My Reflections on Tree of Life Tragedy

With Vicki Schieber, Pittsburgh October 2018

To My Concerned Friends,

This past Saturday morning, I was in synagogue, standing next to the Torah. As we were reading of the binding of Isaac, other folks got word of the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I am fine. That night, I was among scores turned away from a suburban location of the Pittsburgh Central Blood Bank. The community reaction was so overwhelming that they could not store or process all the donations they had already received. Pittsburgh is a remarkable community.

We need to tone down the rhetoric. We must respond with gentle anger, but with a dedication to increase love and understanding in our world, and continue to set a moral example. We don’t need stiffer death penalty laws; we need to see the Divine image in everyone, those with whom we agree and those with whom we do not agree. The Jewish communities of Pittsburgh and around the nation are hurting. We know that there are good and evil in the world. We know there is baseless hatred in the world. No one, no community is immune.

Thank you for reaching out to me and thank you for standing in solidarity with us at this difficult time.



Marshall Dayan is an experienced capital defense attorney and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He also serves on the board of directors at Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Nebraska repealed the death penalty!


Nebraska makes history!


The Nebraska legislature, having passed a death penalty repeal bill last week, sustained that repeal by overriding today Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto by a vote of 30-19.  This is a huge victory for the national movement to abolish the death penalty, and it was accomplished by a tremendous grass roots movement of Nebraskans to eliminate the financial waste of an arbitrary and capricious system that just didn’t work.  More than that, Nebraskans decided that the death penalty was just plain immoral.  Senator after Senator expressed the view that the death penalty was broken, expensive, arbitrary and, worse, racist and classist, but ultimately, that the death penalty was incongruent with their moral sensibilities.  The Midwest leads the nation in repealing the death penalty, from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to Illinois and Iowa to now Nebraska, Midwestern values do not include the state’s power to punish by death.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my home, is often called the gateway to the Midwest, so Pennsylvania is primed to join its midwestern neighbors, as well as neighbors West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, to repeal the death penalty, too.  Pennsylvania has a conservative legislature.  So does Nebraska.  Pennsylvanians are overwhelmingly people of faith.  So are Nebraskans.  Pennsylvanians are concerned about fiscal responsibility, as are Nebraskans.  Pennsylvanians care about justice, as do Nebraskans.  If a conservative Nebraska legislature can vote four times to repeal the death penalty, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, we Pennsylvanians can also organize to repeal the death penalty.
But it is going to take hard work.  And money.  So I urge you, let your voices be heard.  Make it clear that you support the governor’s moratorium on the death penalty, and that you support legislative repeal.  And please, financially support the work of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty by contributing today.  We can end the death penalty in Pennsylvania.  But only with your hard work and financial support.  Let’s join those seven states in seven years that have abandoned state-sanctioned killing.
Marshall Dayan, Co-chair
Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
PS: Nick and Kathleen were watching history in the making from the balcony.


United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Opposes Death Penalty in United States


From Marshall Dayan, Board Chair of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

I just learned that the committee on law of the Conservative Jewish movement, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, reaffirmed the movement’s opposition to capital punishment in the United States. The approved language is similar to that of Pope John Paul II in the Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, and is a broad, general condemnation of capital punishment, both in theory and particularly in practice in the United States. Here is a short excerpt:

We consider the contemporary death penalty a needlessly bloody measure, applied inconsistently and, all too often, wielded against those wrongfully convicted. We believe that in virtually all cases, even the worst murderers should be imprisoned rather than executed. We endorse the 1999 resolution of the Rabbinical Assembly that existing death penalty laws should be abolished and no new ones be enacted. Our religious community would contribute to American moral culture by opposing capital punishment in the name of our reverence for life. Moreover, we should express that view actively, for any who might protest a social wrong – even if their words are unlikely to be heeded – are nonetheless responsible if they fail to raise their voices [b. Shabbat 55a].

I applaud the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. We should all take this to heart. The long piece which was adopted was written by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofksy of congregation Anshe Chesed in New York, NY, and is a thorough exegesis of the Jewish view of capital punishment.