3

In Samuel 15:3 Samuel relays God's instruction to Saul of obliterating the nation of Amalek. Included in this instruction is also the command to slay infants and sucklings.

Samuel 15:3 "Now, go, and you shall smite Amalek, and you shall utterly destroy all that is his, and you shall not have pity on him: and you shall slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.' "

We are dealing with two moral issues regarding this instruction:

  1. Accountability of babies over the sins of their parents/nation
  2. Accountability of babies despite their lack of intellectual capacity to understand sin

Not only are we speaking of sins these children are not to blame for, EVEN if they had sinned we would surely look at it differently than if a grown adult had sinned and therefore hold them to different standards. In Ezekiel 18:20 God even seems to disavow the idea of inheritance of sin and the liability of a son over his father's wrongdoings.

How does Judaism resolve this moral dilemma? This surely does not sink well with 21st century ethical standards, nor is it very fitting with the aforementioned verse in Ezekiel.

  • Do they have the intellectual capacity to feel punished? If not is it really punishment? You may be misunderstanding what is happening. God seemingly doesn't try and fail at punishing. – Double AA Jun 4 at 1:41
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – msh210 Jun 4 at 13:32
  • Your question assumes that this was an individual punishment for each Amalekite. I don't think that assumption fits at all with what happened, as even the adults who were killed then were many generations after the adult Amalekites who attacked the Jews. God commanded us to destroy the Amalekite nation, and that includes everyone, but the command concerns the nation as a distinct entity, and it is not directed towards each individual separately. The main challenge for modern thinking is the individualist vs communitarian perspective. – simyou Jun 30 at 9:24
  • @simyou That is my very question. They are not to blame, so why are they being given the collective punishment for something they did not do? – RandomUser Jun 30 at 10:02
3

I think your question is based on an inaccurate assumption. You are assuming that these Amalekite children are being killed-punished- for the sins of their ancestors. That's not 100% correct.

In Judaism, suffering can come for multiple reasons. These reasons can be categorized loosely into two categories: Past and Future.

For a great introduction and explanation of this topic, see "The Informed Soul" by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb, pg. 128-156, where he brings 12 different explanations for suffering which are offered in classical Jewish sources and explains them in relation to the past or future.

One practical upshot is that it's possible for someone to suffer even if his past doesn't justify it. There can be other factors which do justify it. And these future factors can even outweigh and override what was earned in the past.

One example he gives, just to explain this concept: Imagine hiring Bob to work for you. When payday comes, you need to pay him based on the work he did.

Imagine that as you are getting ready to give him his check, you get a call from his social worker telling you that they have 100% confirmed that Bob is planning on using the money to buy a gun and shoot his wife, and that if you pay Bob his money you are actively complicit in the murder. (And for whatever reason if he gets the money the police won't be able to stop the murder- it's a hypothetical situation!)

You now have a conflict- base on past considerations (the work done), you have an obligation to pay him. Based on future considerations (the planned murder) you have an obligation not to pay him. What do you do?

In this case, the general rule should be not to pay him the money. In other words, the future consideration would win out. It doesn't remove the past consideration- you still owe him the money- but you will need to pay him in a different way.

This is a general concept of how G-d runs things. He doesn't just take into account what a person is owed based on the past, He also considers future ramifications.


What could be the future justification of killing out Amalekites? It's really a variation of the old "Baby Hitler" question. If you had the chance to kill adolf hitler while he was still an infant, thus preventing the Holocaust, would you?

Now generally, this can't be taken too far in a practical sense. We as humans have no way of knowing what a baby would be like when it grows up, and we cannot make such calculations. Who could have predicted what Hitler would become? But if we had a way of knowing the future, so we could know 100% what Hitler would become, then there's a strong argument to kill him as a baby. It's just we are limited.

But G-d's not. G-d can say that Amalekites (or members of the 7 Caananite nations) are a danger to society and must be eliminated. In classic Jewish thought Amalek is considered the archrival of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people). Klal Yisrael's purpose is to bring the world to a recognition of G-d, and thus elevate the world to the Messianic era of unity and perfection. Amalek is the enemy, the one trying to prevent the Jewish people from leading the world to this state of perfection. They are the epitome of evil. (See the Wikipedia site on Amalek, the section on Jewish Traditions, which brings some accurate traditional sources on this issue.)

This being the case, we can reframe the issue. The commandment to wipe out the memory of Amalek- even the children and animals- is because as long as there's a remnant of Amalek around, the world can't reach it perfection. All war, suffering and pain today is because Amalek was never fully wiped out.

Thus the commandment to kill them is the same as a commandment given to kill baby hitler- if it was given from an omnipotent, omniscient being who was reliable.

| improve this answer | |
  • Surely there would have been a more morally sound method of resolving this? Man who only knows evil will resort to evil. If you are brought up in a crime infested environment you will naturally turn to crime. That is why crime families exist. Why not then foster these infants and raise them with love and show them how to be good? Surely this would have been more effective than making your army develop PTSD. I also have a hard time believing there was not a single soul amongst possibly hundreds of babies that had the potential of being good. – RandomUser Jun 30 at 20:06
  • In classic Judaism, G-d is assumed to be the ultimate "good" as well as omnipotent and omniscient and does things as positively as possible. Thus had there been a better, more "moral" way to accomplish the same results, he would have commanded that. By definition the benefit gained- by everybody, including the babies and animals- outweighed any potential negatives. Everything exists for a purpose of revealing G-dliness. Evil's purpose is to be destroyed (see psalm 92). Thus eradicating Amalek- including the babies- fulfills their life's purpose; keeping them alive denies them meaningful life. – Binyomin Jun 30 at 20:33
  • 1
    I believe this answers my inquiry. If we presuppose that God is the epitome of goodness and God knows what's best, then his decision of killing those infants must have been the best moral option he could have taken. I will follow up with another question to this one. – RandomUser Jul 4 at 22:21
  • Babies are dangers to society? – Alex Aug 23 at 3:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .