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In II Samuel chapter 21, David orders the hanging of seven males from Saul's issue (at the request of the Gibeonites) for Saul's wiping out of Nob. When I read this chapter, I was confused.

We know from the Torah that sons cannot be put to death on account of their father's sins (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20), so why were Saul's descendants killed for the sin Saul committed in wiping out Nob?

Rashi says that each descendant of Saul passed before the Ark of the Covenant, and whoever the Ark clutched was selected to be killed. Does this mean that this act was approved by Heaven?

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for posing this incredible question. I wonder, perhaps as the start of an answer - In general, you are correct that parents and children are not punished for each others’ sins, but there is one exception: if the children continue the sins of their parents, they will be punished not only for their own sins, but their parents’ as well. I wonder if that’s what’s going on here - these seven children were in some way continuing the sin of Nov. – DonielF Aug 30 '18 at 13:23
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    Hi user2040131, and welcome to Mi Yodeya. Thank you for bringing your question here. I have edited it to add source material, to make it more clear. If you don't like any of the edits I've made, then feel free to edit it back. By the way, you can change your username in the profile page, unless the number 2040131 has some sort of meaning to you. :) – ezra Aug 30 '18 at 15:33
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But isn’t it written: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children (nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression.)"(Deuteronomy 24:16)? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: It is better that one letter and one mitzva be uprooted from the Torah in this manner and thereby the name of Heaven not be desecrated in public.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak: It is better that one letter be uprooted from the Torah and thereby the name of Heaven be sanctified in public. How so? As the Gentile passersby would say: What is the nature of these people who have been left hanging here for so long? They were told that these are sons of kings. And what did they do to deserve such a fate? They had laid their hands upon and caused harm to calculating converts who had converted for personal gain and were never permitted to enter into the congregation. Those passersby said: There is no nation as worthy of cleaving to it as this one. If the sons of kings who harmed converts are treated in this manner, all the more so would the sons of ordinary people be. And if calculating converts are related to in this way, all the more so would this apply to members of the Jewish people themselves.

Immediately, one hundred and fifty thousand converts joined the Jewish people,...

(excerpts Talmud Yevamos 79a , translation from Sefaria)

A regular Jewish court would not be allowed to kill sons for fathers. However, this command came from G-d as a blatant exception to the rule. Since it was a miraculous decree from heaven directly ordered, it was carried out as a Horaah HaSha'ah (one time decree).

Apparently, the lesson we learn is that oppressing the weak and lowly is so evil in the eyes of G-d that it may override the regular course of action (as in this case).

  • I'm not seeing how this answers the specific question of what King David did. – DanF Aug 30 '18 at 21:17
  • @DanF The OP asked: " so why were Saul's descendants killed for the sin Saul committed in wiping out Nob?" and "Does this mean that this act was approved by Heaven?" Those questions are answered. The title question (which is the title and is not to be taken as the actual q without context from the OP body IMHO) asks : "Was it right for David to hang Saul's descendants for their father's sin?" The OP itself describes and sources that David acted by miracle and on Heaven's command. Once the other two questions are answered so is this. It wasn't a "David" specific q, as opposed to another. – David Kenner Aug 30 '18 at 21:29
  • Todah, you answered my question, now I understood. Saul's offsprings were not innocent, they were punished for their and their father's sins. – Dan Weisberg Aug 31 '18 at 7:16
  • @user2040131 You are most very welcome. :) – David Kenner Aug 31 '18 at 8:23
  • Hmm, this isn't a bad answer, but it feels to me more like a long comment in search for a better answer. – ezra Sep 2 '18 at 6:00
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If you read the full story, on the surface, it seems that David didn't have much of a choice in the matter. He tried to appease the Gibonites with money, but they were not appeased. They demanded that the descendants of King Saul be killed, since Saul killed the entire city. There are some key items to understand:

Verse 2 (together with Rashi's explanation) - During the time of Joshua, The Gibonites pretended that they were merchants, and Saul made all of B'nai Yisra'el swear that they would never harm them, but they would be permananet servants to B'nai Yisra'el. Saul was "zealous", but Rash'i explains that this was not a positive zealousness as what Pinchas did. Saul originally wanted to kill just the Cohanim in Gibon, but from the time that Saul learned that his kingdom would not be established, he decided to take out his "anger" for failing to destroy Amalek completely, and took it out by destroying all of Gibon. So, the Gibonites were justified to have a gripe against Saul and his family.

But, at the end, why hand over Saul's children? See Rada'k on verse 6 who explains that at least in the Gibonite's analysis, this was G-d's will that they be killed so that B'nai Yisra'el should visually see the Gibonites' revenge and thus, they should be careful not to harm the Gibonites in the future.

  • As I said concerning the answer above, this isn't a bad answer, but I feel it's more of a long comment in search for a better answer. – ezra Sep 2 '18 at 6:01

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