CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN INDONESIA.
Indonesia should be ashamed of itself for executing two Australians as well as a few others. It is not that the people who were executed were lily white. Indonesia has processes of law which led to their sentencing. No-one denies the Indonesian right to have strict laws and stern penalties. But having to resort to putting people to death is monstrous and unethical and brings no credit to those responsible.
It doesn’t help to tell us that capital punishment was part of Biblical criminal law. Those who had the responsibility for implementing this law surrounded it with so many ifs and buts that it lost its sting. One view was,
“A court which put a person to death once in seven years was bloodthirsty”.
Another view said,
“Once in seventy years”.
Two of the greatest rabbinic sages said,
“Had we been members of the court no-one would ever have been put to death” (Mishnah Makkot).
This latter view was not uncontested. Its opponents said,
“They (the abolitionists) would increase the shedders of blood in Israel”.
But there are other ways of achieving the purpose which the Bible says is to make people “hear and fear”.
The convicted person can be punished, and the community warned, without a death penalty but by means of harsh imprisonment.
What does a death penalty say about the court? Like the person whose fate is in their hands, they are human beings. The question hanging over their heads is,
“Who says your blood is redder than his?”
There is no doctrine of the infallibility of the judicial bench. It is always possible that a court can make a mistake, and once the accused is dead there is nothing that can be done. This must not be taken as accusing the Indonesian court of making a mistake, but no court can or should play God.
The ancient discussions were especially concerned with dealing with murders. In Indonesia the problem is the serious crime of drug-trafficking. In some ways it is as bad as murder because its effect is also to destroy lives.
It is not that the drug-trafficker is necessarily out for revenge or sadistic. He wants financial advantage. He will tell you that it’s not his fault that people want drugs; he claims that he is simply supplying a need. Who is he deceiving – himself? He deserves to be handled harshly and his potential victims need to be helped through a tough time.
But the death penalty doesn’t solve the problem and it is flawed in itself.
HERETICS WITHOUT CHOLENT.
Question. Why did Jews develop such an indigestible food as cholent?
Answer. Cholent (pronounced tsholent) is a stew that simmers overnight on Friday in order to have hot food on Shabbat. The word may be from the French “chaud”, “warm”, or Hebrew “sheyalin”, “that which stays overnight”.
Though many people insist that cholent needs meat, it is quite feasible to have a tasty vegetarian cholent. Not everyone, however, would go as far as Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzillai of Barcelona who says in his Sefer HaIttim,
“He who does not eat chamin (cholent) on Shabbat should be excommunicated. He should be removed from the community of Israel.”
ABRAHAM & THE TORAH
Question. Why was the Torah not given to Abraham?
Answer. Abraham is so highly esteemed that you may well have a point. The Talmud raises a similar question in relation to Ezra.
“Had Moses not preceded him,” we are told, “Ezra would have been worthy of receiving the Torah for Israel”
(Sanhedrin 21b). So if Ezra was qualified to receive the Torah, why not Abraham?
A further Talmudic passage suggests an answer. It states that for the first 2000 years of history – according to rabbinic chronology, from Adam to Abraham – the world was destined to be spiritually desolate (Sanhedrin 97a). Thus though Abraham was a great man, his environment was not ready for the Torah, and it was only due to God’s grace and not human righteousness that the world survived (Maharsha).
Moses’ generation, however, had suffered slavery, been carried out of Egypt “on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19), and shared the birth pangs of nationhood, and they were ready for the Revelation.
Abraham had to accept that there would be no Torah in his generation, just as David had to accept that there would be no Temple in his lifetime.
Later history has had many a similar experience. Pioneering thinkers have dreamed of great things happening, but they were often ahead of their contemporaries and the dream could not come true until the times were right.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.