“How can you be pro-life and believe in the death penalty?”


DovBear wrote:

“Why kill a convicted murderer if there is a chance new evidence might one day exonerate him,”

I don’t think a murderer should be executed unless his guilt is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Nowadays, with DNA testing and other technological means, it is possible to prove guilt to a 100% degree of certainty.

However, I suspect that your “what if they get the wrong man?” argument is a red herring. In my experience, most liberals oppose the death penalty. Period.

Even if there is no doubt at all–for example, if there are witnesses to the murder as well as incontrovertible physical evidence–most liberals still oppose the death penalty.

A particularly fascinating phenomenon to me is the liberal argument that goes like this: “You claim to be pro-life, but you are not consistent. When it comes to murderers, you are not pro-life. Therefore, you are a hypocrite.”

I have seen this line of reasoning so often lately that I think it must be Chapter One in the Young Liberals Handbook.

If the person who makes this argument is an atheist, the very concept of guilt and innocence may be foreign to him.

However, when the argument is made by an ostensibly Orthodox Jew, the answer is right there in the Torah.

1. The Torah says, in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not murder.” The very same Torah says that if someone DOES commit murder, he is subject to the death penalty!

2. The Torah forbids the taking of innocent life. The Torah also says, “Therefore choose life.” And the very same Torah describes the circumstances under which the death penalty is to be carried out by a duly designated Bais Din, a court of Jewish law.

3. The Torah has rules of war. Here is an example of one rule you will NOT find in the Torah: “If someone makes war on you, lie down and die, but under no circumstances should you ever fight back.”

Now I would like to turn the argument around and ask liberals this: Why, if the killing of anyone under any circumstances is so abhorrent to you, are you so quick to kill people who are helpless yet inconvenient? Why would you kill a baby in its mother’s womb? Why would you kill a brain-damaged woman by starvation and dehydration?

And how do you then turn around and pat yourselves on the back for your moral superiority? How do you condescend to those who would kill the guilty, when you yourselves insist on killing only the innocent?

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Alex F
9 years 9 months ago

“The Torah in Bereishis/Genesis states that “he who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled.” Sounds like capital punishment to me. Further, according to the 7 Noachide Laws, all nations are required to have a court system and laws, which would seem to include capital punishment, which was commanded before a Sanhedrin existed. I don’t imagine that Noahide courts are required to operate according to the standards of the Sanhedrin. So it seems to me that capital punishment administered according to US law is perfectly legitimate.”

Excellent point, except that a Jew can be killed in such a way, which is unacceptable, according to Halacha (a Jew can be killed only by a Sanhedrin). If you say that according to Halacha it is OK for the functioning government to kill Jews, that all the Jews killed by Stalin and Hitler (functioning governments of their countries) were killed according to Halacha (G-d forbid).

10 years 3 months ago

Jessel, according to your rationale, why not reintroduce the mediaeval method of finding the truth? Put the suspect in bonds and throw him into the river. If he’s guilty, he deserves it, if he’s innocent, “G-d will see to it that ultimately no guilty person escapes punishment and no innocent person suffers unnecessarily.”

10 years 3 months ago

Some contributors seem to be arguing that we Jews should oppose capital punishment because the Jewish laws regarding evidence, testimony and the judicial process in a capital trial, which are seldom adhered to in a secular court, are very limiting (i.e., they seem to favour an acquittal).

This argument has several problems. The Jewish laws regarding evidence, testimony and judicial proceedings are in many ways difficult to understand, and in some ways seem bizarre. The strange aspects of Jewish judicial proceedings can often be understood only by a recognition that G-d runs the world and ensures that everyone gets his or her due. Therefore, even if a criminal gets off on some technicality (e.g., the witnesses didn’t see each other), as long as the proceedings were conducted properly it is assumed that justice was done and G-d’s will was carried out. G-d will see to it that ultimately no guilty person escapes punishment and no innocent person suffers unnecessarily.

But the halacha does not require non-Jewish courts to follow the Jewish rules. The Noahide laws only obligate non-Jewish society to establish courts of justice, and to try to ensure that judges and judicial systems do not practice inequity or fail to execute judgement against crime. It might also be a duty for non-Jews to establish just laws, to reprove injustice publicly, and to correct injustices by forcing the legislative and judicial systems to obey the laws. There is no requirement for them to have at least two witnesses and 23 judges, or to require witnesses to warn somebody that he or she was about to commit a crime that the act is a capital offense. Indeed, an argument could be made that such regulations should only apply to a Jewish, Torah-centred society. You cannot, therefore, claim that the Jewish view of capital punishment, inferred from Jewish law as it applies to a Jewish society, is applicable to the question of capital punishment among the other nations.

Furthermore, it may be an oversimplification to say, as DovBer suggests, that the halachic restrictions on the death penalty are so great that it is clear they would err on the side of life and not allow the death penalty when there was even the slightest room for doubt. Erring on the side of life might mean that you sometimes have to do whatever is necessary to stop the wanton taking of life. Murder is considered so devastating, and so destructive to the functioning of society, that the halacha permits special measures to be exercised to ensure that a murderer does not go free (Rambam in hilchos rotzei’ach u’shmiras nefesh 1:4; 4:8,9). Thus, even if all the various regulations and limitations were observed, they wouldn’t necessarily exonerate a murderer from a death sentence.

It could be that, in traditional Jewish terms, the incidence of murder and other capital offenses in the USA and other countries is so great that emergency measures are called for, and that the judicial system should actually relax its requirements in order to increase the conviction rate, even though this may bring about an increase in false convictions.

On a separate note, I believe one could present a good argument for bringing back the punishment of lashes for some crimes. For some crimes, it may be more humane and far more effective than sending someone to prison.

10 years 3 months ago

All of the above discussion seems to tell me that 1) a non-Jewish government has quite a bit latitude in how it applies the death penalty, and that 2) there’s no need for Jews to insist that the system fit a Halachic framework(aside from a general Noahide law perspective). Therefore, making arguments for or against the current state of death penalty in the US using our halachic understanding of the issue is pointless. The only way, even for religious Jews, to discuss the issue is over the pragmatic issue of balancing the virtue of minimize the occurrence of murder with the equally legitimate virtue of ensuring that people are not punished for crimes they did not commit. This is a very difficult balance to make and people are necessarily going to come to different conclusions about what the best path to take is. Let’s do Klal Yisrael a favor and not make it into a frumkeit issue (as in “if I am to trust your kashrus, you should hold X in the death penalty issue.”).