I stand by what I wrote then in this latest installment on the subject.
by Rabbi Avi Billet
The Torah shuns violence, values life, and has embedded in most Jewish hearts and minds through the generations that violence is not our way. The establishment of the State of Israel and the needs for vigilance and survival have changed this attitude somewhat, but even so, the Jewish people are still held to a higher standard – by others and by ourselves – and will seek diplomacy and other options before resorting to violence as a last option.
This makes the section of Devarim 13:7-12 quite troubling. In simple terms, the Torah describes a case in which an individual from your community, who may be quite close to you, chooses to act as a missionary for another god or religion, and tries to get you to worship that other god.
The Torah says, " agree with
1. Since the destruction of the Temple 2000 years ago, the Jewish people do not have a system that would allow for such a sequence of "justice" to play out.
2. The Talmud (Makkot 7) discusses the propriety of a court executing capital punishment. Some felt capital punishment should be a very rare occurrence, while others felt that all the criteria necessary to obtain such a verdict would be so difficult to achieve that a court would never be able to execute someone.
But it is Rabbenu Bachaye who instructs us as to how we should properly view the death penalty: "The Torah is all mercy and it comes from the Merciful One. When it tells us to take the life of one who is guilty, it never intends for us to do so in a vengeful manner. That would be the excuse were we trying to train ourselves to be cruel. But the 'revenge' is meant to be merciful: to have mercy on everyone else. This is why it says 'Don't let your eyes pity him' and 'All of Israel will hear and see and will not continue to do this any more' and 'you must eradicate evil from your midst.'"
There are organizations in Israel which exist specifically to counter missionary efforts in Israel – they can take up the debate whether missionaries who target Jews are the embodiment of evil. Perhaps Jews (or former Jews) who prey on weak Jews and try to entice them away from Judaism are the worst kind of missionaries.
But when it comes to the death penalty in general (and no, I am not advocating for missionaries to be treated that way), just as the Torah is not looking to train its adherents to become cruel, it doesn’t put much stock in the notion that "the civil society does not participate in the cruel act of capital punishment" or in those who question a society's right to rid itself of evil people. If evil is allowed to live, the Torah argues, what deters other people from committing similar evil acts?
How many evil people, particularly terrorists and murderers, have "done their time," been released, and found new victims?
Ridding the world of evildoers is not cruelty to the evildoer. It is mercy on all the rest of us, particularly potential victims, as it makes the world a safer place.