Rabbi Black: “Today, we oppose capital punishment not only on moral grounds, but for practical reasons as well.”
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SANTA FE, NM, March 19, 2009 — New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson late last night signed the Death Penalty Repeal Bill (HB285) after it passed both houses of the New Mexico State Legislature. In recent weeks, Reform rabbis and activists in New Mexico have played a key role in the fight for death penalty abolition, and all three New Mexico Reform synagogues are organizational members of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty. In response to the bill’s signing, Rabbi Joseph R. Black of Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, Rabbi Paul J. Citrin of Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces, and Rabbi Marvin S. Schwab of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe issued the following statements:
Rabbi Joseph R. Black (Congregation Albert, Albuquerque):
We applaud Governor Richardson’s decision to sign the Death Penalty Repeal Bill and end our state’s use of capital punishment. We oppose capital punishment not only on moral grounds, but for practical reasons as well. Though supporters often cite its role in deterring crime, murder rates are, in fact, higher in states that practice capital punishment. Above all, the finality of capital punishment requires, at a minimum, a certainty about the guilt of the prisoner. Over the past 3 decades, more than 130 individuals nationwide have been released from death row after new evidence came to light, making clear the very real risk of a wrong execution.
Rabbi Paul J. Citrin (Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces):
For half a century, the Reform Jewish Movement has opposed capital punishment and reaffirmed the belief “that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime.” In Jewish tradition, we are taught that even a court that executes “one person in seventy years is tyrannical” (Mishnah Makkot 1:10). In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud placed such great restrictions on applying the death penalty, that its application became virtually impossible.
Rabbi Marvin S. Schwab (Temple Beth Shalom, Santa Fe):
We commend Governor Richardson and the New Mexico State Legislature for abolishing the death penalty. We hope that other states across our nation will follow New Mexico’s lead and end this practice which diminishes our moral leadership in the world.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.