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Isn't crucifixion against Jewish Law?


Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Question: Isn't crucifixion against Jewish Law?

Dear Rabbi,
I just watched the movie The Passion. Isn't crucifixion against Jewish law? I read that in Juaism the death penalty was only given for premeditated murder witnessed by at least two credible witnesses. And even then, the death sentence was to be as swift and humane as possible. If this is true, and crucifixion was against Jewish law, doesn't that verify that the Romans, not the Jews, were the physically responsible party for the death of Jesus? Also, if the death penalty was only for murder, why would the woman accused of adultery be stoned. Was that a death sentence crime as well?
Thanks, Beth

Answer: Dear Beth,

Jews would not have used crucifixion, period.

Crucifixion was a uniquely Roman form of execution that was given for the crime of treason against the state. Probably about 25,000 Jews were crucified by the Romans. Ultimately, because of his cruelty, Pilate was recalled to Rome where he either committed suicide or was executed himself.

Secondly, Jews did not have the authority at any level to execute anyone. All legal discussions were theoretical. Jews were subject to Roman occupation from the time of Herod the Great (approximately 30 BCE), who was appointed by Julius Ceasar.

The High Priest was also appointed by the Romans. It is possible that he bought the position. We know that the High Priest and some of his followers were collaborators with the Roman authorities, but we don't know definitively why they did so. Perhaps it was a way to maintain power. Or perhaps they indeed did believe in their own interpretation of Judaism, the state, the Temple, etc. as Sadducees against the Pharisees, one of whom was clearly Jesus.

The Jews would not have been executing a woman for adultery. Again, Jews did not have the legal authority to do this. It is conceivable that people might act in a vigilante fashion, but this behavior would have been against Jewish law, which accepted the principle that the law of the land is the final authority.

In theory, Judaism had a death penalty for several different crimes, including murder. But acceptance of the death penality was theoretical and never implemented according to tradition. According to Jewish Law, one was only deserving of a death penalty if two witnesses saw the crime, warned the aggressor of the consequences, the aggressor acknowledged the situation and consequences, and committed the crime anyway. Thus, Judaism established conditions that made death penalty sentencing nearly impossible, even in a theoretical situation.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Dov

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