The Jewish Legal System: Laws of Damages: Capital Punishment:
Does the Torah allow capital punishment?
Four death penalties - stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling - are prescribed for various major sins (Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:1). Administration of these penalties was rare because a person could be executed (or flogged) only if he had been warned by the witnesses and had insisted on committing the sin. Stoning was the only death penalty that could be given to an animal (for killing a person). All the death penalties were carried out as humanely as possible, to ensure that they would result in a quick death; for example, "stoning" was done by pushing the person off a cliff.
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