On Wednesday evening, April 11th, at Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, and again on Thursday evening, April 12th, at the Germantown Jewish Centre
, JSPAN policy expert Marshall L. Dayan
spoke about the Jewish Perspective on the Death Penalty.
Dayan, State Strategies Coordinator for the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project, focused the first program on a discussion of Jewish perspectives derived from traditional Jewish teaching.
Noting that many advocates of the death penalty rely on biblical text, Dayan
cautioned against reading that text out of context and without the benefit of generations of scholarly interpretation.
observed that under Jewish law there were strict procedural requirements that applied to capital cases, and that under rabbinic tradition there was a heightened effort to avoid imposing a sentence of death.
Thus, at least two eyewitnesses to the crime were required.
Each eyewitness had to inform the person about to commit the criminal act that doing so would result in his
being condemned to die, and the person about to commit the crime had to respond that he
understood the consequences of his
actions and committed the crime anyway.
Circumstantial evidence, upon which so many cases today are decided, was not admissible evidence under traditional Jewish law.
So, where a witness saw one man run into a building and saw another man running after the first man with a knife and following him into the building, and then saw the second man run out of the building with blood on his
knife, and then saw the first man lying dead and bleeding in the building, that witness could not testify at all because he
did not see the man with the knife stab the man who was dead.