Torah For Today! This week: Rehabilitating criminals
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Torah For Today! This week: Rehabilitating criminals

After terrorist Usman Khan went on a rampage in London after attending a rehabilitation scheme, Rabbi Abel asks what the Jewish response should be to reforming criminals

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Terrorist Usman Khan attended rehabilitation schemes during his time in prison, but after his release went on to murder two people during the recent attack at London Bridge.

What does the Torah day about rehabilitating criminals?

When a life is taken owing to neglectful behaviour, the man slaughterer must flee to a city of refuge.

The period of time to remain in a city of refuge is until the current High Priest passes away – something that could prove a lifetime.

At any rate, the purpose of staying in a refuge owned by and ministered to by Levites is rehabilitation.

It is there that killers get back into touch with their spiritual self. The Levites were teachers of the law and would see to it that rehabilitation was effective.

Speaking of Levites, the Torah declares: “The Lord is their inheritance”, a phrase adapted in the modern Siddur to the departed.

The Levites provided benchmark instruction, which allowed offenders to return to the community.

Thus, rehabilitation is not only part of the Torah’s communal design, but it is intended to ensure as far as possible that there is significant improvement on the part of an offender before he or she re-enters the community.

There is no escape from behavioural reform for convicts in the Torah’s legal and ethical system.

Whereas there is “sanctuary” for political refugees, anyone who is sought by the authorities for a capital offence is taken from the altar of God to face justice.

For this reason, Joab was unable to flee from David’s deathbed order to his son Solomon to execute justice for his rebellion against him.

Therefore, some crimes are not rehabilitated and those that are must follow a programme that ensures personal improvement and a reduction of recidivism.

Much work is needed to ensure the safety of the British public in this regard.

  •   Rabbi Ariel Abel CF serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force
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