Thursday, June 23, 2005

Never let it said that I am intellectually dishonest...

Once every third or fourth blue moon, something intelligent appears on Cross Currents usually written by either Rav Emanual Feldman, or a commenter.

Recently, we've seen less of Rav Feldman (perhaps because he realized that he and his Torah were only being used to give some legitimacy to the site's blatantly secular agenda, an agenda that can be summed up in two words: Vote GOP.) and so the heavy lifting has been left to the commenters.

Yesterday one calling herself "Ballabus" did not disapoint:
DovBear errs in thinking that the standards of chiyuv misa are universally applied to criminals. The Rambam and Ran (in his derashos) make clear that the chiyuv misa for which bais din has stringent requirements of evidence (two witnesses, a warning, etc.) applies to punishments meted out according to Torah Law. But the King, and, absent a King, beis din, can and did apply capital punishment with no such restrictions in order to establish order. In other words there is a clear basis in Chazal for the argument of deterrence (the Ran makes this especially clear), and Dov Ber cannot call it foreign to the Torah. DovBear states that non-Torah ” [CP is] a punishment that is never administered according to the Torah’s very high standards of evidence” – and that is patently false.

2) He and others err in thinking that the Torah ONLY recognizes two witnesses as evidence and therefore does not recognize DNA evidence. The Torah recognizes an “uhmdena” i.e., incontrovertible evidence (see Rav YE Henkin’s writings for a lengthy discusssion). If such DNA evidence is in fact an uhmdenah (as I have heard in the name of some current Poskim) then it would be admissible. The status of DNA is not pashut.
Ok, first things first, I hereby admit that some Rishonim thought that the fear of death and the fear of courts would deter people from committing crimes.

[Note: To Toby Katz: See how easy it is to come clean when Torah scholars disagree with you? You ought to try it. In fact I'll even write the words for you: "I, Toby Katz, hereby admit that some achronim take a position on abortion that is far more leniant than my own." Feel free to drop that sentance into your next Jewish Action article.]

So maskim the rishonim thought capital punishment was a deterent. But were they correct?

Countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium, for example, have not carried out executions since the early part of the century, yet these countries have not experienced a rise in crime rates. In fact, many modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but as a just punishment for the crime. This idea of court-sanctioned revenge is not blessed by the sages.

Anyway, from where I sit, the interesting question is this: If social scientists ever manage to prove that the death penalty is not deterrence, would that obviate the view of those Rishonim who thought otherwise? If so, whither daas torah?