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Norwalk Rabbi Stands Opposed to Death Penalty

Rabbi Ron Fish is against the death penalty "in virtually every case," including infamously heinous crimes such as the July 2007 home invasion in Cheshire that resulted in three deaths. His strong stance puts him in line with 300 religious representatives who visited the statehouse Tuesday to deliver a letter in support of a bill to repeal Connecticut's death penalty.

"Jewish law, as distinguished from the explicit Biblical text, makes it almost impossible to find instances in which the death penalty would be applied," he said. "It is not only about the rights and the well-being of people who are accused, and guilty of terrible crimes, for me it's also about the nature of the society."

State Rep. Bruce Morris , D-Norwalk, is on the ministerial staff of Macedonia Church in his hometown. He emceed an event that included leaders from the Catholic, Baptist, Quaker, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, Greek Orthodox, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Jewish faiths. All said they want the death penalty replaced by a new sentence of life in prison for some murderers.

Fish, rabbi of Congregation Beth-El , agreed. "You can certainly make an argument that certain people don't deserve to have the compassion of society as they have committed horrible crimes," he said. But he said building facilities to execute people degrades "the nature of the society" and relationships among humans.

"We know that people are accused falsely," he added. "We know that people are convicted wrongly, errors are inherent in any human system. ... I think that the economic disparities in America right now, it's clear that they have an impact on the implementation of justice. Whether it's racial minorities or people who are economically disadvantaged, access to money should not be a reason to be subject to peril when faced with criminal accusation."

According to a Quinnipiac University poll , the majority of Connecticut residents are in favor of the death penalty and against state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield's bill. Yet Holder-Winfield said the bill is likely to advance after it receives its first vote in the Judiciary Committee on Monday, according to the Connecticut Post . Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he would sign the bill if the legislature approved it.

Fish's support comes from the Talmud and Jewish tradition. The death penalty "exists in some sense in theory in Jewish Law," but "we're told that if it were exercised once in every 70 years, such a court would be considered a bloody court." He points to the book of Deuteronomy , which says that parents could put an incorrigible child to death. "The Torah prescribes, the Bible prescribes the death penalty," he said, "and yet the rabbis say it's not intended to be directly applied as it appears there."

How do you feel about the bill to repeal the death penalty? Do you have religious reasons for your opinion? Comment below.

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