Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa

By Walter Jacob; Moshe Zemer | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT Rabbi Richard A. Block

T he question is as old as human history and as fresh as today's headlines: May those who violate society's most fundamental norms be put to death? Timothy McVeigh is the convict du jour and for the purpose of assaying an answer to that question, his case is as good as any and perhaps better than most. After all, if McVeigh's crime does not warrant the death penalty, what does? But let us recall, as we begin, that McVeigh's execution, if it occurs, may be ten or more years away and the US death row population presently exceeds 3,200 persons, 41 percent of them black. Seventy-nine people were executed in the United States in 1996 and each year approximately 300 more are sentenced to death.1 By the time America's official killing machine spews forth Timothy McVeigh's corpse, more than a thousand men and women are likely to precede him and several thousand more will be waiting in line.

If my position is not already evident, let me state it explicitly: I oppose capital punishment on Jewish and social grounds that I will outline later, but I did not arrive at this position easily nor do

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Notes for this section begin on page 72.

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