But is there ever cause for the death sentence? This guy, for whatever misguided reasons, is responsible for great loss and terror.
The death penalty is one of the central controversial issues that divides the US. This is also true for the Jewish community. People hold on to deep convictions that are rooted in religious and moral views and are very emotional.
This is also one of the biggest issues in the case for the evolution and progress of religious-civic thinking. The Bible – and at least in theory – Jewish Law – calls for the death penalty. Never mind that no Jewish law, for thousands of years, if ever, carried out such justice. (And I take Eichman out of the equation here for a moment, as one of only two people executed by Israel for either war crimes or treason. It was not a “Jewish legal” procedure per se.)
How have we evolved, and are still evolving, as a people, to view our ancient laws, including the death sentence, as just that – ancient – and re-interpret them, not just ignore them, and claim new truths that mirror our modern values?
Yes, the Bible says so. But what do we say, today? How does new knowedlge about the world, our minds, what makes life better and kinder inform what we believe, do, and support?
And this week, the Bible, perfect timing, describes exactly such a case, and it isn’t pretty.
In Emor, the weekly Torah text, An anonymous male, son of a Jewish woman and Egyptian man, hence, half breed and semi member of the tribe, gets into a fight, uses fowl language and some sort of strong words against God, is found guilty (by God), and sentenced to public stoning.
And there it is again, before the sentence is carried out – the reminder of an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth, the one who kills a person will be killed. One law for all. The good news is that from the depths of the Bronze Age comes a real judicial system. The bad news is that we’re not there anymore. Or are we?
“And the people lay their hands on his head and stone him to death.” Lev. 24:23
These type of public scenes still take place all over the world – sanctioned by governmdents, regimes, war lords and criminals.
To what end?
Last week I wrote about abomination and how, like many worthier and wiser I choose to read it differently and not abide by its classical, hurtful ruling. In a world still goverened by Biblical law along I and many others would be right there in the public square executed for our crimes of passion. Indeed, there are plenty of people and not just in Westboro who would like nothing else.
This law, like many others, should be only seen as history.
Same goes for the death sentence, as endorsed by sacred scripture. It served its purpose in a civilization as violent as any chapter in the “Game of Thrones” but we can aim for better Justice, more humanity and possibly better cause and effect.
In the very least, this topic deserves more careful thinking, and definitely not urgent calls for the blood of the bomber, or any other convicted criminal with real blood on their hands.
Here’s a great brief summary: Jewish perspectives on the death sentence , courtesy of Bend the Arc.
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org