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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Imprisonment as a punishment for crime is not known in Mosaic law. The few apparent cases mentioned in the Pentateuch (Leviticus 24:12 Numbers 15:34 ) refer in fact to the temporary detention of the criminal until sentence could be passed on him. Later, however, during the period of the first commonwealth, a few cases of punishment by imprisonment are recorded (IKings 22:27 2Chronicles 16:10 Jeremiah 37:15-16 comp. Psalm 107:10 ). The Hebrew language contains a number of words meaning "prison" or "dungeon," which would imply that imprisonment was customary among the Jews, as it was likewise among many other nations of antiquity. Nevertheless, it seems to have been an arbitrary punishment inflicted by the magistrates or by the kings upon those who were under accusation or in disfavor.

The Rabbis, however, fixed this punishment for the following cases: (1) When the court is convinced of the guilt of one accused of murder, but can not legally convict because some condition has not been complied with (Sanh. 81b Maimonides, "Yad," Roẓ eaḥ , 4:8). (2) When one commits murder by the hands of a hireling (Ḳ id. 43a Roẓ eaḥ ), 2:2-4). (3) When one who has been twice condemned and punished with stripes for the same offense is found guilty for the third time (Sanh. 81b "Yad," Sanhedrin, 18:4). (4) When one can not be convicted by the court for a crime which involves capital punishment because he does not acknowledge that he was conscious of the guilt, even after being warned three times by the witnesses (Sanh. 81b Tosef., Sanh. 12:4 "Yad," l.c. 18:5). In all these cases the period of imprisonment was left to the discretion of the court. In most such cases, especially in the first instance given above, the sentence was for life, the treatment being very severe, aiming at the speedy death of the criminal (Sanh. 81b).

Temporary imprisonment, pending trial, is authorized by the Talmud, as it is in the Bible, in all cases (Sanh. 78b Roẓ eaḥ , 4:3). See Crime Punishment .

Bibliogaphy : Hastings, Dict. Bible , s.v. Crimes and Punishments Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews , Baltimore, 1891 Saalschutz, Das Mosaische Recht , ch. lviii., Berlin, 1853.S. S. J. H. G.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Imprisonment'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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