Michael Zoosman

“‘L’chaim!’ Jews Against the Death Penalty for Abortion – or Anything Else”

Image: Screenshot of image from online article “Death penalty for abortion introduced in House”  by Jessica Mejia/ Posted on ABC Columbia 25 on Feb 22, 2023. South Carolina and Texas both have proposed bills to punish abortion with the death penalty.  Source: No copyright.

Dear South Carolinians,

My name is Cantor Michael Zoosman. I am an ordained Jewish clergyperson, a former Jewish prison chaplain, a multifaith hospital chaplain and the co-founder of “L’chaim! [“To Life”] Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Our group includes thousands of members worldwide, and across your Palmetto State. As we write this post on International Women’s Day 2023, we are absolutely aghast over the bill that members of your legislature have proposed calling for the death penalty for abortion. The only other state that has proposed such a horror is Texas, the state murder capital of our nation. This human rights abomination is the most recent example of how when we give our government the power to murder its prisoners, we open a Pandora’s Box to state killings that endangers us all. 

Our group stands with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, as well as Martin Buber, (who with other Jewish human rights luminaires opposed the execution of Adolph Eichmann) and countless other Jewish leaders who in the wake of the Holocaust stand against the state-sponsored murder of any prisoners against their will. We echo Wiesel’s famous response to the question of capital punishment: that “death is not the answer.” Wiesel also made the following statement, which is our anthem in L’chaim:

“With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory. I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” 

A Holocaust survivor like Weisel making such a powerful assertion about the dangers of the death penalty becomes even more meaningful when one considers just how capital punishment is carried out here in the USA. Namely, 1) gas chambers continue to be built across this nation, 2) the poison gas Zyklon B itself – of Auschwitz infamy – is used in one of them, and 3) the most common form of execution that we see in America – lethal injection – is in fact a Nazi legacy, first implemented in our world as part of the Third Reich’s Aktion T4 protocol, as devised by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler. Many of us in L’chaim, like myself, are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors. We know very well that the death penalty and the Shoah/Holocaust are not the same. And yet, we also know that “Never Again” must have meaning in our world, lest we allow history the possibility of repeating itself. 

While rabbinic Judaism has effectively legislated away capital punishment in Jewish law. South Carolina lawmakers seek to expand the use of state-sponsored murder of prisoners as they pursue a dystopian nightmare that finds its parallel only in the “salvaging” state murders of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” 

And this is not all. Your state’s attempt to regress to the use of  firing squad and electrocution to kill prisoners is equally reprehensible. There is no viable way – quite literally – of executing someone against their will. Your lawmakers’ expansive notions about “kosher” forms of state murder call to mind a Tennessee legislator’s recent advocacy for a return to “hanging by a tree” as an execution method. His comment was a direct reminder of the lynching legacy that is the death penalty, which is proven to be blatantly racist in its application. As we saw most recently in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh in your state, it is much less likely that one who is white and wealthy will qualify for a penalty of death. 

Those who erroneously believe that the threat of capital punishment will deter anyone from doing anything would do well to read the many objective meta-studies that demonstrate that such deterrence is a fallacy. This level of fantasy is matched only by the insanity of some lawmakers who claim they are “pro-life” while they shamelessly support the death penalty, proverbially shaking hands with the Angel of Death. Rather than carry on this “death march of folly” to pursue their cause, they might instead remember the wisdom of Eliphas Levi, who wrote that “Every head that falls upon the scaffold may be honoured and praised as the head of a martyr.” 

Let there be no doubt: when it comes to the death penalty for abortion – or in any other case –  our thousands of members across the world echo Elie Wiesel and others when we fervently chant: 

“L’chaim – to Life!”

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM, 

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains 

Co-Founder: “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty” 

Advisory Board Member: Death Penalty Action  

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and received his cantorial investiture from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008. He sits as an Advisory Committee Member at Death Penalty Action and is the co-founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Michael is a former Jewish prison chaplain and psychiatric hospital chaplain. Currently, he is a multi-faith hospital chaplain at a federal research hospital, the National Institutes of Health - Clinical Center. His comments here represent his own opinions.
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