How can the prohibition on murder be reconciled with capital punishment in the Torah, i.e., mitath beth din? I understand that the death penalty was effectively abolished by the Sanhedrin in 30 CE. However, before that change was made, how could the administration of capital punishment be reconciled with the prohibition against murder? Was the argument that execution of a guilty person was not considered "murder"?

  • My theory is that once someone has committed certain heinous crimes, they have denied G-d, and no longer are worthy of the life G-d gave them. This includes such acts as murder, since man is created in the image of G-d. It also, then, naturally includes such acts that fundamentally deny G-d's unity (idolatry), creation and mastery of the world (sabbath), and partnership with man, His servant, in creating the world and keeping it holy (adultery, etc.). I have no source, though. I've run this by some major Jewish figures in the Orthodox world, and they have found it intriguing, to be sure.
    – Seth J
    May 29, 2012 at 2:04

1 Answer 1


Judicial execution is not the same as murder. The same torah that says "do not murder" also calls for the death penalty for certain transgressions, so there must be a difference.

Tractate Sanhedrin discusses capital punishment in a fair bit of detail. There are strict rules, but nonetheless a death sentence is possible and does not violate lo tirtzach.

  • 3
    indeed. one could add that the root רצח (R-TZ-CH) is used for murder and הרג (H-R-G) for killing in general, and thus they are not the same thing. and see Genesis 9:6, among other places, where the penalty for murder is capital punishment: 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.' May 29, 2012 at 1:50
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    @joshwaxman, and the death penalty is often given as "mot yamut", yet another root. May 29, 2012 at 3:16

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