Chief rabbi comes out against death penalty bill

Despite legislation having backing of Shas party, Yitzhak Yosef asks what benefit will come from move given Shin Bet warning

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, left, on September 19, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, left, on September 19, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

On of Israel’s chief rabbis declared his opposition to a bill that would open up the possibility of capital punishment to terrorist convicts Saturday.

Cheif Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said he was opposed to the bill in his weekly address to followers Saturday, despite the measure having the backing of the Shas party started by his late father Ovadia Yosef.

Yosef cited opposition to the bill by officials from the Shin Bet security agency, who said it would endanger the lives of Jews around the world who could be kidnapped and used as bargaining chips in exchange for terrorists awaiting execution.

“How much will we benefit from this,” he asked.

The bill, proposed by the Yisrael Beytenu party, won initial backing in preliminary reading in the Knesset last week, despite some coalition lawmakers expressing reservations over the legislation, which would extend the death penalty to terrorists involved in deadly attacks.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party voted for the bill, while fellow ultra-Orthodox coalition faction United Torah Judaism skipped the vote to consult with their rabbinic leadership on the issue.

Yosef also said he feared what would happen in the case a Jewish terrorist is convicted and could be sentenced to death, referring specifically to an 2015 incident in which Jewish terrorists torched a Palestinian home, killing three members of the Dawabshe family, including an 18-month-old. A Jewish settler and a minor have both been charged in the case.

“He’ll need to get a death penalty verdict, he’ll deserve to die, but to die by the hands of heaven; he should get sick or be in a car crash,” he said. “But are you able to kill him? Are we the Sanhedrin?”

Yosef was referring to the Second Temple-era council of Jewish sages which was vested in Jewish law with the authority to hand down death sentences, albeit only in extreme cases.

Capital punishment has only been used in Israel twice — in a 1948 drumhead court martial and for Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Israeli military law in the West Bank includes the possibility of capital punishment, but it has never been used.

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