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Judaism and the Death Penalty. A Humanistic Perspective By Ethan Bogard. Why Did I Select This Topic?. I was a lawyer in a mock trial I love Law and Order One of my core values is justice, and Barry Scheck is my role-model. The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Passages.

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Judaism and the Death Penalty

A Humanistic Perspective

By Ethan Bogard


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Why Did I Select This Topic?

  • I was a lawyer in a mock trial

  • I love Law and Order

  • One of my core values is justice, and

  • Barry Scheck is my role-model


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The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Passages

“… then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22)


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The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Passages

  • “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:12)

  • “…Whoever does any work on [the Sabbath] shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35:1)


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The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Capital Crimes

  • Murder

  • Blasphemy

  • Homosexuality

  • Idolatry

  • Adultery

  • Sorcery

  • Bestiality


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The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Trouble for Bar Mitzvah Boys

  • 'A stubborn and rebellious son': when does he become liable to the penalty of a stubborn and rebellious son'? From the time that he produces two hairs until he grows a beard “right round”


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The Death Penalty in the Jewish Bible: Methods of Punishment Mitzvah Boys

  • Stoning

  • Burning

  • Slaying by the sword

  • Hanging

  • Flagellation


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The Talmud: Making It Really Mitzvah BoysDifficult to Execute

  • The rabbis barred execution unless:

    • At least two eyewitnesses to all parts of the crime testify

    • The eyewitnesses must have warned the offender before he committed his crime that he could get the death penalty if he does it

    • The offender must have acknowledged the warning and done it anyway


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The Talmud: Making It Really Mitzvah BoysDifficult to Execute

  • Bearing false witness (lying) in a capital case was a capital crime

  • No one may be executed based upon a unanimous vote


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The Talmud: Different Methods Mitzvah Boysof Execution

  • Rabbis were concerned that execution be:

    • as quick as possible

    • as painless as possible

    • cause as little disfigurement as possible

    • preserve the dignity of the condemned

  • Others argue for methods of execution more severe for more heinous crimes

    • Not all quick, painless, dignified

    • E.g. bury in dung and pull cords around neck!


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The Talmud: Making It Really Hard to Execute Mitzvah Boys

  • Forty years before the fall of Jerusalem, in 70 C.E., the rabbis finally stopped endorsing capital punishment under any circumstances, flatly abolishing it altogether


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The Death Penalty in Israel Mitzvah Boys

  • Death penalty for crimes against the state only

  • In the history of modern Israel only one death sentence has been carried out:

    • Adolph Eichmann

    • “the architect of the

      Holocaust”

  • Other death sentences have been imposed but overturned on appeal

  • The Israeli military has forbidden execution by criminal courts in the occupied territories


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    The Death Penalty in the U.S. Mitzvah Boys

    • 1973- Supreme Court rules death penalty laws unconstitutional

    • 1976- Supreme Court announces rules to correct constitutional deficiencies

      • States modify laws and resume executions

    • 1,100 executions since 1976


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    The Death Penalty in the U.S.: Changing Public Attitudes Mitzvah Boys

    • More people oppose the death penalty, especially if the alternative is life without parole

    • Concerns about wrongful convictions

    • No clear evidence of deterrence

    • 8 States have suspended the death penalty


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    The Death Penalty in the U.S.: Mitzvah BoysErrors Made?

    • My answer: “Yes.”

    • 120 death row exonerations since 1973

    • Mistakenly convicting capital defendants is not uncommon

    • Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project


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    The Death Penalty in the U.S.: Mitzvah BoysRace and Class Biased?

    • Discriminatory against

      • Blacks

      • Economically disadvantaged.

    • Better attorney = Life

    • Cheaper/overworked Attorney= death

    • In Kentucky, “it used to be said that if a Negro killed a white man, it was murder. If a white man killed a Negro, it was unfortunate. If a white man killed a white man, it was self-defense.”


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    Humanistic Judaism and the Mitzvah BoysDeath Penalty

    • Humanistic Jews believe in:

      • Racial Justice

      • Social Justice

      • Economic Justice

      • Human Reason

      • Scientific Evidence


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    The Death Penalty: My View Mitzvah Boys

    • Need for retribution justifies the death penalty

      • 9-11

      • Oklahoma City bombing

      • Killing of Police and prison officials

        but…

  • The death penalty discriminates based on race and class

  • The government makes mistakes

  • The rabbis thought the death penalty was OK in theory, but not in practice

  • So they made it very difficult to execute anyone


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