Judaism And Criminal Justice


“There is no Jewish concept of incarceration,” said Gary Friedman, a chaplain and chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International.

In Judaism, justice is carried out in a community setting to get the offender to learn from the experience and have a chance to become a productive member of society again. This approach, Friedman said, is at odds with the United States’ criminal justice system.

“All punishments in Judaism are intended to teach the offender a lesson, not to destroy their life,” he said. “Incarceration is a life wasted, a life not serving its Godly purpose.”

His organization compiled relevant biblical passages and quotes from Jewish thinkers on the subject and posted them online. Here are some of the citations:

Genesis 39-40: Prison in a foreign culture – false testimony puts Joseph in prison. Rabbi Joseph Hertz’s Pentateuch, p. 149, commentary on Gen. 40:2: “The light of a superior mind and soul cannot be hidden even in a prison.”

Isaiah 61:1: “…(God) has sent me to…proclaim release to the captives, and liberation to the imprisoned…”

In Isaiah 42:6-7, the prophet likens confinement to spiritual blindness and imprisonment: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, I have taken hold of your hand, and kept you, and appointed you for a covenant of the people, for a light to the nations, to open the blinded eyes, to bring out the imprisoned from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Psalm 146:7-8: “…God releases the captives, (and) opens the eyes of the blind.”

Talmud Berachot: “Once when Rabbi Chanina became gravely ill, Rabbi Yochanan came by and sat down to visit him. While speaking with him, Rabbi Yochanan remembered that Chanina had healed someone with the exact same illness. Rabbi Yochanan then said, ‘Rabbi Chanina, why don’t you heal yourself?’ Rabbi Chanina replied, ‘Prisoners cannot take themselves out of their own prison.’ Rabbi Yochanan then got up and healed him.”

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