My understanding is

  1. Halacha supports the use of the death penalty in theory but typically not in practice.
  2. The use of imprisonment as punishment is a recent development for Jews.

These two statements beg the question: What was the typical (or recommended) course of action for courts that had strong evidence that someone was a murderer, but not the enough for execution. Just lashes? It seems pretty dangerous to have a murderer wandering around after they recover.

Bonus points to anyone who knows of specific cases of how a beit din dealt with this.

  • 3
    What is your source for those two claims?
    – Double AA
    Oct 16, 2015 at 4:22
  • I've heard that, historically, expulsion from the community had some teeth to it. No source. Oct 16, 2015 at 14:33
  • 1. For example (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) and 2. There is no discussion (to my knowledge?) of fixed length imprisonment for crimes as seen in modern judicial systems in either Tanach or Talmud. Imprisonment is usually discussed in terms of taking of captives.
    – yakzo
    Oct 18, 2015 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


Sanhedrin 81b (Art Scroll 81b1 and 81b3 and note 34) Bais Din could imprison him and feed him in such a way that his stomach bursts. This allows the Bais Din to handle murderers when we do not have two witnesses. We also see with Dovid and Shlomo Hamelech that the king had extrajudicial power to execute someone because of moreid bemalchus.

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