Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children….” Deuteronomy (24-16)
Through the testimony of the children. But if you say that it means "for the sins of the children” you will presume that the text means literally "by the sins of the children.” That couldn't be correct because the verse concludes – “every man shall die for his own sin." Rashi based on Sifrei
What difficulty does Rashi encounter in the verse?
If the text is taken literally then the concluding phrase is a repetition of the sentence.
Can you resolve the difficulty in the verse in a manner other than Rashi?
One could assert that the concluding phrase is the rationale for the prohibitions listed in the verse. The unlisted word "ki" (because) before the word "ish” is to be understood as introducing the concluding phrase.
Even for the sin of treason against the Israelite monarchy when it was the custom of other ancient kings to kill the children to prevent them from avenging themselves against them as in Isaiah (14-21): “Prepare ye slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers that they not rise up and possess the earth and fill the face of the world with enemies.” The Torah forbade outright the kings of Israel to adopt such a practice, out of compassion of the Lord for his people. This precept was honored by Amaziah, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 15 4-5). Sforno
What is the difference between the interpretations of Rashi and Sforno?
Rashi’s approach is based on the Halachic interpretation provided by Hazal. Sforno’s approach is the literal reading of the text. There is no contradiction between both approaches. Both are valid!
How does the quote from Isaiah (14-21) support the commentary of Sforno?
The quote provides a contrast between the retribution practiced in the non-Jewish world and the Jewish approach to administering justice and retribution.
Whose interpretation does Onkolos follow and whose interpretation does Targum Yerushalmi follow?
Both Onkolos and Targum Yerushalmi follow Rashi’s interpretation.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem