Jewish Clergy & Community Leaders Sign-On Letter to Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen

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Letter From Jewish Clergy & Community Leaders to Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen: Rescind Federal Executions Warrants!

While the Torah permits the death penalty, the Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin, imposes severe limits on capital punishment even when the crime is murder. There are countless preconditions which must be met in order for a Sanhedrin to issue and carry out an execution, many of which are designed not only to assess guilt, but levels of culpability. The execution of someone when there is any level of doubt about guilt or fairness is forbidden.

Being a religious Jew is not just about observing traditional mitzvot but also about being responsibly immersed within society as an active enlightened moral agent partnering for social progress that enhances dignity for all. Our engagement in the political and social realm of society may indeed be even more religiously important than our pious acts within the sanctuary.

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with all concerned citizens and without regard to partisanship, are dismayed when the Acting U.S. Attorney General broadly quotes a rabbinic sage such as Rabbi Tarfon in reference to his new position, and yet ignores that same Rabbi Tarfon in his actions:

  • WASHINGTON (JTA)Speaking just weeks ago about combating anti-Semitism, Jeffrey Adam Rosen, the deputy attorney general, quoted the ancient Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work, but neither can you desist from doing it.”
  • Mishna (Makkot 1:10): A Sanhedrin [Rabbinic Court] that executed [more than] one person in a week is called a “murderous” [court]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya states: “[More than] one person in 70 years [would be denoted a murderous court].” Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva state: “If we had been members of the Sanhedrin, no defendant would ever have been executed.”
  • [That Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel remarked in response: “They would also multiply murderers in Israel,” is today irrelevant in that society has other means of holding murderers accountable and society safe from further offenses. Imprisonment is what we do the vast majority of the time, and even a surface examination of who is on federal death row, and why, betrays an unfair system that does not meet many of the other requirements as laid out by the rabbis in the Mishna.]

We have deep concerns about many aspects of the criminal legal system in the United States, and in particular the many issues of disparity, racism and unfairness in the federal death penalty. However, in the waning days of the Trump Administration, the continuation of the Trump Administration's federal execution spree must not continue. Each of the three individuals with pending execution dates have issues which the rules as articulated in the Mishna would prohibit their executions.

What rises to the surface is COVID-19. Federal executions are super-spreaders for the pandemic, impacting prison workers, their families, and their communities. If for no other reason, these executions must be put on hold and left to the next administration to deal with.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter:

Signed,


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PLEASE NOTE:
Signers are invited to inform others about their participation in this campaign, and to invite participation as individuals, fellow Jewish Clergy, Fellow non-Jewish Clergy, and organizations. You will receive an e-mail with sample text and links to share.

Additional Jewish resources on the death penalty are here: http://deathpenaltyaction.org/jewish-action

Additional information for everyone is here: http://deathpenaltyaction.org/federal-death-penalty

This will be an ongoing effort until the federal death penalty is abolished.

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To: Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen
From: [Your Name]

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with all concerned citizens and without regard to partisanship, are dismayed when you broadly quote a rabbinic sage such as Rabbi Tarfon in reference to your new position. We seek to remind you of something else Rabbi Tarfon said:

Mishna (Makkot 1:10​): A Sanhedrin [Rabbinic Court] that executed [more than] one person in a week is called a “murderous” [court]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya states: “[More than] one person in 70 years [would be denoted a murderous court].” Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva state: “If we had been members of the Sanhedrin, no defendant would ever have been executed.”​

That Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel remarked in response: “They would also multiply murderers in Israel,” is today irrelevant in that society has other means of holding murderers accountable and society safe from further offenses. As you know, imprisonment is what we do the vast majority of the time, and even a surface examination of who is on federal death row, and why, betrays an unfair system that does not meet many of the other requirements as laid out by the rabbis in the Mishna.

We have deep concerns about many aspects of the criminal legal system in the United States, and in particular the many issues of disparity, racism and unfairness in the federal death penalty​. However, in the waning days of the Trump Administration, the continuation of the Trump Administration's federal execution spree must not continue. Each of the three individuals with pending execution dates have issues which the rules as articulated in the Mishna would prohibit their executions.

What rises to the surface is COVID-19. Federal executions are super-spreaders for the pandemic, impacting prison workers, their families, and their communities. If for no other reason, these executions must be put on hold and left to the next administration to deal with.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter:

Signed,