Unmasking the Use of the Death Penalty

February 18, 2015

Though Purim is a time for costumes, carnivals and hamentaschen, the story also prompts big questions, like the use of the death penalty in our society. At the end of the Purim story, we see the death penalty carried out when Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. This use of capital punishment is notable because though the Torah mandated death for some crimes, the rabbis of the Talmud intentionally made its application so complex and difficult, that it became virtually impossible to use. There is no justice in taking a life for a life, and we learn in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 that causing a single life to perish is the same as “caus[ing] a whole world to perish.” In fact, the Reform Movement has formally opposed the death penalty since 1959 noting “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.” Therefore, we were proud to applaud Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Friday for announcing a moratorium on the death penalty:

Today, Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, acknowledging that the flawed system is “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible.” The decision will be in effect at least until the Governor receives and reviews the forthcoming report from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment that has been underway for about four years. There are currently 183 men and three women on death row in Pennsylvania who could be affected. The Governor clarified that his actions should not be taken as an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, but are based on the fact that the system has proven to be an “endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive…” In this spirit, we are encouraged by the actions of Governor Tom Wolf. There are 31 other states that still have laws allowing the death penalty and we will continue to fight against it until the practice has been abolished throughout our country.

Read the full statement here. Since joining the 90 Million Strong Campaign late last year, we have rededicated our efforts to abolish the death penalty. Governor Wolf’s efforts, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments yesterday calling for a national moratorium until the Supreme Court weighs in later this year, are encouraging. We continue to look forward to a day when this archaic practice no longer exists. For more information on the death penalty and broader topics in criminal justice, check out our website.

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