The Death Penalty in Jewish Thought
Special attention must be given to the way the Torah describes imposition of the death penalty. From a close examination of the language, the purpose and justification for the death penalty becomes self-evident.
If there is a fatal injury [in a fight between two men], you must give life for life. In the prior verse, describing a non-fatal injury, the directive is that a fine is imposed, and he shall pay it as the judges determine. Note the difference in the subject. When the perpetrator is fined, he is to pay. But when the perpetrator is to be killed, you are to give life for life. You, the Jewish community, shall give life for life. In the case of one who must pay compensation, he is responsible to pay. The court merely determines the amount to be paid, but it is his obligation to pay. Not so in the case of who is liable to pay with his life. It is not his responsibility to give up his life; indeed it is not his to give. In fact, he may not promote his own conviction, and the law will not even recognize his self-incrimination. Only before the execution of his death sentence is he encouraged to confess, specifically for atonement purposes.
Life and death are in
The fact that life is “given” through the administration of the death penalty supports the concept that the death penalty is a form of restitution. It repairs a breach of justice, a breach of law, and a breach of human dignity that was damaged in the personality of the victim. The community is called upon to give and surrender the criminal’s life for the sake of repairing these breaches created by the crime.
That the community “gives” or “surrenders” the life implies that the life of the individual belongs to
Sources: Commentary, Shemot 21:2