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אַשְׁרֵ֤י שֶׁיֹּאחֵ֓ז וְנִפֵּ֬ץ אֶֽת־עֹ֝לָלַ֗יִךְ אֶל־הַסָּֽלַע׃

A blessing on him who seizes your babies and dashes them against the rocks!

Psalms 137:9

This verse doesn't sit well with me... It seems to be encouraging some rather cruel behavior. Is there a backstory for such cruel behavior?

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NOTE: This answer is tentative until someone double-checks that I didn't misunderstand any of the Hebrew and the text in the commentaries. I will edit/delete as appropriate, but I want it fact-checked by the community first.


My Hebrew is quite dodgy so I have to rely on different tools, but as far as I can tell, Malbim in his commentary on Psalms said that the verse is suggesting that those who are enemies of Jewish people and murder their children, oppress them and much worse, will suffer a horrifying fate to themselves due to actions they chose and isn't an actual call for violence:

אשרי שיאחז ונפץ את עולליך אל הסלע, כמ"ש והכרתי לבבל שם ושאר, וזה נתקים אז בשנה השנייה שעלה כורש עליה שנית והחריבה לגמרי והרג כל העם הנמצא בה:

In a similar fashion, Ibn Ezra suggests in his commentary on the Psalms that the verse is to be understood within the proper context of poetics and metaphor. He suggests that the verse is directed toward the Babylonians, who had shown cruelty by causing harm to the infants of Israel. The word "happy" is used sarcastically to describe the wickedness of their hearts. Ibn Ezra then speaks from the perspective of the Babylonians, implying that they might say the verse to God in a mocking tone, indicating their lack of understanding of divine justice.

There is also a prayer that God will bring retribution upon those who have caused harm to the Jewish infants, indicating that God will respond to their cruelty with appropriate justice.

Much like Malbim also, I think that Ibn Ezra is saying that those who are enemies of Jewish people, will suffer a terrible fate due to the evil that they're committing:

אשרי - ספר אכזריות לבם שנפצו עוללי ישראל, על כן למעלה את גמולך:

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  • Is there some other interpretation you're trying to refute? Maybe you can clarify in the question how you initially understood it and why it didn't "sit well" with you.
    – shmosel
    Aug 23, 2023 at 3:59
  • @shmosel I don't think you meant to reply to my answer lol
    – setszu
    Aug 23, 2023 at 5:36
  • I did. The answers seem pretty obvious, so I'm trying to understand what the question was.
    – shmosel
    Aug 23, 2023 at 14:05
  • @shmosel The OP of the question thought that the Psalm was encouraging killing children and praising such acts. This doesn't sit well with them, and I'm trying to explain to them what I think the Torah commentaries actually say about this Psalm and that such an interpretation isn't exactly correct according to many of the great Torah commentators.
    – setszu
    Aug 23, 2023 at 19:07
  • Sorry, I thought you were OP for some reason.
    – shmosel
    Aug 23, 2023 at 19:08

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