Thursday, September 22, 2011

Abolish The Death Sentence? I Think Not.


The world has been following the story of Troy Davis, a man convicted and executed for the murder of an off-duty police officer back in 1989. Protests have been going on around the country - and world - in an effort to save his life, but the Supreme Court of the state of Georgia followed the United States Supreme Court denied those requests, and Davis was executed via lethal injection last night.

The world is now up in arms over a the government instituted execution of a man purported to be innocent based on recent retractions and alternate claims that cropped up in the last few years after he was originally convicted. I honestly don't know which side to believe, since both seem to make good points, but I can say that I felt a chill race down my spine as I read his reported final words last night.

"(Davis) made a statement in which he said... 'Despite the situation you're in, (I) was not the one who did it.' He said he was not personally responsible for what happened that night, that he did not have a gun. He said to the family that he was sorry for their loss, but also said that he did not take their son, father, brother.

"He said to them to dig deeper into this case, to find out the truth. He asked his family and friends to keep praying, to keep working, to keep the faith. And then he said to the prison staff, the ones he said 'are going to take my life,'...'May G-d have mercy on your souls,' and his last words to them (were), 'May G-d bless your souls."

Scary, huh? At any rate, it certainly makes one wonder.

The world is outraged and many are calling for the abolishment of the death penalty. They say that no one deserves to suffer such cruel punishment, certainly not a potentially innocent man. But what about criminals who really do deserve to be permanently removed from society, such as this racist from Texas name Laurence Russel Brewer, who was also executed yesterday.

Note the huge disparity between the comments on the two pages about execution.

If execution is unfitting for everyone, then yes, it should be abolished. But if it serves a purpose, as a deterrent to potential violent and fatal crimes, then it should exist and continue to be applied as judicially appropriate. The question for Troy Davis was, did he actually commit the crime he was charged of? Had he been executed when he was originally convicted, I doubt the world would be as stirred up, if at all, as it is now. Would the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have said "The abolition of that penalty is essential to protect human dignity" about Brewer? Almost all the comments on articles discussing his execution can be summed up as "why didn't this happen sooner?" and "he should have been killed like his victim, chained up and dragged behind a truck!"

As Jews, we can't ignore these sorts of things, since they can, and do affect us as well. Anyone remember the execution of Martin Grossman last February? The charedi response there was ridiculous - a chillul HaShem - as the sister of the ranger Grossman killed basically says in the video interview there. I couldn't find an article on CNN, but all the Jewish websites and blogs covered it quite extensively, and almost all were outraged at the idea of a Jew being killed by a secular government. I still don't understand why a convicted killer deserved such protest, even if he was Jewish and even if he did do teshuva, as some reported.

And what of poor Lieby Kletzky's vicious murderer, Levi Aron? The evidence is there. Should he be put to death? I tend to think he should - as should any other proven murderer. There is capital punishment in the Torah for a reason, as it says in several locations, to "remove evil from our midst." If we, as a world society, decided to abolish the enforcement of the death penalty, our already problematic laundry list of annual violent crimes would increase exponentially, and we'd all be in a lot of trouble.

If a person contemplating killing another person weighs out the options he has within his free will - to kill the person who wronged him, who he hates for whatever reason, or for the mere horrific 'thrill' of doing so, and thus be rid of that person forever, while ending up in a secure facility where he will be fed, clothed, and given TV etc for the rest of his life, all at the expense of the tax payers - or to live the life he does now, with the same person causing trouble or grief for him, a life that may already have other troubles from debt, relationships, unemployment, drugs, whatever (a lot of these things seem to go together) - what would he seriously choose?

If there is no deterrent to such heinous acts, what is there to stop such a person from exacting revenge, spilling blood, and going on to live the out his days in moderate comfort for free? If we decide that no one should die for their crimes, no matter how horrible they are, what reason will there be for anyone to ever not commit such atrocities when the opportunity arises? Throw serious consequences out the window, and let's see what happens...

I'm sure some readers are thinking, as I have, that even in the halachic system it was very hard to properly convict a murderer - which required two witnesses to the act who warned the killer beforehand, saw him acknowledge their warning, and carried out the killing anyway. In my limited experience (I haven't learned Shas after all) of learning Gemara, I've seen discussions where Chazal went out of their way to make sure a potentially innocent man wasn't put to death by intensive questioning of witnesses that often led them to trip up.

But there was also the concept of kipa, discussed on Sanhedrin 81B wherein Beis Din would punish a criminal they were convinced was guilty but lacked the required witnesses. They'd lock the person in a cell, starve him, then feed him barley bread until his stomach burst.

Clearly, Chazal knew that executing a violent criminal, or sinner deserving of capital punishment, was a worthy pursuit. So why does the world at large seem to forget this? Without the threat of punishment, why would anyone consider not committing a murder? With all the news coverage of cases where alleged killers are either exonerated, or at worst, sentenced to life in prison, what's to stop a young person watching the broadcast from getting inspired to attempt a similar act in the future, should the circumstances become valid in their eyes? There are far too many problems with today's youth (of all races) in underserved and overpopulated areas with drugs, pregnancies, theft and other crimes, many of which go unnoticed or unpunished, to provide yet another harmful outlet for their frustration and anger at their lot in life.

What the world needs is effective punishment where criminals do not enjoy the finer things in life, such as free housing, food, cable TV, workout rooms, etc in jail - for those who truly deserve the death penalty. We shouldn't be dragging out such cases for 20+ years before finally deciding to execute a criminal, because that distances the punishment from the crime, and gives people a chance to feel bad for someone who deserves to answer to justice for their wrongful actions.
We humans are often weak when it comes to our emotions. That's why we often give into the urge to sin or hurt others. It is also why we can be manipulated into believing falsehoods as crafty individuals pull our heartstrings, forcing grey into arenas that can be, or were, more starkly defined as white and black.

With all the other negative things going on in this world, including such sad things as horrible conflict within our own people in our own land, and with morality quickly going down the drain in so many different and frightening ways, I hope humanity can get a grip on itself before we sink into moral anarchy.

I've had enough of all this...We need Moshiach now.


  1. The Torah grants permission to the Sanhedrin to execute criminals. Why do you assume it also grants permission to the state of Georgia?

  2. I know with certainty that the Torah permits, and actually commands, gentiles to establish a righteous judicial systemaccording the 7 mitzvos bnei Noach (#7 incidentally) which will administer the laws of the land. This includes the death penalty. There are a number of books written on this subject.

    Additionally, in Pirkei Avos 3:2 the Mishna states: "Rabbi Chanina the deputy [High] Priest said, pray for the welfare of the government (lit., monarchy), for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live."

    And that's exactly my point. Rabbi Chanina isn't talking about a Jewish government. Without appropriate and swift application of the death sentence - and it would do you well to notice that nowhere did I mention whether I thought what happened with Troy Davis was correct or not - society would collapse in on itself, as it has in pockets of the United States.

    We cannot have lawlessness and abundant crime, otherwise none of us would be able to live safely and in peace. The threat of a real capital punishment, with actual examples carried out in due time, not 20+ years after a conviction, would, I believe deter at least some violent crimes.

  3. is there a source that says that the establishing judicial systems accordig to the 7 mitzvbos bnie Noach includes the death penalty?

  4. girl1234 - indeed there is. In fact, according to Sanhedrin 59a (and Rashi): "The only punishment meted out by the Noahide courts of law in crminal cases is the death penalty." See "The Path of the Righteous Gentile" by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky for more information about the 7 Noahide laws and their application. I found this on p.102, but their whole 11th chapter deals with the Noahide judicial system.


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