I found the following article by Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky in Google: “Exploring the Thought Process Involved in Releasing Terrorists in Exchange for the Freedom of … Abducted Israeli Soldiers.”
“Judaism is comprised of a complete and specific system of practical Torah, and through the Talmudic process, sweeping Divine principles are translated into practical application. One must descend from the clouds of theological inspiration, roll up one’s sleeves and tediously weigh the bits and pieces until one has ascertained that he is meticulously fulfilling God’s will in the most practical of circumstances.
“Before we proceed further, a few caveats. The author of this article is no way a competent enough authority to rule on so weighty an issue; the length of this article is barely enough to scratch the surface. The real circumstances are known only to the government authorities.
“But still this case will provide a fascinating insight into the some of the complexities in Jewish law that a rabbi must consider, and how misleading it is to translate a position into a simple, popular slogan.
“The following would be a Talmudic thought process:
- ‘Freeing captives is the greatest form of charity and it supersedes all other causes’ (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252, 1). ‘Anyone delaying this mitzvah is considered as guilty of blood-spilling’ (ibid.).This would seem to urge us to do whatever it takes in order to free a prisoner.
- The Talmudic sages, however, seeing a terrible consequence of this great mitzvah, enacted the following decree:‘One does not free captives for more than their value (i.e. one would evaluate them as indentured servant—their potential earning power.’The reason was twofold: (a) Captors demanded ransom that would devastate the community, causing widespread suffering, and (b) great ransom whetted the appetite of kidnappers and encouraged more and more kidnappings.This would seem to imply that if the demands are outrageous, then one ought not to exchange them.
- What if the captivity will conclude in the killing of the captive—do we still refrain from ransoming him at an exorbitant price?Torah authorities have debated this point and many are of the opinion that if the captive’s life is in danger, then the above injunction does not apply.It would seem that we ought to do whatever it takes to free them, for there is definitely an almost certainty of their being killed.
- The above principles make sense when we are giving up money in order to save a life; but in the case Israel is presently grappling with, we are giving up murderers who potentially endanger other people’s lives. Looking at the whole picture, can it be stated that we are in effect saving lives by agreeing to terrorist demands?
- Yet another point must be considered. Is the killing of the captives, God forbid, a certainty if they are not released? And is the damage done by the release of terrorists to be viewed as a likelihood, not a certainty?
- One more issue. This injunction applies to the community as a whole. What about the individual himself? If he can negotiate his own release, may he do so at an exorbitant price? What about his immediate family?
“The list of issues and sources go on further and further.
“Some of these issues had an extraordinary public application about 700 years ago. The leader of Ashkenazic Jewry at the time was Rabbi Meir ben Boruch of Rottenberg. He was imprisoned by a German ruler, Rudolph, whose voracity knew no bounds. Rabbi Meir (known as Maharam Mi’Rottenberg) was imprisoned until his death, and his body was not released. The community did not ransom him, as he himself had ruled. Seven years after his death, a private member of the community paid almost all of his own money to release the body, with the stipulation that he be buried next to him.
“It is important to bear in mind when we see the devastated parents of the captives on one hand, and the look on the face of those who lost kin at the hands of terrorists on the other hand, that decisions about life and death should never ever be decided by raw emotions. Torah values, principles and laws must be weighed by the responsible minds of Torah authorities, and only then can we feel that we have done that which is right, price notwithstanding….”
Now, at this point, and consistent with Rabbi Lopiansky’s important disquisition, we need to consider the following:
- To what extent do Arab terrorists released by the government revert to terrorism? Jerusalem Post columnist Sarah Honig reports (Magazine Section, July 6, 2007): “In their book Intifada, Ehud Ya’ari and … Ze’ev Schiff determined that over a third of all those set loose in the Jibril deal renewed terrorist activity within a year.” Honig is here referring to the May 1985 swap of 1,150 Arab terrorists for three Israeli soldiers held by the Jibril group in Lebanon. Some 600 of these terrorists were allowed to return to Eretz Israel, where some became the leaders of the intifada that erupted in December 1987. That intifada resulted in the murder and maiming of hundreds of Jews.
- Unlike the case involving the illustrious Rabbi Rottenberg, Israel is at war with the proxies of Muslim-Arab states—including Iran, Syria, and even Egypt—and this war involves nothing less than the survival of the one and only Jewish homeland.
- It should also be borne in mind that Arab terrorism and the abduction of Jewish soldiers is a basic weapon of this war, intended to demoralize the people of Israel and undermine their economy on the one hand, and incite Arabs in their genocidal war against Israel on the other.
Now, with all due consideration for the anguish of parents of Jewish soldiers held in captivity by Hamas and Hezbollah—parents who have every right to importune Israel’s government to obtain their sons’ liberty—nevertheless, they surely realize that the government has a profound duty to protect the lives of all our citizens. Imagine a soldier released from Arab captivity knowing that this will cost the lives of other Jews. What an awful thing to have on his conscience for the rest of his life.
It may seem melodramatic to say, as Nathan Hale is reported to have said when he was about to be hung by the British for being an American spy, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” But the example of such heroism in the minds of the Jewish people may mark the difference between Israel’s survival and extinction.