This afternoon, I will be testifying before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee about my support of House Bill -- HB 1264, Repeal of the Death Penalty. Below is the text of my remarks:
Statement on Capital Punishment
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Colorado House Judiciary Committee
March 19, 2013
There is evil in this world. We have seen it – many of us here today have experienced it first hand. There are bad people in this world. They commit horrible crimes. For me, the central issue is surrounding the death penalty revolves not around how we see the most evil elements of society - but how we perceive ourselves. Are we going to allow our fear of crime, our desire for vengeance, our bottom line mentality to govern how we conduct ourselves? Capital punishment is a quick fix - it may be popular with voters – it may make some people feel that “something is being done” - but ultimately, I believe that it lessens our own humanity when we take the life of another person.
Today you will hear about moral, economic, psychological and legal reasons why the death penalty should be abolished. These are all valid and important. But my reasons for opposing it are based on my understanding of myself and all of us as spiritual beings.
Those who have committed atrocities need to be punished. There are some men and women who, as a result of their crimes, cannot be a part of a civilized society. But, I firmly believe, one of the prices of being “civilized” is taking on a responsibility to act in a way that is consistent with our own internal holiness.
All religious traditions teach that one day humanity will be judged. I believe that our judgment will not merely revolve around how we treated the best elements of our society – but how we treated the worst elements of our society. The price we pay for living in a civilized, moral community is living with the fact that we cannot totally eliminate evil. But we can assert that we will not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of those who wreak havoc, fear and despair in our lives. We should not allow ourselves to become like them.
While the Bible certainly makes provisions for Capital punishment, over the centuries, the ancient and modern Rabbis of my tradition have nullified these laws and made it virtually impossible to implement the Death Penalty.
The only time that the Israeli court system ever instituted the death penalty was in 1962 – when Adolph Eichman – the architect of the Nazi Final solution – was put to death - and even his execution was highly controversial and is being debated to this day.
In the book of Genesis we learn that we are all created in the Image of God. There is a spark of holiness inside every human being. All life is holy - even that of the most damaged and evil members of our society. When we take a life - whether that life has committed murder or not - we are diminishing the image of God. Yes, the murderer has done the same - but the fact that we claim to be a moral society calls us to rise above our desire for vengeance and understand that one act of murder does not make up for another.
Killing human beings can never be justified as a just punishment for who are we to act in God’s stead?
Thank you for your consideration.