Friday, January 25, 2008

Death Penalty?

It seems that Muslims are not the only religious tradition in which one can find unsavory references to the justifiability, if not the necessity, for killing someone who causes religious offense. (We Christians have made a fine art of parsing the more troubling death sentences out of the Old Testament, in order to avoid the taint of seeming foolishness, and we would never call for killing someone for religious bad acting. But at the same time we encourage a penal system that often uses death to extract revenge for heinous crimes, whether the accused is the perpetrator or not.) Well now, courtesy of Forward, the long-long-time reporter on things Jewish in America, comes this report that a Jew in Los Angeles has plea-bargained to a reduced sentence for himself by, at least in part, turning in some other Jews who were defrauding the US Treasury of lots of tax revenues.

The story would be unremarkable but for the invocation of the Jewish doctrine of "mesira" -- i.e., the unacceptability of turning a fellow Jew over to the government. It seems that under certain circumstances doing so can result in a death edict against the informer. That, too, would be of only academic interest but for the article's report that some Jews apparently will not concede that such a doctrine and punishment should not apply to Jews in the American situation, where to cooperate with the government is not tantamount to bringing one's fellows to death (as was and is the case in many countries where Jews are oppressed -- either officially or not so formally).

I guess the lesson is an odd one: Sharia law is inhuman when and if it allows for death edicts against heretics, but mesira is not when it is applied to people who turn in other bad actors. Will this result in the kind of generalized gabble about Jews the way that some talk of Sharia does about Muslims?

Surprising: No religious tradition has a corner on blindness! We're all denouncing slivers in each
other's eye, but ignore the railroad tie sticking out of our own!

So read the article ... . And while you're there, check out this one.

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