A gurney in the San Quentin State Prison in the United States on which prisoners are restrained during an execution by lethal injection/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Ask A Jew: What’s your view of the death penalty?


By Hyphen Parent

What questions do you have about Judaism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below.

This is part one of a 2-part series

How does your faith view the death penalty?

SPO_Ask-a-Jew-ad_042114After a surface reading of the Torah, it may seem that the death penalty is permitted and even advised. There are many infractions where the penalty is said to be death. However, Judaism’s stance on capital punishment is actually far more nuanced than it would initially appear.

While it is true that death is the prescribed response to certain crimes, the sages put into place restrictions and requirements that make it nearly impossible to sentence anyone to death. There are required numbers of witnesses, there must have been sufficient warnings before the crime, and a very specific court set up must occur to try the criminal.

While capital punishment is technically permitted under very specific and difficult to establish circumstances, it is not at all desired.

A Sanhedrin {High Court} that executes a person once in seven years is a murderous one (hovlanit – literally ‘destructive’ or ‘injurious’). Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: ‘Once in seventy years.’ Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva said, ‘If we were members of a Sanhedrin, nobody would ever be put to death.’ Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel dissented: [If so, you] would [thus] multiply shedders of blood in Israel,” (Mishnah Makkot 1:10).

In contemporary times, each branch of Judaism tends to take different views of how to apply those teachings. Israel abolished the death penalty in 1954. The only exception is someone found guilty of genocide and treason during a time of war. Adolph Eichmann, the “Architect of the Holocaust” was the only person executed in Israel since 1948. The Reform movement has opposed the death penalty since 1959. The Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements both oppose capital punishment. A resolution passed in 2000 by the The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America does not call for abolishing it, but supports efforts to review the death penalty and impose a moratorium until changes have been made.

Check Also

hiking outdoors

Caring for Our Mental Health Is Caring for God’s Creation

Mental health is a subject that faces a lot of stigma and shame in society. Addressing it and seeking support involves being vulnerable and open about what's going on in our minds, which is not easy to do. However, learning to care for our mental health is part of caring for God's Creation.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x