Life Sentence vs. Death Sentence

Question

In “Life Behind Bars” (on Chabad.org), Naftali Silberberg examines whether life in prison, which is often seen as a more humane alternative than executing a convicted person, is in fact more humane and in line with respecting a person’s dignity as required by the Torah. What’s your take? Does the Torah favor one type of punishment over another?

2 years

Answers

  1. Is it more humane to lock someone up in prison for life rather than execute them? Yes, there is no doubt that in the Western World’s weltanschauung being imprisoned for life is a far better option. However, in Jewish theology the death sentence is not something that is given as a “punishment”. Capital punishment in Jewish Law is there to serve as some kind of a rectification for the prisoner and if the person accepts the punishment it cleanses their soul and allows the soul to be judged by God in a completely different way than if the person had not been executed. Interestingly enough, the concept of prison does not really exist within Jewish Law – there are punitive damages and all kinds of other punishments – but prison is not one of them because the concept of punishment in Judaism is to rectify the problem and not just to punish the perpetrator.

    In all events, The Talmud teaches that the chances of a court actually finding someone guilty of a capital crime is very, very slim because the requirements of the witnesses are so strict that they are almost impossible to fulfill.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team

  2. Is it more humane to lock someone up in prison for life rather than execute them? Yes, there is no doubt that in the Western World’s weltanschauung being imprisoned for life is a far better option. However, in Jewish theology the death sentence is not something that is given as a “punishment”. Capital punishment in Jewish Law is there to serve as some kind of a rectification for the prisoner and if the person accepts the punishment it cleanses their soul and allows the soul to be judged by God in a completely different way than if the person had not been executed. Interestingly enough, the concept of prison does not really exist within Jewish Law – there are punitive damages and all kinds of other punishments – but prison is not one of them because the concept of punishment in Judaism is to rectify the problem and not just to punish the perpetrator.

    In all events, The Talmud teaches that the chances of a court actually finding someone guilty of a capital crime is very, very slim because the requirements of the witnesses are so strict that they are almost impossible to fulfill.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team