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Reform Jews Wait for Death Penalty News in New Hampshire

Reform Jews Wait for Death Penalty News in New Hampshire

Will New Hampshire be the next state to repeal the death penalty? Last Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to repeal the death penalty by an overwhelming 225-104 vote.

The repeal bill now heads to the state Senate, where passage is somewhat less certain, and then to Governor Maggie Hassan, who has pledged to sign it. Still, its passage out of the state House is significant. The New Hampshire House, with 400 members, is the largest state legislative chamber in the country and is famously unruly. This crucial bill nonetheless passed with a strong bipartisan majority. Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), whose father was murdered in 1988, spearheaded passage of the bill, powerfully stating, “If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs.”

Should the bill pass the state Senate, New Hampshire would become the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, and the seventh to do so in the last several years. Much of this momentum comes from an increasing awareness across the ideological spectrum of the problems with the death penalty. Advocates have long pushed for repeal in the Granite State, whose famous motto, “Live Free or Die,” might not appropriately frame this particular debate. Still, given the important political status of New Hampshire, this debate has the potential to reverberate far beyond this corner of New England. While the debate over the death penalty is primarily a state matter, we should all be concerned about how this debate plays out in each state.

Reform Jews are staunch opponents of the death penalty. The rabbis of the Talmud established a series of legal requirements surrounding the death penalty so intentionally complex and difficult to satisfy as to make carrying out this ultimate punishment virtually impossible. Reform Jews have more formally opposed capital punishment since 1959, “believing that, there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified, and that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods in dealing with crime… in the spirit of the Jewish tradition of tshuva (repentance).”

Repeal of the death penalty is a crucial social justice issue—and we hope that our friends in New Hampshire continue to advocate for a less vengeful and more just society.

Charlie Arnowitz is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he is responsible for a portfolio of issues including civil rights, immigration, and healthcare issues. He is a native of Highland Park, IL, and a 2013 graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont.

Charlie Arnowitz
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