Capital punishment in Indonesia…writes Rabbi Raymond Apple

April 30, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Indonesia should be ashamed of itself for executing two Australians as well as six others.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

It is not that the people who were executed were lily-white. Indonesia has processes of law which led to their sentencing. No-one denies the Indonesian right to have strict laws and stern penalties. But having to resort to putting people to death is monstrous and unethical and brings no credit to those responsible.

It doesn’t help to tell us that capital punishment was part of Biblical criminal law. Those who had the responsibility for implementing this law surrounded it with so many ifs and buts that it lost its sting. One view was, “A court which put a person to death once in seven years was bloodthirsty”. Another view said, “Once in seventy years”. Two of the greatest rabbinic sages said, “Had we been members of the court no-one would ever have been put to death” (Mishnah Makkot).

This latter view was not uncontested. Its opponents said, “They (the abolitionists) would increase the shedders of blood in Israel”. But there are other ways of achieving the purpose which the Bible says is to make people “hear and fear”.

The convicted person can be punished, and the community warned, without a death penalty but by means of harsh imprisonment.

What does a death penalty say about the court? Like the person whose fate is in their hands, they are human beings. The question hanging over their heads is, “Who says your blood is redder than his?”

There is no doctrine of the infallibility of the judicial bench. It is always possible that a court can make a mistake, and once the accused is dead there is nothing that can be done. This must not be taken as accusing the Indonesian court of making a mistake, but no court can or should play God.

The ancient discussions were especially concerned with dealing with murders. In Indonesia the problem is the serious crime of drug-trafficking. In some ways it is as bad as murder because its effect is also to destroy lives.

It is not that the drug-trafficker is necessarily out for revenge or sadistic. He wants financial advantage. He will tell you that it’s not his fault that people want drugs; he claims that he is simply supplying a need. Who is he deceiving – himself? He deserves to be handled harshly and his potential victims need to be helped through a tough time.

But the death penalty doesn’t solve the problem and it is flawed in itself.


3 Responses to “Capital punishment in Indonesia…writes Rabbi Raymond Apple”
  1. Peter Strasser says:

    Why is Rabbi Apple ( for whom I have the utmost respect) not condemning
    those numerous totalitarian regimes which execute innocent people (eg
    for voicing opposition to the regime), rather than shaming Indonesia
    which has carried out the ultimate punishment, but in accordance with due legal process and for the hineous crime of peddling drugs which
    cause death and destruction to innocent victims,, mostly the very young and immature.
    In saying this, I do not advocate the death penalty for drug offences, but invite a more balanced and reasoned response and one which takes into account
    all the important circumstances eg, the Sovereignty of Indonesia, strong social attitudes against drugs in that country, and that opposition
    to capital punishment for certain serious offences is by no means universal
    (eg some American States)

  2. Geoff Seidner says:

    Indeed,Geoff Bloch. Agreed in toto.

    There is of course the SINE QUA NON principle: my postulation of it as below of course does not vitiate any of your points.

    I reproduce emails I sent to all major newspapers as well as to the drug – runners’ lawyer on February 15 and March 5 this year.

    There was no response: terrorists Bashir is sitting in jail regularly lauded by supporters Simply protected from the death penalty. Bashir directly organized the Bali mass – murder of more than 200 Aussies!

    Note that the terrorist chief had to be retried to even get him a mere jail sentence!

    From: Geoff Seidner
    Sent: Thursday, March 05, 2015 9:39 AM
    To: The Herald Sun ; the australian ; the West Australian ; The Canberra Times
    Subject: Shame on ye all! How sickening that Abu Bakar Bashir is sitting like royalty in jail….

    CC to Julian McMahon!!

    Shame on ye all! How sickening that Abu Bakar Bashir is sitting like royalty in jail

    How sickening that Abu Bakar Bashir is sitting like royalty in jail
    Shame on ye all!
    None of you saw fit to run my letter as below in mid February!
    May the cowardice that resides in the media come to haunt ye all!

    Geoff Seidner

    From: Geoff Seidner
    Sent: Sunday, February 15, 2015 9:37 AM
    To: the West Australian
    Subject: How sickening that Abu Bakar Bashir is sitting like royalty in jail

    Murderous humbug of Indonesian justice!
    How sickening that Abu Bakar Bashir is sitting like royalty in jail – having been proven responsible for mass murder of almost 200 mainly Australians in Bali.
    This is the Indonesian justice system at work.

    The sickening injustice of it all must get a response from those who seek legal sanction for executing mere drug runners.

    Geoff Seidner

  3. Geoff Bloch says:

    While I acknowledge the compassion underlying Rabbi Raymond Apple’s article, the Rabbi makes a number of comments with which I disagree and which may not be consonant with Halacha. First, I will list some examples of his comments and then I will explain why I believe they are flawed.
    The Rabbi’s comments include –

    1. “…having to resort to putting people to death is monstrous and unethical….”

    2. “It doesn’t help to tell us that capital punishment was part of Biblical criminal law”

    3. “….no court can or should play God”

    4. “the death penalty…… doesn’t solve the problem and it is flawed in itself”

    I believe these statements are unsound for the following reasons.

    It is a foundational belief that the Torah is an objective moral code which is relevant in all times, not just in biblical times. Significantly, only one of the 613 commandments is mentioned in each of the 5 books of Moses. It is that murder is a capital crime and the murderer must be put to death by man. God does not mete out the judgment, man does. We are specifically commanded that murder, as a capital crime, must form part of our criminal law.

    That emphasises just how important it is, yet many contemporary Judeo-Christian societies have abolished murder as a capital crime, believing they are more sophisticated, more compassionate, more moral and more progressive than the Torah. As a direct consequence, many countries, sadly including Israel, show more compassion to murderers than the murderers extended to their innocent victims. This misplaced compassion devalues the sanctity of human life. It does not uphold it. It is itself unethical.

    For example, what possible right to life do the two monsters who slit the throats of the Fogel family have, when they arrogated to themselves the right to take innocent life so mercilessly, returning to murder a tiny baby after they had exited the Fogel home because they heard her cry?

    The world is awash with unspeakable barbarity taking place throughout the Middle East and northern Africa against racial and religious minorities. Were it possible to bring the perpetrators to justice, on what possible ethical basis should they be permitted to retain their own lives when they have denied their victims theirs?

    The truth is, Western society has largely been desensitised to the barbarity and cruelty of violence and has consequently lost moral clarity.

    The Sanhedrin, it is true, rarely meted out the death penalty, but it was dealing with individual crimes of passion, not with the sort of outrageous modern mass murder where the perpetrator does not even know the victim and therefore shows absolutely no respect for the sanctity of human life.

    While I do not eschew the death penalty in any individual case, it is my respectful view that where the circumstances clearly show a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life, where the identity and individuality of the victim are unimportant to the perpetrator, the death penalty is morally justified.

    Turning then to the specific case of Indonesia, I agree with the Rabbi when he states “In Indonesia the problem is the serious crime of drug-trafficking. In some ways it is as bad as murder because its effect is also to destroy lives.”

    While Chan and Sukumaran did not “pull the trigger”, they were indeed dealing with death knowing full well that deaths would be caused by their supply of heroin. I express no opinion as to whether this distinction is sufficient to take the death penalty “off the table”, but I recognise, as it would appear does the Rabbi, that some jurisdictions may well not see a sufficient distinction.

    It is difficult then, to understand why the Rabbi opines that “Indonesia should be ashamed of itself for executing (the) two Australians”.

    Geoff Bloch

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