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Rambam, in Hilchot Avodah Zarah 4:6, dealing with the subverted city, covers several scenarios:

  • If a minority of the city consists of idol-worshippers, they’re stoned and that’s it.
  • If a majority of the city consists of idol-worshippers, the idol-worshippers are decapitated, and their wives and children are decapitated.
  • If literally the whole city consists of idol-worshippers, everyone, including women and children, is decapitated.

In the second scenario, Rambam appears to suggest that innocent men will be spared (their property won’t, but I’m not interested in property for now, just focusing on people).

Question is:

Does sparing the innocent not directly contradict the biblical commandment - Deuteronomy 13:16 - that everyone in such a town should be killed?

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    All mitzvot discussed in the written Torah are required to be understood according to the teaching of the oral Torah. So simply put, it only appears to be a contradiction if one ignores the oral Torah related to it. Jul 21 at 23:06

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Does sparing the innocent not directly contradict the biblical commandment - Deuteronomy 13:16 - that everyone in such a town should be killed?

Here is the passage:

הכה תכה את ישבי העיר ההוא לפי חרב: החרם אתה ואת כל אשר בה ואת בהמתה לפי חרב

You shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the sword; destroying it utterly, and all that is therein and the cattle thereof, by the sword.

I think that according to the plain reading, there are two clauses here. The first clause: "You shall strike the inhabitants of that city with the sword" does not state that ALL of the inhabitants should be killed. Thus our mesorah teaches the system by means of which we separate out the transgressors from the righteous and subject them to sentencing. The second clause: "destroying it utterly, and all that is therein and the cattle thereof, by the sword" refers to the city itself and its property. That is entirely eliminated, and not even the property of the sadiqim (righteous) escape this fate as you note.

To add to that, there is an explicit Tannaitic source for differentiating between the wicked and the righteous of the 'Ir ha-Nidahath. The 'Abhodath ha-Melekh (H. A.Z. 4:6) cites a Genizah fragment from the Mekhiltah:

נעשתה התועבה הזאת למה נאמר, לפי שנאמר הכה תכה שומע אני אחד צדיקים ואחד רשעים ת"ל נעשתה התועבה הזאת בקרבך העובדין בלבד

"That did this abomination" (Deut. 17:4) why did the text include this? Since it said "Shall surely strike" (Deut. 13:6) I would have thought the righteous and the wicked alike, the Torah therefore comes and teaches those "that did this abomination" who within your midst served idolatry, they alone.

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