Jewish Action on the Death Penalty

וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּֽחַיִּ֔ים

Jewish Action on the Death Penalty

וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּֽחַיִּ֔ים

“And choose life” (Deut. 30: 19)

“And choose life” (Deut. 30: 19)

The sanctity of life holds a primal place in Judaism, as in most spiritual traditions. It is a theme we hear over and over during the High Holiday season. This year, 2020/5781, the same holiday season witnesses the federal government’s legal execution of two individuals during the 10 Days of Repentance. If both executions are carried out, the federal government will have put to death seven individuals by the start of Yom Kippur. All the more reason for everyone, including those in the Jewish community, to be informed about the great deal that Judaism has to say about capital punishment.

Please explore the following collection of resources, guides and statements of the Jewish perspective on this issue. This page will be updated as more resources come our way. Submissions are welcome to

Death Penalty Action Advisory Board Member Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz speaks about Jewish faith and the death penalty. Rabbi Yanklowitz is also the founder and president of Uri LiTzedek: Orthodox Social Justice. To watch the full video covering other religious perspectives, click here.

Organizations: Join the organizational call asking the U.S. Congress to act - sign on your congregation, board of rabbis, federation, mens club/sisterhood, etc.

Individuals: Send a letter to your Members of Congress to halt federal executions

Jewish clergy & community leaders: Add your name to the sign-on letter to Congress

Sign the petition opposing the use of the gas chamber in Alabama and the U.S.

Actions with which to engage your community on the federal death penalty issue

Donate to support the work

Join the L'chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty Facebook Group




Chanukah: A Holiday of Redemption - Stop Trump’s Executions, by Rabbi Benjamin Zober

Jewish Source Sheets:

Capital Punishment: in the Torah and Talmud, and in New Jersey - Complied by Rabbi Robert Sheinberg during his work as a representative of New Jersey’s religious communities on the NJ Death Penalty Study Commission

Assorted Biblical and Talmudic Citations Regarding Capital Punishment (download/view PDF)

Hadar's online learning platform: Project Zug, which has a course on the topic in the Talmud (also see accompanying class resource worksheet)

Race and the Death Penalty - See the Death Penalty Information Center and also a PDF from the Union for Reform Judaism

Proceedings of The Rabbinical Assembly (PDF) - From the 96th Annual Convention in New York, 1996


Moment Magazine: Cantor Leads Jewish Movement to Abolish Death Penalty (7/6/21)

Judaism and the Death Penalty; Of Two Minds, but One Heart by Nathan J. Diament (Posted on April 1, 2004 in Capital Punishment. Article also appears in TRADITION 38:1, Spring 2004: 76-82.

Judaism & the Death Penalty on Wyoming Interfaith Network website by Rabbi Larry Moldo, z’l, of Cheyenne, WA. Rabbi Moldo died on Aug. 25, 2020, the same week as two federal executions occurred.

Capital Punishment - Again? (PDF) by Stephen M. Passamaneck

"Death, Thou Shalt Die": Reform Judaism and Capital Punishment (PDF) by Richard A. Block

The Death Penalty is Immoral. It is Murder (Opinion piece by Rabbi Benjamin Zober)


Participating in the American Death Penalty by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Committee of Jewish Law and Standards (Conservative Judaism)

Ethics and the Death Penalty (PDF) - by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, 2011

Reflections on the Talmudic and American Death Penalty (PDF) - University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy, 1993

Symposium: Central Synagogue Shabbaton on the Death Penalty (PDF)

Divrei Torah/Sermons:

Confessions of an Abolitionist by Cantor/Chaplain Mike Zoosman  - A “Travelling Sermon” suitable for Zoom on Elul, Parshat Re’eh,Parshat Shof’tim, or others. Cantor Zoosman is a member of Death Penalty Action's Board of Advisors. He draws upon his experience as a former prison chaplain and third-generation Holocaust survivor to share his personal journey from having a pro-death penalty stance to expressing a passionate spiritual voice for abolition. He is available to present his experiences to your shul. Email him at  A 30 minute video of one of Mike's sermons can be viewed on our YouTube channel, here.


Execution and Invention: Death Penalty Discourse in Early Rabbinic and Christian Cultures by Beth Berkowitz (Oxford University Press, 2006). Order on Amazon / Read synposis

Interpretive Revolutions in the Making by Moshe Halbertal (Hebrew University Press, 2003) Chapter 6: “The Death That Leaves No Mark” - English Translation from the original Hebrew by David Rosenn. Note: Book title is officially translated as Commentary Revolutions in the Making: Values as Interpretive Consideration in Midrashei Halakhah. Read in Hebrew or English.


Today’s Talmud pages, Ketubot 32 and 33, discuss the harshest of all forms of punishment, the death penalty. Rabbi Benjamin Zober joins us to explain the Talmud’s logic, and how we still fall far short of the ancient rabbis’ compassion. What might modern criminal justice policies learn from ancient and compassionate Jewish traditions? Listen and find out.


Cantor Michael Zoosman's personal blog on death penalty abolition

Press Lists:
Press for L'chaim

Congressional Testimony:

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett - Testimony on HB 1170 New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee, April 3, 2014. Please also see season 1 episode 14 of the show The West Wing, and the West Wing Weekly podcast on that topic, including a bit on the podcast featuring Rabbi Spira-Savett discussing it. The podcast can be found here:

Rabbi Robin Nafshi - Testimony in Favor of HB 455 (New Hampshire), March 26, 2019:

Resources About Randy Halprin: Jewish Texas Death Row Inmate

Randy Halprin’s public website

Interview with one of his chaplains, Rabbi Dan Gordon, about his experience regarding a recent execution date and related issues