would seem to be saying that it also struck them, the first-born. This makes sense when we consider all the aftereffects of viruses floating around from dead animals due to other plagues. This is also consistent with a just G-d, that acts have consequences and the events explained in the Bible as natural events, but nonetheless, divine.

Because how could it be that a just G-d punishes people for generations? Unless we accept the Ralbag's view or another is presented, I do not see how we can reconcile these biblical verses with the rabbi's views, and if the rabbi's views do not matter, can we use these view to combat original sin? People do not inherit sin, they grow and can commit sin later in life. Indeed, the bar mitzvah is done when the child is thirteen because they are not accountable for their own sins. It could be that they died in the food/plagues to harm the parent, but is this fair? Many have claimed that these children would have turned out evil anyway and so it was a good to prevent they're coming into the world. If so, why did G-d create them, to begin with? No doubt the Nazis would have equally claimed Jewish babies as evil inclinations for their premature eradication and justification of the holocaust. Besides, the rabbi says that babies are innocent. The proof is that even some Amalekites converted to Judaism and become Torah-observant Jews, expressing the view that it is wrong to slaughter all women and children.

The rabbi ends the chapter with this, "The matter is settled by G-d's own pronouncement. No person inherits or is punished for someone else's sin.

My question is, how do we reconcile G-d punishing generations and babies in the flood? Is it good enough to accept the Ralbag's interpretation in these instances? for G-d is just.

  • similar: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/84971/170
    – msh210
    Nov 5, 2019 at 4:22
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    Partial duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/109227
    – DonielF
    Nov 5, 2019 at 5:28
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    I myself liked the first volume, "Kosher Bilham", much better Nov 5, 2019 at 6:22
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    Here's a simple resolution: Everything G-d does is just not evidently, de-facto but theoretically, de-jure. So evidently they are innocent, theoretically (from G-d's knowledge) they are not.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 5, 2019 at 15:05
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    you basically, turn to the concept of a curse, where the originator can't be punished "enough" so all of his descendants are punished. (see Ham's curse). THen they are not innocent anyway. So Adam wasn't punished enough and all his children will be punished. You, however, asked about, what I understood, as "absolute innocence", i.g. "total lack of sinning". According to the generally accepted view in Judaism, G-d is just, meaning He only punishes for sins.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 5, 2019 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


There are too many questions and factors here to address all of them but a simple distinction can be made between the question and the examples given:

Hashem does not punish any individual for the actions of others. When a group is being punished there may be innocent individuals who also suffer but that is not as a punishment per se.

In modern day terms an analogy would be:

Had Hitler had children they would not have been punished for their father's actions.

When the United State nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though many innocent people did in fact die the US was not looking to punish innocent people . It was a way to bring the conflict to an end. Had they not done so in such a manner a lot more people would have gotten killed.

Similarly L'Havdil when Hashem decides to punish a group (among many other potential reasons and factors)things have reached a situation that this is the best way to change things and run the world. It isn't a punishment for the innocent.

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    I think you answered this well. Thank you for such a thoughtful answer.
    – Shmuel
    Aug 4, 2020 at 17:31
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    Your welcome.Thank you for the positive feedback!
    – Schmerel
    Aug 5, 2020 at 19:40
  • @Schmerel What is your source that when Hash-m decides to punish a group that this is the best way to change things and run the world?
    – Alexander
    Sep 16, 2022 at 1:55
  • הַצּוּר֙ תָּמִ֣ים פָּֽעֳל֔וֹ כִּ֥י כָל־דְּרָכָ֖יו מִשְׁפָּ֑ט
    – Schmerel
    Sep 18, 2022 at 1:29

The general rule is אוי לרשע אוי לשכנו, woe to the evil man and his neighbor. G-d does not initiate a punishment upon any person who is not worthy of punishment, but when the punishment is started, many times the punishment is one that is not "held back" to hurt only the intended target. Still, all of G-d's ways are just, and a person who is not meant to die just then will be moved far away, etc. But the "collateral damage" may include someone who would not otherwise have been deserving such a fate. That person is considered like one who died a natural death, or one who was indirectly hurt from the intended target.

This concept is actually alluded to in the tenth plage (Shemos 12:23):

ולא יתן את המשחית לבא אל בתיכם לנגף

And He will not let the destroyer come into your houses to afflict.

While this is also referring to outside harm (I think there is a Maharsha about that), one meaning is that the plague itself is being held back from afflicting the Jews.

(I admit that it is still hard to apply in this case, because each Egyptian firstborn was individually targeted.)

Two other rules that apply here:

The world as a whole and a nation as a whole are judged in the same way as an individual is judged.

Young children dying is a punishment to the parents, not to the child. (See shabbos 32b)

  • Thank you for your answer. Only that it seems to contradict the rabbi's statement that babies are not good or bad, but innocent. Be it as it may, if innocent babies die, it causes great grief to the parent, the sinner. But why should innocent people suffer for the sinner's deeds? The Bible says that the son shall not pay the sins of the father. How do we reconcile the two? Least we say the son being referred to in Scripture only applies to a son who is 13. That is without textual support, though. And still seems immoral.
    – Shmuel
    Nov 5, 2019 at 22:41
  • Chazal say it explicitly. Let me try to look it up.
    – Mordechai
    Nov 5, 2019 at 22:44
  • Sorry that I can't be more explicit, the computer is giving me trouble
    – Mordechai
    Nov 5, 2019 at 22:52
  • That's ok. Take your time. : )
    – Shmuel
    Nov 5, 2019 at 23:10
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    @Shmuel "Innocent is a baby that's innocent" - not bad. Well, regarding a baby - that depends if his soul is a new one or a renewed one (recycled).
    – Al Berko
    Nov 6, 2019 at 20:24

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