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The Torah describes certain forms of corporal punishment for certain sins and crimes.

Capital Punishment

The harshness of the death penalty indicated the seriousness of the crime. Jewish philosophers argue that the whole point of corporal punishment was to serve as a reminder to the community of the severe nature of certain acts. This is why, in Jewish law, the death penalty is more of a principle than a practice. The numerous references to a death penalty in the Torah underscore the severity of the sin rather than the expectation of death. This is bolstered by the standards of proof required for application of the death penalty, which has always been extremely stringent (Babylonian Talmud Makkoth 7b). Because the standards of proof were so high, it was well-nigh impossible to inflict the death penalty. The Mishnah (tractate Makkoth 1:11) states that a court that administers capital punishment more than once every seventy years is called a "murderous court".

According to the Talmud forty years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalemmarker in 70 CE (i.e. in 30 CE) the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment.

Stringencies of Evidence in Capital Cases

  • The witnesses had to be acceptable to the court. Acceptability was limited to:
    • Adult Jewish men who were known to keep the commandments, knew the written and oral law, and had legitimate professions;
    • The witnesses had to see each other at the time of the sin;
    • The witnesses had to be able to speak clearly, without any speech impediment or hearing deficit (to ensure that the warning and the response were done);
    • The witnesses could not be related to each other or to the accused.
  • The witnesses had to see each other, and both of them had to give a warning (hatra'ah) the person that the sin they were about to commit was a capital offense;
  • This warning had to be delivered within seconds of the performance of the sin (in the time it took to say, "Peace unto you, my Rabbi and my Master");
  • In the same amount of time, the person about to sin had to:
    • Respond that s/he was familiar with the punishment, but they were going to sin anyway; AND
    • Being to commit the sin/crime;
  • The Beth Din had to examine each witness separately; and if even one point of their evidence was contradictory - even if a very minor point, such as eye color - the evidence was considered contradictory and the evidence was not heeded;
  • The Beth Din had to consist of minimally 23 judges;
  • The majority could not be a simple majority - the split verdict that would allow conviction had to be at least 13 to 11 in favor of conviction;
  • If the Beth Din arrived at a unanimous verdict of guilty, the person was let go - the idea being that if no judge could find anything exculpatory about the accused, there was something wrong with the court.
  • The witnesses were appointed by the court to be the executioners.
As a result, it was next to impossible to convict someone of a capital offense in Judaism.

The 4 Types of Capital Punishment

It should be noted that, before any capital sentence was carried out, the convicted person was given a drug to render them senseless. There were four types of capital punishment, known as mitath beth din (execution by the rabbinic court). These four types of capital punishment, in decreasing severity, were:
  • Sekila - stoning
    • This was performed by pushing a person off a height of at least 2 stories. If the person didn't die, then the executioners (the witnesses) brought a rock that was so large that it took both of them to lift it; this was placed on the convicted person to crush them.
  • Serefah - burning
    • This was done by melting lead, and pouring it down the throat of the convicted person.
  • Hereg - decapitation
    • This is also known as "being put to the sword."
  • Chenek - strangulation
    • A rope was wound around the convicted person's neck, and the executioners (the witnesses) pulled from either side to strangle the convicted person.


Capital Sins Separated by the 4 Types of Capital Punishment

The following is a list by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchoth Sanhedrin Chapter 15) of which crimes carry a capital punishment.

Punishment by Sekila (stoning)
  • Intercourse between a man and his mother.
  • Intercourse between a man and his father's wife (not necessarily his mother).
  • Intercourse between a man and his daughter in law.
  • Intercourse with another man's wife from the first stage of marriage.
  • Intercourse between two men.
  • Bestiality.
  • Cursing the name of God in God's name.
  • Idol Worship.
  • Giving one's progeny to Molech.
  • Necromantic Sorcery.
  • Pythonic Sorcery.
  • Attempting to convince another to worship idols.
  • Instigating a community to worship idols.
  • Witchcraft.
  • Violating the Sabbath.
  • Cursing one's own parent.
  • A stubborn and rebellious son.


Punishment by Serefah (burning)
  • The daughter of a priest who completed the second stage of marriage commits adultery.
  • Intercourse between a man and his daughter.
  • Intercourse between a man and his daughter's daughter.
  • Intercourse between a man and his son's daughter.
  • Intercourse between a man and his wife's daughter (not necessarily his own daughter).
  • Intercourse between a man and his wife's daughter's daughter.
  • Intercourse between a man and his wife's son's daughter.
  • Intercourse between a man and his mother in law.
  • Intercourse between a man and his mother in law's mother.
  • Intercourse between a man and his father in law's mother.


Punishment by Hereg (beheading)
  • Unlawful premeditated murder.
  • Being a member of a city that has gone astray.


Punishment by Chenek (strangulation)
  • Committing adultery with another man's wife, where it doesn't fall under the above criteria.
  • Wounding one's own parent.
  • Kidnapping another member of Israel.
  • Prophesying Falsely.
  • Prophesying in the name of other deities.
  • A sage who is guilty of insubordination in front of the grand court in the Chamber of the Hewn Stone.


Corporal Punishment

There was only one form corporal punishment - lashes (malkoth). The maximum number of lashes allowed per sentence was 40, given in multiples of 3, effectively making the maximum 39. Lashes were meted out for violating a certain prohibitions, such as eating non-kosher food.If one violated two or more commandments and was being punished for them at the same time, multiples of this could theoretically be given consecutively. Apart from as a punishment for violating Torah law, malkuth mardus (lashes of rebellion) was also administered in cases of contempt of court and violation of rabbinic law, where the court lashes the violator to the extent they see fit. An example of this was violating the Rabbinic prohibition of muktzah (moving objects which may not be used on shabbat).

Present state

The rabbinical courts have given up the ability to inflict any kind of physical punishment. Such punishments are left to the civil court system to administer.

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