Kenneth Cohen

Torah and Collective Punishment

It is of critical importance that all of the opinions that we express, find their basis in Torah and rabbinic literature. This is how we can be certain that the views that we have, are not really our own, but a fulfillment of the will of G-d.

A subject that has already come up, is the question of collective punishment. Some have expressed the view that we cannot punish the residents of Gaza, by not allowing them to work in Israel. This would constitute collective punishment against innocent(?) Gazans, that are not part of Hamas.

Without addressing the naïveté of such an opinion, we must see if there is such a concept in the Torah. There is a verse that might look like there is opposition to collective punishment.

When Korach rebelled against Moshe, it looked as though Hashem was ready to punish all of Israel for this rebellion. Moshe said, “G-d of the spirits, shall one man sin, and You take out Your wrath on the entire congregation?”

This was followed by instructions that everyone should separate from Korach and his followers. They alone would be punished.
The commentators discuss why Moshe referred to Hashem as the “G-d of the spirits.” This description of Him, is only found in one other place in the Torah.

The answer is that only G-d can look into the spirit and mind of each individual. He alone knows who is guilty and who is not. We do not have that ability and must act accordingly.

There are no prizes given in Heaven for taking a chance that a resident of Gaza does not identify with Hamas. We cannot read minds as G-d does. But He expects us to follow the dictum that we must do everything possible to save the life of every Jew.
If this means that we end up not looking compassionate in the eyes of the world, so be it. We are far better off being unpopular and preserving the lives of every Jew, rather than take risks in the name of being accepted by the rest of the world.

In the end, they will hate us anyways, and they will still find a way to point an accusing finger at us.

Collective punishment is not a Jewish concept. It is a Western concept that risks the safety and welfare of other Jews. This is a risk that we must not take. It is the Torah and word of G-d that we must follow, whether it is popular or not.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at