Shlomo Brody on Capital Punishment and the Jewish Tradition

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On October 27, 2018, a gunman burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, armed with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and three Glock .357 semi-automatic pistols. He executed eleven Jews at prayer. When police arrived, they shot the gunman multiple times, but he survived and was taken into custody. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

How does Judaism look upon capital punishment? Does this killer still bear the image and likeness of God and possess a dignity that is irreducible, such that he could be punished but should not be killed? Or did he surrender that moral standing by the act of murder? Do resources from within the Jewish tradition suggest that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on other potential criminals?

To think about these questions, Rabbi Shlomo Brody, the director of an organization dedicated to helping Jews navigate choices regarding aging, end-of-life care, and organ donation, joins the podcast. In 2021, he wrote an analysis of the death penalty for terrorists as seen by Jewish law. That essay, published in a volume entitled Hokhma LeShlomo, frames the conversation he has here with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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