Hebrew Wikipedia writes, commenting on the well known quote "אבות אכלו בוסר, ושיני בנים תקהינה:"

אבות אכלו בוסר ושיני בנים תקהינה הינה סוגיה דתית-פילוסופית מרכזית ביהדות ובדתות אחרות.

פסוק זה, המוזכר בספר ירמיהו, פרק ל"א, פסוק כ"ח ובספר יחזקאל, פרק י"ח, פסוק ב', משמעותו היא שבנים נושאים את העוונות של אבותיהם. הפסוק מובא כתיאור מצב קיים ובתקוו לעתיד בו המציאות הזאת תשתנה וכל אחד יהיה אחראי לעוונותיו הוא, ולא ישא באחריות לעוונות אבותיו.

במסכת אבות ניתן לפסוק זה פירוש המבהיר שעוון אבות יוטל על הבנים רק אם ימשיכו במעשי אבותיהם, כי עוון של דורות חמור יותר מעוון של פרט אחד.

Does anyone know where the aforementioned quote from Pirkei Avot comes from? And if not Pirkei Avot, where?

  • The gemara that mentions this pasuk is sanhedrin 39a the gemara that mentions the concept of children continuing the follies of the fathers is Brachos 7a. – user6591 May 18 '15 at 1:54
  • Perhaps Avot deRabbi Natan? – Double AA May 18 '15 at 2:35
  • @DoubleAA, funny you should mention that, in my haste I read "במסכת אבות ניתן" as "אבות נתן", and so that was the first place I checked. No luck there. – shman613 May 18 '15 at 14:51

The one aspect of this quote which I can point to in Chazzal is the fact that Hashem will punish the child for his fathers sins when the child continues in his fathers ways. This is found in Brachos 7a and Sanhedrin 27b.

The explenation given כי עוון של דורות חמור יותר מעוון של פרט אחד does not appear there. In fact by reading the gemara in Sanhedrin and the psukim (especially Shmos 34 7) in context, the point is Hashem in his merciful kindness does not punish immediately but rather waits for repentance, up to the third and forth generation. If that does not happen, he will punish that generation, however all past misdeeds of the last generations which were hanging up in the air will come crashing down at long last.

[Another point from the gemara there is that we are obviously discussing a situation where there was no possibility to reprimand the sinners. Anyone at any time can be punished for someone else's sins if they had the opportunity to reprimand them and did not.]

See also Sanhedrin 39a where this pasuk is the basis for one of the only three extent parables out of three hundred fox parables which Rav Meir had. See Rashi's explenation. Rav Hai Gaon had a different explenation that you might not have access to so I'll quote it in short.

A fox tricked a lion into a trap when he told him he would not suffer for his attempt to eat a sleeping person, only his grandchildren would suffer. After getting trapped the lion complained 'but you said I wouldn't suffer?' To which the fox replied 'this is the punishment due for your grandfather's sin!'


If you need a source within Avoth, perhaps the author meant an interpretation of 5:2:

עשרה דורות מאדם ועד נח. להודיע כמה ארך אפים לפניו. שכל הדורות היו מכעיסין ובאין עד שהביא עליהם את מי המבול

namely, that the individual generations did not merit destruction; only when 10 successive generations continued with the same sin did the world merit destruction. Otherwise, perhaps the author meant to reference one of the sources mentioned in the comments (or Targum Onkelos where he explains e.g. the last of the 13 Middot).

  • See the update to the question. – msh210 May 18 '15 at 17:05

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