Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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G^d punishes sins of parents upon children to the third and fourth generation

I’m retranslating the Torah. Work that progresses slowly. Here is a preview.

The headline of this post is a sloppy translation of a portion of the verse Deuteronomy 5:9, or Exodus 20:5, the Second of the Ten Commandments. This also appears in the G^d’s Character Traits of Mercy in Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18 which have an added word for offspring in general.

The Problem

We must ask: How is it fair to punish (great-)grandchildren for sins of their (great-)grandparents? Judaism believes in fairness, as says Genesis 18:25.

And, Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20, II Kings 14: 5-6, and Jeremiah 31:29-30 say that parent nor child will be punished for the other’s sinning.

Impossible Solutions?

The Rabbis try to weigh the 4 punished generations against the ‘thousands’ for which the same verses proclaim G^d’s mercy. Some 2000/4=500 times more merciful than stern. Nice try, but you can’t expect G^d to say: I’ll be unfair to you only 0.2% of the time. Even we humans can’t justify sins by having many good deeds. The first ones are punished, the latter rewarded.

The Talmud (Makkot 24a) says that Moses decreed, and Ezekiel came and annulled the decree. Yet, Deuteronomy 24:16 already makes this point. It doesn’t need a later Prophet to ‘annul’ this. So, I don’t understand this.

Possible Solutions?

The answer I always heard is: Children are only punished for a sin of their forefathers if they commit the same sin (Berakhot 7a, Sanhedrin 27b). But if they don’t, they’re held innocent and won’t be punished.

Could our verses hint that G^d can excuse three to four generations of sinners before extracting judgment on them? That would be merciful.

Illogical Means Bad Translation

Suddenly, yesterday morning at a bus stop, I saw a young person do something not so good. Spontaneously, I thought: He doesn’t know any better. This is probably how he was raised.

And then it occurred to me that the above translation makes no sense.

Now, I assume (one could differ) that the Torah text must make sense. If it doesn’t, we don’t have a proper translation, I assume.

It makes no sense and is unfair to punish kids (equally) who don’t know any better. Logically, this text should read the opposite, which is mild.

It also is illogical that only when children repeat a sin from a parent they will get punished. When you sinned on your own, you messed up already.

And, another assumption of mine is that some of Judaism’s mildness got lost in the Diaspora from intensive contact with stern Gentile worldviews.

A New Idea

The only basic, literal meaning that makes sense is if it is understood as: ‘G^d punishes parents for their sins done next to/with/beside/close to (compare ‘Al in Leviticus 23:20) kids (to the third and fourth generation).’ Not only for your sins you get punished but also for the bad example or guidance you gave your (great-)(grand-)kids to commit the same sin.

And that is exactly how we deal with vice and virtue. My virtues benefit my deceased parents; my vices, even if I learned them from my parents, I hope will not be counted against them when I repent. Happy Yom Kippur!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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