Friday, January 31, 2014

Fact-Checking -- Murder or not?

OK here we are, back to your normal Friday Fact-Checking post.  Your assignment for this week was the following verses.
The 10 Commandments are in Exodus 20:2-14 and Deuteronomy 5:6-18; “Thou shalt not commit murder” is in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17.
Judicial execution includes Exodus 21:12, 15-17, and Leviticus 20:8-20.
When you can use judicial execution is Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6.
I said in the last lesson that the issue is a faulty translation.  Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 use rtsch which means willful murder, not just killing. 
The second set of verses requires judicial execution in a specific set of cases.
But Jewish law requires a procedure before judicial execution can take place.  It starts with the verses in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and what do they say?
Numbers: Everybody who strikes a person in front of witnesses, they may declare him a murderer but one witness shall not answer to put anybody to death.
Deuteronomy: At the word of two witnesses or three witnesses the dead person shall die, he shall not die at the word of one witness.
Who is a witness?  Torah doesn’t say.  Mishnah records the definition that developed by 2000 years ago in the “Damages” collection (Sedra), in tractate Bava Kamma which deals with court procedures, in chapter 1, Mishnah 3:  Witnesses have to be bney chorin (not bonded out) and bney brit (circumcised Jews).  In business dealings, women can give testimony.
Other witness requirements include that in a case with a risk of judicial execution, they can’t be relatives to the accused or each other (Mishnah Damages Sanhedrin 3:1), including the rule that the accused is his own relative and can’t give testimony against himself.  Confessions don’t count in Jewish law.
It took the US 200 years of history to create the principle that a confession is not valid evidence unless the accused’s due process rights have been protected, the famous Miranda ruling.  Jewish law never had to go there.  For over 2000 years, plus the prior history during which the rule developed, Jewish courts have rejected confessions by the accused as evidence. 
Why?  It partly has to do with the job a witness has to do.  It includes things no person can do for himself (or herself).  These are in the next lesson.
It also partly has to do with a concept that developed in Jewish law that says no wicked person is a valid witness.  Witnesses can’t be dodgers of the commandments.  Examples include people who make money off the produce that grows in the shemitta year when all such produce is free to everybody.  Or people who make a living from pigeon racing and dicing, instead of a useful trade – people with money on a race will cheat and lie so as to not lose their money and that is unacceptable in a witness.
A person who confesses to a crime that carries the death penalty by definition is a wicked person, if we take their word for it, and since a court won’t accept testimony from a wicked person, the confession doesn’t count.  But if we reject their claim of committing the crime, so that we don’t have to define them as a wicked person, then we can’t try them for the crime based on their testimony.  And around and around.
So Jewish law refuses to accept confessions from the accused as evidence against them in law.
Your assignment for next week is to study Leviticus 19:17.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved 

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