Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Response to Jewish Atheist

Jewish Atheist has a post about capital punishment in the Torah and in present day Iraq. Here is my response to him:

I thought I should comment a few differences between the formal Jewish death sentence of stoning and what you witnessed on that horrible video. You cannot compare them, and here is why:

1) In Jewish courts, the condemned was drugged before the death, so that they would not feel the same pain or fear as if they were awake. This is akin to the drugs used in today's lethal injections which place the condemned in a relaxed, sleeping state before death.

2) They were thrown off a cliff first before rocks were thrown
so that the person would die immediately. The stones were ceremonial, not the cause of death.

3) To be liable for one of the 4 formal deaths (stoning is one of them) the person had to be warned, and had to agree they know they will be punished, but want to sin anyway. In other words, the only way to get these capital punishments is to want to rebel against God, with foreknowledge of the consequences. This is clear from Maimonides quoting the Talmud (source to come).

4) The Jewish concept of these capital punishments was 'וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו', ie. to provide deterrence for others so that they not sin. This is actually one of the main reasons the US has capital punishment today.

5) Jewish capital punishment was carried out after a court case and verdict. More than a majority of a large court of learned judges was required to condemn a person, and the execution was delayed to allow for any evidence to come forth and exonerate or allow a loophole.

You cannot separate the Oral Law from the Written. We who believe the Written Word as the word of God believe it to be provisoed by His Oral Law, and that lays down the five points I just mentioned. In other words, the same God who wrote those verses, gave over the Oral Law that modifies them. See Rabbi Hirsch on the fact that the Written Law is like lecture notes that leave out important details, and the Oral Law was the lecture.

Thus your problem is really only with someone who does accept the written law, but not the oral law that modulates it. In other words, your problem with stoning is not with Orthodox Jewish thought, much less practice.

What do you think?