By Beth A. Berkowitz

The demise penalty in classical Judaism has been a hugely politicized topic in sleek scholarship. these wishing to shield the Talmud from Enlightenment assaults on its legitimacy pointed to Talmudic legal legislation as proof for its increased, innovative morals. yet much more urgent was once the necessity to end up the Jews' innocence of the cost of being Christ-killers. This cost hinged at the reconstruction of the traditional Jewish dying penalty. The Gospels express a corrupt Jewish courtroom as answerable for the dying of Christ. modern Jewish students have argued that the Mishnah's legal legislations is actually carefully simply or even abolitionist with admire to the loss of life penalty. during this ebook Beth Berkowitz tells the tale of contemporary scholarship at the historical rabbinic loss of life penalty and keeps the tale by way of delivering a clean point of view utilizing the methods of formality experiences, cultural feedback, and talmudic resource feedback. opposed to the scholarly consensus, Berkowitz argues that the rabbinic legislation of the dying penalty have been utilized by the early Rabbis of their efforts to set up themselves within the wake of the destruction of the Temple. the aim of the legislation, she contends, was once to create a fancy ritual of execution that used to be managed via the Rabbis, hence bolstering their claims to authority within the context of Roman imperial domination.

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Extra resources for Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures

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Enker’s argument is similar to Kirschenbaum’s in its distinction between the practical and the pedagogical, though for Kirschenbaum, this distinction approximates that between religious and secular, while for Enker the contrast is between general and specific, abstract versus concrete. ”82 She identifies the idea behind the formal rabbinic death penalty as a conception of law as divinely commanded, in contrast to the rabbinic idea of noachide law, which construes law as an essentially human mechanism.

Lilienblum, unlike Mendelsohn and Benny, however, does not seem concerned with the effectiveness of rabbinic criminal law; rather, he seems pleased with the notion that the law was never practiced. This argument about pure abolition, unencumbered by any anxiety that rabbinic criminal justice might appear ineffectual, becomes a prominent trend in later scholarship. Lilienblum is the first of the scholars surveyed here to address directly the question of “what really happened” in rabbinic times. Lilienblum begins his article specifically with this question: “Many laws of the death penalty are written in the Torah, and very many are the laws that were said in the Mishnah and Talmud regarding criminal law generally and matters of the Sanhedrin and witnesses and their examination specifically.

Introduction 21 The Texts This book stakes out a relatively small area of rabbinic literature: chapter 6 and the beginning of chapter 7 in Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin, the Mishnah being the canonical rabbinic law collection edited at the beginning of the third century, associated with Rabbi Judah the Patriarch. Tractate Sanhedrin, together with tractate Makkot with which it was originally joined, deals with the rabbinic court system. Sanhedrin by itself is composed of eleven chapters: The beginning of the tractate describes the different kinds of courts, their jurisdiction, and their leadership; the tractate’s middle chapters give the procedures of the court for both property cases and capital cases; and the end of the tractate provides substantive criminal law, detailing the different capital crimes and their punishments (Makkot, composed of only three chapters, continues the discussion of crime and punishment).

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