Should Casey Anthony Get Away With Murder?

Torah and the limits of human justice


Like most Americans, I’ve been following the Casey Anthony case, and I’m horrified that our justice system is allowing someone who obviously committed a hideous crime to go free. As a Jew, I want to know what our own books of Torah justice have to say about a case like this.


I’m not going to present an opinion on Casey Anthony, the crime of which she is accused and her trial in particular. I’m not a judge or a jury. What I would like to address is your question about courts of justice and their fallibility. This is something about which Torah enlightens us, and the message is apparently very relevant today.

Is it possible for human beings to create a justice system that is infallible? Obviously not. Human beings are not infallible, so how could they create an infallible system? We cannot know everything, especially those things that have already passed. We can only seek “proof beyond reasonable doubt”—and that too, with great difficulty.

But let me go further: Even when G‑d gave us His Torah, the wisdom of a perfect Creator who does know everything, He did not provide a watertight system for us to execute justice. Not because He could not—He could do anything. But because justice is not always our business.

A bit of detail:

The Torah demands two witnesses, established as G‑d fearing, upright citizens, who saw an event simultaneously. They must be drilled by expert judges separately, to determine that there is no discrepancy between their accounts. They must be tried by a court of 23 expert judges. There are many other factors, to the point that some of our sages declared that a court that could sentence a person to death once in seven years is a “murderer’s court.” Yet others declared that should stated as seventy years.

What if the court saw that a particular criminal could not be sentenced by Torah law, and yet was obviously guilty? That depends. They may decide that letting this person roam freely presented a danger to society. In that case, they might incarcerate him—not for his own good, but for everyone else’s protection.

Or they may see this crime in a larger context. They might say, “If people will see that this individual got away with such a crime, the crime will become less heinous in their eyes, and therefore easier for others to commit.” In that case, they might decide to apply some other punishment—again, not for the sake of the individual, but for the protection of society.

Inevitably, however, there will be the individual who fits neither of these categories, an obvious murderer, yet one that cannot be punished neither by a Torah court, nor by the laws of the land. Such may well be the case with Casey Anthony.

Where is justice in such a case? The answer, quite simply: It’s back in G‑d’s hands.

Life is G‑d’s business. Justice is G‑d’s business. When it comes to deciding who should live and who should die, who else should decide this other than the One who formed us and gave us life? He tells us that each life is “in His own image”—meaning that no price can be placed upon it. How then, can we be the deciders of who should live and who should not?

Only because that same Giver of Life asks of humankind to set up courts of law, for each nation to determine their own laws for each land—hopefully guided by Torah—using our own, inborn sense of justice. He asks of us to create laws that will ensure a sustainable, peaceful and just society.

Yet, nonetheless, justice must be understood within that context: that in a limited framework, our Creator allows us to partner with Him in His justice, even to take human life into our own hands in extreme instances. And only when we have established evidence “beyond reasonable doubt.”

When do we know that a criminal is out of our hands, that justice in this case is no longer our business and has fallen back into the hands of our Creator? Simple: When we can’t get past that “reasonable doubt.” Or whenever, for whatever reason, the hands of our courts of law are tied. Who has tied them? Our Creator has.

So, you ask, why would G‑d tie our hands in justice? Why not let us take care of the punishment ourselves—especially when we see so clearly what must be done?

Because justice is not about punishment. Justice is about healing. Healing the world. Healing humanity. Healing the souls of those who have committed a crime, and thereby corrupted the image of G‑d that lies within each one of us.

At times, that healing can be done here, in this world. At other times, the damage is so severe, the soul must return to its Maker for repair. At times, a human court is able to heal a soul through the powers invested in it by our Maker. At other times, the crime may be so heinous, so destructive to the soul, that every step of the healing can only be carried out by the One who has breathed that soul into each of us, the breath of His own essence.

Perhaps that is the case of Casey Anthony. Perhaps not. We are very small creatures attempting to second guess an Infinite Creator. We can only say that we’ve done our job, and have faith that He can be trusted to take care of the rest.