Israeli chief rabbi objects to death penalty for terrorists

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Israel’s sephardi chief rabbi, warns that a death penalty for Palestinian terrorists would endanger Jews around the world.

By Margot Dudkevitch

Less than a week after a law calling to impose the death penalty on terrorists was approved in a preliminary reading in the Knesset, the move was harshly opposed by  Israel’s Sefardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.

Speaking at his weekly Torah class on Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef warned that such a law would endanger Jews not just in Israel, but around the world. It would also mean that Jews found guilty of perpetrating terror attacks would face the death penalty as well, which is against Jewish law.

“We are not the Sanhedrin (an assembly forming a Jewish court during biblical times). If there was a situation of a Jewish terrorist killing them, it (death penalty) would be against halacha (Jewish law). This has nothing to do with the Right and the Left, it has to do with judgment,” the rabbi said.

The rabbi, noting the defense establishment’s harsh opposition to the proposed legislation, was not the first to oppose the legislation.

“In such a matter, which can harm the State of Israel, a discussion must be held, and according to the government’s regulations, without discussion the ministers cannot support it. Even if there are coalition agreements, there is room to voice an additional opinion,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who opposed the bill, said last week during a cabinet meeting on the issue, where some 52 Knesset members voted in favor of the bill and 49 were opposed.

The law, initiated by the Israel Beitenu party with the support of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, enjoys the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described the death penalty as “justice in extreme situations.” Last Wednesday some 52 Knesset members voted in favor of the bill, with 49 opposing it.