Monday, February 24, 2014

Judaism & the Death Penalty

Judaism & the Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp

Another, of so many examples, whereby anti death penalty folks are wrong, on everything.


Another view of the death penalty, by Dudley Sharp
Jerusalem Post, published 03/19/2009

Innocents are better protected with capital punishment (1).

There are some clear problems with "Fabulously Observant: Jews and the death penalty," by David Benkof (JP, March 12, 2009). 

Rabbi Avi Shafran gave a common answer as to why a great many Jewish faith groups oppose the death penalty: 

"Jews have all too often found themselves on the wrong side of the administration of capital punishment - often for the sole 'crime' of being Jewish."  

Sadly, true. 

However, the fact that Jews have been wrongly executed doesn't mean that Jews cannot morally and rightly execute wrongdoers. An obvious example: Jews have been wrongly incarcerated, in just the same shameful manner, yet, Jews are not opposed to justly incarcerating those who violate the law.

Jewish talk show host Dennis Prager is correct, "capital punishment for murder is the only law that exists in all five books of the Torah." 

In other words, to God, implementing the death penalty for murder is a very big deal. If that is the case, why do so many Jewish faith groups oppose it? 

Rabbi Shafran ended, "That many a convicted criminal in the United States has later been exonerated by evidence or testimony only adds to the reluctance." 


In the US, of those sentenced to death since 1973 or later, possibly 25 actual innocents have been identified and released from death row.  (2) That is 0.3 percent of those so sentenced. There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900. Of all the government programs in the world that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty? Unlikely. 

In fact, innocents are better protected with the death penalty (1). 

BENKOF ADDS, "... two individuals had to witness the capital crime (3), and there had to be a 'kosher' warning before the act took place."(3). 

That was only for Jews, For all others, one witness would suffice and no warning was necessary. 

(added later) There are the translation variables, whereby a witness and to bear witness may both be included, meaning no eyewitnesses may be required, but other evidence may be sufficient, such as private or public confessions, ear witnesses, physical evidence of guilt, inclusive of today's DNA, videotape, fingerprints, tire patterns, footprints, ballistics, etc., some of which can be or are more accurate than eyewitness testimony (3). As Prof. Archer observed: "Did God want nearly all criminals, including murderers, to get off, scot-free, if " . . . (they) had not taken the prudent measure of committing (their) crime where two people did not happen to be watching him?" (3)

Benkof continues, "The Talmud says that any court that imposed death on a convict once in seven years - or even once in 70 - was considered a 'bloody' court."

This is a common and unfortunate recitation since it excludes the response of a later Talmudic sage, Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel: "Such an attitude (allowing murderers to live) would increase bloodshed in Israel."(1)

In other words, by letting murderers live, you only embolden more murderers - an important omission by Benkof.

Benkof continues: "Finally, there is the issue of the humaneness of the death penalty. Under Jewish law, capital convicts would be given alcohol until they were intoxicated, so they would suffer less." 

Suffer less? There were four methods of execution. If Jewish law were concerned with less suffering, why not pick only the least painful method? Why four, when three will always be worse than the fourth? 

In fact, all four were horrendous. (added, later. stoning, burning, slaying (by sword), and strangling). 

Benkof continues: "In the American system, convicts are first given a paralytic, so if they do suffer under the consequent two lethal drugs, they cannot express their pain. And there is significant evidence that they do suffer." 

Benkof is factually in error. The paralytic is given second. The first drug given is a massive dose of barbiturate or other anesthesia, leaving the inmate in a coma state. Almost exclusively, the "evidence" of suffering with lethal injection is of the "maybe," "might," "could be" variety (4). 

Benkof concludes: "But ultimately, it seems to me that life in prison without parole is a better option than the death penalty - in Israel, North America and throughout the world." 

It would be helpful if (Benkof) would give a good reason why. 

End of article. 

Footnotes, added later

1) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter?: A Review of All Innocence Issues

2) The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

3)  Is There a Biblical Requirement for Two Eyewitnesses for Criminal Prosecution?

4) a) Lethal Injection: Controversies Resolved


"Only especially vile murderers - such as false witness whose lies are discovered after the person who was framed has been executed, or a man who sacrifices both his son and his daughter to the pagan god Molokh - are denied execution because they are regarded as beyond redemption through capital punishment."

"Again, execution preserves human dignity, it does not defile it."

"...[T]he preservation of human dignity requires capital punishment of convicted murderers. The position of Judaism is opposite of the position espoused by liberals."

"It is precisely because of man's creation in God's image that capital punishment is declared justified and necessary. Human dignity requires execution of murderers, not compassion for their souls."

"Judaism's Pro-Death Penalty Tradition", Steven Plaut, PhD, Haifa University, Apr. 23, 2004 article for 


2) " (B)ecause murder is a grievous offense, both against God and against society." And when you punish a murderer through the death penalty, you are not only affording that person penance for his or her crime, in all of the contexts of death penalty transgressions or other penalties that are imposed upon criminals in traditional Jewish law, the punishment is viewed as a component of the transgressor's penance. (my emphaisis)."

"But in the context of murder, because it's also a crime against society, it's critical for the welfare of society. This is a traditional Jewish understanding of why it is imposed...".

"We're not about to take the position of abolition [of the death penalty], because the teaching that, again, the need for implementing justice, particularly with regard to crimes of murder, for society, is a critical component of Jewish teaching as well."

"Murder, is actually singled out in rabbinic teaching from all those other scores of transgressions and sins where the death penalty is proscribed...". 

"Religious Reflections on the Death Penalty", Nathan Diament, JD, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, June 5, 2001 appearance at the Pew Forum's event 


3) Rabbi Azriel Rosenfeld at

68. Murderer and Protection of Life - Rotze'ach u-Shemiras Nefesh

It is forbidden to murder, as it says "You shall not murder".1

A murderer must be put to death, as it says "He shall be avenged"2;

it is forbidden to accept compensation from him instead, as it says "You shall not take redemption for the life of a murderer...; and there shall be no atonement for the blood that was spilled... except the blood of him that spilled it".3

It is forbidden to execute a murderer before he has stood trial, as it says "And the murderer shall not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment".4

However, we are commanded to prevent an attempted murder by killing the would-be murderer if necessary, and it is forbidden to refrain from doing so, as it says "And you shall cut off her hand; you shall not be merciful"5;  (my emphasis)

and similarly for attempted fornication, as it says "[If the man seizes her and lies with her...] just as a man rises up against his friend and murders him, so is this thing."6

It is forbidden to refrain from saving life when it is in one's power to do so, as it says "You shall not stand on your friend's blood."7, a

1. Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17
2. Ex. 21:20; see Lev. 24:17,21
3. Num. 35:31,33
4. Num. 35:12 d.
5. Deut. 25:12
6. Deut. 22:26
7. Lev. 19:16 a. 1:1,4-11,14

From Halacha Overview,


4)  "Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) and Rabbi Joseph Bekhor-Shor, explained at great length that the Hebrew text refers only to unlawful killing. Both scholars stressed the differences between the Hebrew words for killing and murdering."
 "There are several strong arguments for the case that the sixth commandment should be translated as "Thou shalt not murder." First, the verb used in the Torah commandment is "ratsah," which generally is translated as murder and refers only to criminal acts of killing a human being. The word "kill" generally refers to the taking of life for all classes of victims and for all reasons. This generalization is expressed through a different Hebrew verb "harag." 

The command could never refer to all killing, because God permits, condones or commands killing in self defense, defense of others, in a just war and with capital punishment for up to 36 sins/crimes.


5) Christian context

As, virtually, all biblical scholars know, a number of bible translations already have, correctly, changed to "thou shalt not murder" and more are to follow (1).

Anyone, with just a casual knowledge of the bible is aware that killing is prescribed and some times commanded in certain circumstances, so the translation or the meaning cannot be understood as prohibiting all killings.

It is well known to all biblical scholars that the meaning, as well as many proper translations, is "thou shalt not murder", as with the context, soon after that command, God  introduces 33-36 crimes/sins for which the death penalty is appropriate.

In addition, all major Christian and Jewish denominations find that killing in self defense, in defense of others, in a just war  are all defensible, under morally defined circumstances, as when killing an unjust aggressor.

For more than 2000 years, there has been Catholic/Christian New Testament support for the death penalty, from Popes, Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, church leadership, biblical scholars and theologians that, in breadth and depth, overwhelms any teachings to the contrary (2).

1) Many different examples of the translation, as well as the context

2) Hundreds of New Testament Christian teachings in support of the death penalty

New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming