Those who decry executions in Iran forget that those are mostly the Torah’s sentences: execution for adultery and homosexuality, tit-for-tat corporal punishment, and so on. Though some may dispute the Torah’s corpus delicti, its punishments are eminently sensible. The Torah doesn’t condemn criminals to decades in jail at public expense: fines, flogging, execution, and possibly banishment are the only forms of punishment. Liberals protest execution on constitutional grounds as “cruel and unusual” punishment, but it is in fact a very usual, time-honored punishment. Also, arguably, execution in the sterile environment of jail is not cruel relative to the crime or the alternative of life in abominable jails. The precautions which jail administrations take against suicide prove that for many inmates long lingering in jail is worse than quick death.

Modern law prohibits singling out for prosecution. Jewish law, on the contrary, relies on exemplary punishments, especially the “purity legislation” of Leviticus. In one instance (Lev20:18), having sexual relations with a menstruating woman is punishable by death. The punishment seems disproportionate until we realize that it was unenforceable for the lack of witnesses; here the lawgiver relies on threat. Almost all other “crimes against purity” are similarly unpunishable: who can testify to non-generative incest or homosexuality? Other such crimes were punished extremely rarely: adultery was very hard to prove. In a sense, the Torah doesn’t single out for prosecution: every offender is liable, and every offender unfortunate enough to have his crime witnessed is punished.

Iran executes only a few dozen people annually for crimes of immorality, perhaps a few hundred by the highest estimates. That’s on the order of one person in a million. Many more Iranians die in car accidents than from enforcement of the moral law. But the effect of enforced morality is very high. Iranians are some of the nicest people around. No doubt that adultery is much rarer in Iran than in the liberal Israel.

not so cruel Iran