The Bible, Judges 1:6, already mentions cutting off the thumbs and large toes of the defeated Canaanite king. R. Moses Isserles, Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 388:10, refers to blinding a moser or cutting out his tongue. R. Shalom Shachna, R. Isserles’ father-in-law, had an actual case in which he permitted blinding and cutting out the tongue of an evildoer. See She’elot u-Teshuvot Maharam Lublin, no. 138. This responsum is deleted from the Warsaw, 1881 edition of the responsa, but is found in the earlier editions which have the title Manhir Einei Hakhamim. R. Meir of Lublin tells us that R. Shalom Shachna’s ruling had a negative result in the end, as the man ended up apostatizing and marrying a Christian, and he and his children caused problems for the Jewish community.
In order to prevent such occurrences, both R. Meir of Lublin and R. Luria reject the punishments of blinding and cutting out tongues, believing that when necessary the wicked one should simply be killed.
R. Meir of Rothenburg stated that it is permitted to amputate the arm of one who continuously beats his wife. See She’elot u-Teshuvot Maharam Rothenburg, ed. Bloch (Budapest, 1895), no. 81. The same ruling is quoted in the name of R. Simhah of Speyer in Beit Yosef, Even ha-Ezer 154 (end). Already R. Huna recommended cutting off the hand of one who continuously struck others. See Sanhedrin 58b.
R. Jacob Weil (fifteenth century) of Germany ruled that it was permitted to gouge out someone’s eyes who violated Shabbat and Yom Kippur. See She’elot u-Teshuvot Mahari Veil (Jerusalem, 1959), section Dinin ve-Halakhot (at the end of the volume), no. 58.
R. Tzemah Gaon tells us that with a kohen who married a divorcee and there was a fear that he would perform the priestly blessing (which he was now forbidden to do), they would cut off the top of his fingers. See Halakhot Pesukot (Cracow, 1893), no. 84.
The penalty of blinding a murderer is mentioned in Sanhedrin 27a (see Rashi who assumes that this is the meaning of the passage). Blinding oneself was also occasionally used as a preventative measure to keep one from sin. A geonic source tells us that R. Joseph and R. Sheshet blinded themselves for this reason. See Sha’arei Teshuvah, no. 178. According to Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit, parashah 49, remez 161 (p. 848 in the Mossad ha-Rav Kook edition), R. Matya ben Heresh blinded himself for the same reason.
Regarding cutting a tongue out, see also R. Moses Hagiz, Mishnat Hakhamim (Czernowitz, 1864), no. 405, who tells the story of a rabbi and martyr who was tortured before being killed. When it was decreed that his tongue would be cut out, he stated that this was a punishment for him having learnt Latin and other non-Jewish languages.
While we are on the subject of harsh physical punishments, let me call attention to R. Yitzhak Nahman Eshkoli, Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayyim be-Halakhah u-ve-Aggadah (Ofakim, 2002), p. 261, who cites a contemporary opinion that when dealing with an eved kena’ani who has not yet had milah and tevilah, if necessary one can remove one of his limbs! (Obviously, this is no more than a theoretical point resulting from a “hiddush”.)
שישראל שקנה נכרי כדי שיהא עבדו, אך עדיין לא מל ולא טבל לשם עבדות, יהא מותר הישראל לחתוך את יד הנכרי כדי לכתוב עליה גט
We all know that you need to do everything you can to save another’s life. Let’s say an evil ruler tells you that he is going to kill another Jew, and if you agree to let him chop off your arm he will spare the person’s life. Are you obligated to give up your arm to save another? R. David Ibn Zimra, She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, no. 1052, discusses this question and concludes that you are not obligated, although to do so would be an act of hasidut. (This responsum is often cited in halakhic discussions of living organ donations.) I am sure readers are not surprised with this answer, yet R. Menahem Recanati records that some did think that he would be obligated to sacrifice a limb.