The State of Israel abolished the death penalty in 1954, except for crimes against humanity.
To this day, only Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962 has been executed.
An amendment to the penal code brought by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been given preliminary approval by the Knesset.
If fully accepted – after three more readings – it would allow a majority verdict in a military court to apply the death penalty to those convicted of terrorism.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted for the motion, saying that while the legislation required deeper discussion “in extreme cases, when somebody slaughters and laughs (as he kills), he should not spend the rest of his time in jail and should be executed”.
However abolition of the death penalty has been a common trend in most of the Western democracies.
The reason for this can be found in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, which states: “Know that capital cases are not like monetary ones. In monetary cases, [a false witness] can return the money and achieve atonement. But in capital cases, the blood [of the victim] and all his future offspring hang upon you until the end of time.”
Even though Biblical law mandates the death penalty for 36 offences, the rabbis who contributed to the Talmud created so many barriers that it is almost impossible to implement it.
Mishnah Makkot 1:10 states: “A Sanhedrin (court) that would execute somebody once in seven years would be considered destructive.
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says, once in 70 years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba said, if we were on the Sanhedrin, nobody would have ever been executed”.
There is another element to consider. This amendment concerns military court. In any democracy, military justice can only be exceptional. It is even more so the case about death penalty. If civil courts do not apply death penalty, why should a military court?
The main purpose of Tsahal (the Israel Defence Forces) is to defend Israel against its enemies, not to implement a “justice d’exception”.
Terrorism is a disease that has to be met with ruthless justice. They threaten our way of life; they kill blindly; they are the negation of our values. And they seek martyrdom!
Let us not offer them what they ultimately want, and let them not drag us down to their level.
Rabbi Rene Pfertzel is rabbi at Kingston Liberal Synagogue