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How is a person 'stoned to death'?

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Stoning, How-To

Andy from Milwaukee asked:

Dear Rabbi,

I was always under the impression that 'stoning' was done by a group of people who actually threw rocks at the victim until he was killed; and then someone told me that the victim is not actually stoned but is thrown off of a building (BTW, where did they find buildings in the desert?) Which is correct?


Dear Andy,

I don't know about a building in the desert, but I have heard of a hotel called 'The Sands' :-) .

The Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin teaches:

"The stoning building is two stories. One of the witnesses pushes him [the victim off of the building] onto his back...."

The Mishna goes on to teach that if the victim doesn't die from the fall, then the other witness throws a stone onto him, and if this doesn't do the trick, then all of Israel stone him.

A poignant insight into the punishment of stoning is offered Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. He explains why it is quite fitting that the person receive punishment by the "hands of" the Earth (pushed to the ground and hit with stone):

"The particular part of the Earth that carries out the sentence on its immoral inhabitant is the Land, the possession of which is attached to its inhabitants keeping the laws of morality...and which as repeatedly stated, rejects and expels immoral people...he is isolated, rejected, "thrust back" from the surface of the Earth which otherwise would bear him as she maternally bears all her creatures."

Sources:

  • Tractate Sanhedrin, page 45a.
  • Rabbi S.R. Hirsch - Vayikra 20:2.

 
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