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If someone is sentenced to death by a Jewish court and is being held prisoner until the sentence can be carried out, if he escapes, is that a sin for him?

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Sentenced to death by a Jewish court (i.e. back then), or in a non-Jewish court? –  yydl Oct 4 '11 at 21:11
    
Jewish court... –  Desert Star Oct 4 '11 at 21:16
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I wonder whether, on the contrary, it's meritorious, since, in general, we say it's meritorious to save one's own life. (Fulfilling a ruling of a court is not one of the approximately three mitzvos one is required to give his life for AFAIK.) –  msh210 Oct 4 '11 at 21:22
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Good question... CYLOR, I guess :) –  Dave Oct 4 '11 at 21:25
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Now I've asked as a separate question something like what I mentioned in my comment above. –  msh210 Oct 4 '11 at 22:19
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3 Answers

Likely not. The responsibility to punish seems to be communal - to put the person to death "so that others may hear about it & be afraid" - or an obligation of the court or king. It doesn't seem to be a personal obligation. As 1040 said though, there seems to be aspects of atonement; for example, the condemned is expected to repent before we exact the penalty, and for a few sins we say that death or exile isn't enough to expiate the sin. Perhaps the story of Achan (Joshua 7) is relevant as well. Perhaps the fact that all Jews suffered for his theft indicates that it is a communal requirement to catch & punish thieves, not just Joshua's or the Elders'. Achan is asked to make a public confession, but the main point of that seems to be to show that [the loss in battle was just &] the lottery method was accurate (Rashi v19).

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The death penalty is atonement. So if he runs away he does not get the proper atonement. All sins do is distance you from the Lord. So does not getting atonement.

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I don't know, though... you could argue the same thing about suffering from sickness (in Jewish tradition - e.g., Berachos 5b - this is described as a form of atonement for one's sins), yet a person is certainly allowed to try to alleviate it. –  Alex Nov 25 '11 at 20:53
    
Sickness is not prescribed for doing certain actions. The death penalty is, so its fundamentally different. It could be said not taking the pills the doc ordered is a sin. That is more comparable –  user1040 Nov 27 '11 at 12:42
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He will eventually die, and death is an atonement. The particular form of death prescribed may serve as an atonement, sure, but in the absence of a proper conviction or in the absence of a legitimate court system to impose the death penalty, capital-sinners are atoned upon their Divinely-ordained deaths (whenever and however that may take place). –  Seth J Mar 13 '13 at 18:32
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The Talmud describes in Sanhedrin 43a that one lead out to execution is given a glass of wine with frankincense, to dull the senses. Those who are present are alerted that the glass is being used for life and not death, and they respond "Lehayyim."[1] This scene described in the Talmud is festive, and has elements of a celebration, similar to the kiddush we make on Shabbat in modern times. By escaping the death penalty, it can be argued that the prisoner is depriving the community the joy of fulfilling the mitzvah of execution.

[1] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer: The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rites by Macy Nulman, Page 199.

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