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“Jewish perspectives on restorative justice.”

Segal, Eliezer
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) In The spiritual roots of restorative justice, ed. Michael L. Hadley, 181-197. With an introduction by Michael L. Hadley. SUNY series in religious studies, ed. Harold Coward. Albany, New York, USA: State University of New York Press.

In discussing Jewish perspectives with respect to restorative justice, Segal points to the central importance of Torah in Jewish life. Torah, meaning “instruction”, refers to a complex set of commandments from God to the people of Israel. In a strict sense, Torah consists of the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures. In a broad sense, Torah consists of those books and the subsequent tradition of commentaries on them. Adherence or obedience to divine law or Torah is in many ways more important than adherence to doctrine. At the same time, certain key doctrinal ideas in the Scriptures form the foundation for the Torah way of life: humanity created in the divine image; the common origin of all humanity; peace; liberty; love for others; the dialectical interplay of mercy and justice; and the freedom of the will (allowing us to turn from evil). With all of this as background, Segal discusses certain key ideas and practices in the Torah and in Jewish life that bear upon the nature of wrongdoing and response to it: restoration; punishment; and atonement. For example, property crimes required restoration of the stolen or damaged property, or compensation for the property. In addition to financial penalties, possible punishments included exile, corporal punishment, and capital punishment. It is noteworthy that rabbinic law re-interpreted many possible forms of corporal punishment (the “eye for an eye” of Exodus 21:22-24) into a system of compensation, and it made capital punishment very difficult to administer. Nevertheless, the Torah did not see a fundamental inconsistency between the imposition of punishment and what we might consider the more restorative aspects of adjudicating wrongdoing in the Torah.


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