The US Attorney General, Eric Holder backed restoration of voting rights to felons, with a few caveats. (Israeli felons have always had that right).

What would the Rabbis of the Talmud say about this?

They would agree.

Society had both the right and the obligation to exact punishment, primarily to deter would-be offenders. Retribution sometimes is justified as a secondary objective.

Incarceration was little used in Talmud times.

Fines or corporal punishment were the preferred societal remedies.

Capital punishment, though on the books, was effectively eliminated by the impossible-to-meet restrictions on imposing it. The Talmud relates that a Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court that met within the Temple’s perimeter, that carried out an execution once in 70 years was thereafter known as a “killing” Sanhedrin.

–       They instituted important rules to protect the accused:

–       Courts were mandated to give defendants the benefit of the doubt.

–       Self-incrimination and circumstantial evidence  was unacceptable as criminal matters.

– Double-jeopardy was not allowed.

Several relevant messages jump out when exploring the Talmudic attitudes to crime and punishment:

* Punishment had to be measured and limited.

Corporal punishment was limited to no more than 40 lashes, and lest the whipper err, they preemptively limited it to no more than 39 lashes.

* Punishment had to be administered only in the presence of the convicting judges.

* More importantly, prior to conviction, and prior to punishment, the felon is referred to as “the evildoer;” after the punishment was administrated, he is termed, “your brother.”

Having paid the penalty, his slate is clean and is to be rehabilitated.

In our society, voting is, and ought to be, an inalienable right.

All of the  today’s laws that continue to restrict an ex-convict’s rights post completion of the terms of punishment (including parole) stand as barriers to reintegration into society and encourage recidivism.

Of course, a few ongoing restrictions on employment make sense. It stands to reason that those convicted of misappropriation of monies or fraud, for example, ought not have unrestricted access to the till, as the temptation may be too great.

No one wants to see convicted sexual predators having authority over children.

Fairness, as in most matters is a balancing of the rights of society and the individual.

For far too long, this see-saw has tipped unfairly against the rights of the individual.

The Attorney General’s proposal is a good first step in righting long-standing wrongs.

David E Y Sarna is a writer and former entrepreneur. He has eight published books including his latest, Evernote For Dummies, V2. He has nearly completed his first novel, about the David E Y Sarna is a writer and former entrepreneur. He has nearly completed his first novel, about the Mossad and the Jewish treasures in the Vatican’s secret archives and is working on a book about the Talmud for general readers.