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Topic: Death Penalties

Joel L. Nafziger wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

Why was the prescribed method of execution for extreme transgressions stoning? Why not some other method?

Dear Joel L. Nafziger,

First of all, it should be noted that the death penalty was rarely carried out. Our sages teach, "a court which puts a person to death once every seventy years is called a violent court."

Sekila, usually translated as stoning, involved pushing the condemned off a high place backwards so that he broke his neck when he fell. He was first given a heavy sedative.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) points out that sekila was the sentence for offenses directly against G-d or against the "image of G-d" within mankind. Therefore this method was prescribed by the Torah, since by destroying the human form, it destroys the tzelem Elokim - image of G-d - as part of the process. Also, death by falling from a great height symbolizes the person, created in G-d's image, falling spiritually and morally by doing the sin, and hence causing his own destruction.

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