If a non-Jew is interested in Judaism, how should they approach commands in the Torah like Exodus 21:17, Exodus 31:14, Leviticus 20:13? Should these passages be seen not just as command not to do the prohibited things but also a command to carry out the punishment of death? After all, these commands are not "do not do this" but "if a person does this, he must be put to death." How can a non-Jew who is considering conversion justify committing themselves to a law that they consider themselves breaking if they don't, for example, stone an adulterer and adulteress?

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    I'll comment briefly so that you don't have to wait for a proper answer to get some clarification. 1. The Talmud derives from the Torah that capital cases cannot be tried unless the High Court of 71 judges presides from the Temple Mount, a condition that hasn't existed for 2,000 years. 2. The Torah indicates that cases must be tried by a court of judges, and the Talmud derives exegetically that only a superior court of 23 judges can try capital cases. 3. The Torah requires two valid witnesses and extensive investigation for a conviction, as well as other criteria.
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 6:33
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26316 and judaism.stackexchange.com/q/14400
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 6:40
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    There are a few possible misunderstandings of aspects of Judaism implied in this question. @Fred addressed one of them. Another: Judaism has no problem with non-Jews remaining non-Jews. So, for example, if a non-Jew were to approach a rabbi and say "What should I do if I'm considering conversion, but I could never commit to keeping Shabbat?" the rabbi would likely say "So don't convert."
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 14:50
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    @Andrew Re. your 2nd question: At any given time, there was a single Supreme Court of 71 judges, but several high courts of 23 judges. Any of those high courts could try capital cases, though they only had the authority to do so as long as the Supreme Court was presiding on the Temple Mount. Courts of 23 and the Supreme Court of 71 were both called sanhedrin, but the Supreme Court was called the Great Sanhedrin (an unqualified reference to the "Sanhedrin" is often colloquially used to mean the Great Sanhedrin).
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 5:38
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    @Andrew Re. your first question, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 2a-b) derives that the court must have 23 judges because: 1. There are verses indicating that the court must have enough judges for a quorum ruling to convict and a quorum ruling to acquit, and another verse indicates that a quorum is 10 men - thus 20. 2. In addition, the Talmud derives from verses that a court cannot try the case unless it is possible to convict with a majority of 2 despite 10 acquitting judges - thus 22 judges. 3. The court must have an odd number of judges to rule out a tie, which verses also proscribe. Hence, 23.
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


The Torah does not command individual violence.

The penalty for individual violence is rather severe - and even if nobody got killed, the violent person would be required to pay the victim damages, embarrassment, injury, medical expenses and loss of work.

Even if the damage was unintentional, the rule is that a person is always responsible for his actions. Even when asleep, if the victim was there when he went to sleep, he is responsible for any damage he caused while asleep.

The verses quoted in the question all deal with the death sentence. The death sentence is not a commandment to individual violence, but part of civil law that a Kosher court needs to implement.

The chance of a court actually executing somebody is slim, as the requirements for a death sentence are many. For example:

  • Execution by a Bet Din is not applicable nowadays as we don't have anybody who qualifies to sit on a Bet Din of 23 people. (Which is why we don't have a Sanhedrin; members need the same qualifications.)

  • The cross-examination in a Bet Din is very strict.

  • The witnesses must have warned the criminal immediately before the crime that he will be killed for this act, and the criminal must have responded immediately "even though!" and then immediately have committed the crime.

    • Circumstantial evidence is invalid. The witnesses have to see the entire crime being committed.

You asked:

How can a non-Jew who is considering conversion justify committing themselves to a law that they consider themselves breaking if they don't, for example, stone an adulterer and adulteress?

As explained, it's not an individual's responsibility to kill anybody. Besides, a convert need not worry about [evetually, should conditions improve] being part of a Bet Din that would execute somebody, as a convert is not allowed to be a judge on a Bet Din, unless all the defendants are also converts. (Choshen Mishpat 7:1)

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    I will happily accept this answer if you rewrite it to read less aggressively toward the asker (maybe remove the second person personal pronouns, for a start) and to include more of the content in the helpful and informative comments. About being a righteous gentile, indeed, seven laws are enough for me, thank you.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 21:25

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