The Executioner’s Prayer: What Evolutionary Neuroscience and Talmudic Tradition Teach Us About the Roles of Punishment in Society
Join the Robbins Collection and the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies on Thursday, April 20 at the Bancroft Hotel for the 2023 Robbins Lecture in Jewish Law, Thought, and Identity. The event will begin at 5:00pm with a light reception, with the lecture following.
This year’s lecture will be given by Daniel Levy, 2022–2023 Helen Diller Institute Visiting Professor and Associate Professor, Former Dean, Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology, Reichman University
Punishment of offenders is an important component of the legal system in every culture, and ostensibly reflects a society’s principles regarding cooperative action and moral values. Unsurprisingly, the Hebrew Bible and Talmudic literature feature extensive guidelines regarding punishments for civil, criminal, and ritual offenses. These systems of sanctions, like those of many common law systems, reflect the potential dissonance between utilitarian-consequentialist and retributive-retaliatory punishment considerations. We will consider the consequences of these sometimes antagonistic factors for legislation and judicial practices by examining the evolutionary roots of punishment behaviors, and the brain bases of punitive acts in humans. We will see how Rabbinic law reflects awareness of the tensions inherent in individuals’ relinquishing their power to respond to offenders to central authorities. Finally, we will weigh the implications of these insights for the forms of punishment that might be most effective in strengthening social cohesion today.