This week’s Torah portion discusses many civil wars such as the punishment for stealing, kidnapping, physical assault etc. There is a big difference between the Torah’s civil laws and our current modern law in that in the Torah there is no mention of prison as a punishment. (However, in the Talmud the punishment of prison is found in rare occasions.) At times, the Torah’s punishments seem more severe than American law. For example: The punishment for murder and kidnapping in the Torah is the death sentence. But, at times the Torah’s punishments seem lighter than American law, for example: The punishment of stealing and physical assault are monetary fines.
The commentaries explain that the reason the punishment of prison is not found in the Torah is because the Torah views the punishment of prison as a very harsh punishment since it takes a person out of his natural environment and takes away his freedom. Many times it also takes away the human need to be productive.
The Rabbis teach us that many of the Torah’s civil laws were only binding when the Temple stood in Jerusalem and there was a Jewish supreme court. Thus in our times, many times jail sentences are necessary. However, it would still be good if our judicial system would consider the Torah’s teachings and make it a component in their judicial decisions.