Moses said, ‘Choose life’
Since justice has always been a fundamental tenet of Judaism, establishing fair and impartial courts of judgment has always been of the utmost importance. Ensuring that punishment is exacted with care and humanity requires consistent and thoughtful consideration so that it accurately reflects the changing times.
While it says in Exodus 21:24, “You shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” no one can be put to death on the testimony of just one witness; there must always be at least two witnesses.
The rabbis of the Talmud, the primary source for Jewish law, continued the discussion of the death penalty, leading them to create significant restrictions, making capital punishment much more difficult to impose. Death penalty cases had to be decided by a court of 23 judges.
While Reform Judaism, the most liberal and progressive branch of Judaism, has formally opposed capital punishment since 1959, in 1979, Reform rabbis found capital punishment “repugnant” and argued that there is no persuasive evidence “that capital punishment serves as a deterrent to crime.” In 1999, the Reform movement reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty and resolved to eliminate disparities based on race or ethnicity.
Jewish people, in our continued pursuit of justice, heed Moses’ timeless message to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:19 to “choose life.”
-- Rabbi Lauren Cohn, Temple Beth El, Anniston
God grants government authority
How’d you like to lose two sons in one day? Well, Adam and Eve did.
First they lost Abel, who was murdered by his own brother, Cain, and on the same day they lost Cain, because God exiled him to a land called Nod, or “wandering.”
Because of sin, men were going to die anyway, but God favors life, and perhaps that’s why He put a mark on Cain rather than requiring his life (Genesis 4:11-16). The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.
The death penalty existed in the Old Covenant for murder, kidnapping, bestiality, homosexuality, prostitution, rape, and even being a false prophet. However, God often showed mercy, because David committed adultery and murder, but his life was spared.
Anyone whose faith rests in the Most High God must receive His commandments as the highest standard for life, and then demonstrate their love for Him by obeying them. Furthermore, since capital punishment was instituted in the Bible, it would be foolish of us to even think that we could write a higher standard. Finally, we must recognize that God has given government the authority to determine when capital punishment is due (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-7). God does not oppose the death penalty in all cases, and Christians are foolish to think that He does.
— Bob McClain, Living By Faith Ministry, Oxford