The Assassination in Light of Jewish Religious Law

Article excerpt

Rabbinic law cannot legitimately be used to justify the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabbinic law includes stringent provisions for due process of law. Further, the rabbis smothered the death penalty with rules designed to limit its application. A court that imposed capital punishment once in seventy years was considered a destructive one. Witnesses in capital cases were admonished before testifying to be absolutely certain of their testimony, for "when a person destroys a single life, it is as if he destroys a whole world." Furthermore, no individual rabbi may pronounce the death sentence. No Jewish religious court today is empowered to impose the death penalty, for capital punishment was discontinued altogether forty years before the destruction of the second temple (i.e., c. A.D. 30).

Supposed halakhic justifications of the assassination fall back on two summary actions sanctioned by Jewish law. One is the rule of the "pursuer," under which a person pursuing a victim with clear murderous intent may be intercepted and killed by a bystander. This emergency rule may only be applied when the pursuer is threatening a particular individual when there is no time for judicial proceedings. A person whose religious behavior or political policy is disapproved of is explicitly excluded from the category of a "pursuer," even if his actions are contrary to Jewish law.

The other rule is that of the "informer," who loses the protection of law. …

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