"And proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants..." (Leviticus 25:10).

Perhaps because liberty is so highly valued in today's society, deprivation of liberty is considered the ultimate punishment. And so the prison system has become the punishment for a variety of crimes, severe and mild. But how has the system fared as a rehabilitative force? Our jails are the breeding grounds for further crime: a "first offender" sent to prison finds himself in an "intense course" for bigger and better ways of breaking the law. The jails reek of violence, dope-addiction and sexual misconduct. Social workers and government agencies alike have despaired of penal servitude as a method of rehabilitation of the criminal. Yet many are thankful that we have reached an "enlightened" age where corporal punishment (such as lashes, etc. as mentioned in the Torah) is no longer imposed.

Though very rarely implemented under Torah-law,1 corporal punishment is part of Torah; penal servitude is not. Why? Because "Man is born to toil."2 The human being must fulfill his raison d'etre — to be a productive element of society; man must work in order to retain his human character. A criminal who received physical punishment under Torah-law, suffered pain and anguish, but he was shortly able to return to his place in society as a working, productive human being, to continue his mission on this earth as a creation of the Al-mighty. (In extremely severe cases, a man could be judged incapable of continuing his mission on this earth, and it is then that capital punishment would come into operation.) By contrast, when an individual stagnates in a prison cell and is prevented from functioning as a productive part of society, his human character deteriorates, and, in a sense, this is worse even than death.

"The law of the kingdom is law"3 — until the system of penal servitude is replaced by a better and more rehabilitative method we must work within the system. But, as Jews, we certainly have the obligation of bringing aid, comfort and mitzvot to the Jewish prisoner. This is a great act of ahavat yisrael, "brotherly love." It raises their spirits; it inspires them with the hope that if they will resolve to eliminate the negative factors in their lives that brought about their imprisonment, they will eventually enjoy a good, long and happy life.