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While Gerard Leval’s provocative “What the Bible Says About Reparations” (Houses of Worship, Aug. 18) is well-argued, it addresses only part of the story. The Bible promises that God may punish succeeding generations for the sins of their ancestors. But the Bible is emphatic about this kind of justice belonging exclusively to God. Human beings and human justice aren’t permitted to operate this way.

In the ancient Near East’s Code of Hammurabi, a child could be punished for the crime of her father (Hammurabi, 209-10). The Bible revolutionized an ethic of individual responsibility. In a Torah portion that Jews all over the world will read this week, the Bible insists, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers” (Deut. 24:16).

For a human court—or a society at large—to hold great-grandchildren responsible for the sins of their ancestors would be decidedly unbiblical.

Rabbi Yosie Levine

The Jewish Center

New York

As long as Mr. Leval suggests looking to Jewish tradition on the appropriateness of reparations for slavery, it is worth explaining the traditional view of the verse that he cites about visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. The prevailing view is that this applies only to subsequent generations that continue in the same wicked ways, and that this isn’t something left to the hand of human justice. At least one statement in the Talmud also contends that the prophet Ezekiel revoked the concept of multigenerational punishment.

Robert Kantowitz

Lawrence, N.Y.

Mr. Leval is correct but omits other wisdom from the Bible. I count 15 references to envy and 74 to forgiveness. Forgiveness lets us look forward. Backward-looking reparations keep old wounds open because they are never enough and can never be defined to everyone’s satisfaction.

Hatley Harrison

Spring Hill, Tenn.