A request for readers’ help

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Usually I post my thoughts, and then sit back and watch readers pick them apart — or, as is more often the case, pick one another apart over matters having only a tangential relationship with my original post.

Now, however, I’d like to solicit your thoughts on a moral dilemma currently confronting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In particular, I’d be interested on any Torah sources that can be brought to the discussion.

As you know, indirect negotiations are now under way with Hizbullah over the two Israeli hostages captured by Hizbullah on July 12, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Nasrallah will almost certainly demand the return of Samir Kuntar, a particularly odious figure, who led a group of four PLF terrorists who managed to penetrate Israel by sea from Lebanon in 1979. Kuntar smashed the head of an eight-year-old girl in front of her father, and then shot the father to death. The mother of the family, who was hiding in their house, inadvertently smothered her two-year-old infant in an effort to keep her from crying and revealing their hiding place. In the last prisoner exchange with Hizbullah, Israel refused to return Kuntar.

Kuntar should have been tried, with full due process, and executed, but it’s too late for that now. Clearly his return would constitute a major political boost for Nasrallah. And by all logic, the upcoming exchange should be captured Hizbullah fighters for the two Israeli soldiers – a typical post-war exchange of prisoners.

But let’s say Olmert has to return Kuntar or walk away from the table. What should he do? On the one hand, how do you look at the woman who lost two children and her husband at Kuntar’s hands? On the other, how can you look the Goldwasser and Regev families in the face, if you do not make the deal?

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9 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum,

    Rabbi Alfred Cohen in “Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society”(Fall 2003) has an article which you might be interested in. He discusses the issue of “Ransom or Exchange of Prisoners” , but does not come to a definite conclusion. It appears that there are no contemporary teshuvos discussing the issue.

    Briefly, his reasoning and mekoros, most of which I have not myself seen are:

    1) The Mishna(Gittin 45A) states that hostages are not ransomed for more than their worth, in order not to encourage additional kidnapping(YD 252). Yet R. Yeshosua b. Chananya stated that he would have redeemed a child(R. Yishmael b. Elisha) for whatever sum demanded(Gittin 58A), and subsequently, he indeed paid a very large sum. According to one opinion in Tosaphos(ibid), the difference is that an excessive ransom may be paid if the captive’s life is at stake.

    2) In the case of a prisoner exchange, the issue is: does the terrorist being considered for exchange, who may possibly murder additional people(c’vs), represent more of a “present danger” to life than the life of the captive currently at risk (“choleh l’fanecha” : Noda Biyehuda YD 200 and Chazon Ish Aveilus 208:7 re: autopsy).

    3) Rabbi Cohen posits that the Halacha would differentiate between an individual and a community situation, as well as between wartime and peacetime, based on sources which do not directly discuss the issue of prisoner exchange(e.g., Tzitz Eliezer 13:100 and 12:57 re: an army risking additional soldiers’ life to rescue a captured soldier).

    4) He concludes that one needs to weigh the benefit of redeeming, which raises morale in other soldiers, versus the negative consequenses of freeing terrorists, namely, the disastrous psychological, political, and physical consequences on the population of releasing violent terrorists.

    5) One interesting source for # 3, is R. Yaakov Kamintesky’s dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the suggestion raised by students to ransom R’ Hutner Zt’l from the 1970 Black September hijacking for an exorbitant sum,the latter idea based on the halacha that a Talmid Chacham is ransomed even at a sum exceeding his worth. The suggestion was apparently accepted by many Rabbonim at the time.

    As related by R. Herschel Schacter, R. Yaakov felt that paying an excessive price did not apply during hostilities, when the delivery of ransom money to the enemy would strengthen their position. (“Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society”(Fall 1988).

  2. Seth Gordon says:

    Disclaimer: I am not a citizen of Israel.

    If the latest war had actually eliminated Hezbollah, then Israel could have gotten its soldiers back and kept Kuntar. Since, alas, that didn’t happen, Hezbollah (or Syria or whoever) can continue to hold Regev and Goldwasser indefinitely at very little cost to themselves. Under these circumstances, I don’t see how absolutely refusing to exchange Kuntar would give Israel any long-term strategic advantage. And I don’t think Israel can afford to make these calculations based on anything but long-term strategic advantage.

  3. joel rich says:

    Yehoshua,
    Were you responding to my post? If so, I was referring to the leadership that the author of the article would recognize and follow.
    KT

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The official Chief Rabbinate, whose salaries are paid by the State of Israel and which is appointed by a body many of whose members are not Torah-observant Jews, will not risk biting the hand that feeds it. We saw that when thousands of Jews were expelled from their homes and their dead were exhumed with great ceremony presided over by those rabbis.

  5. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Joel,

    You asked a very insightful question. I conjecture that the Rabinnical leadership does not want to decide the issue without first polling the amcha yisroel for its input.

  6. Aaron says:

    Being that no one believes that Israel won’t negotiate with kidnappers, obviously this will happen again and again. Absent any indication that Israel will institute the death penalty and won’t release terrorists even if it’s not this animal Kuntar, the next best scenario would be to do an exchange and then to assasinate said terrorist(s) and publicly ackowledge it.

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “A request for readers’ help…”

    On a tangential note, I usually agree with the thrust of Rabbi Rosenblum’s posts. As I contemplate some points mentioned in the original articles, I usually find additional closely related and broader issues to comment on as well.

  8. joel rich says:

    R’JR – Why not report on the position of the Rabbinic leadership on this question?

    KT

  9. Green Data says:

    How do you look at thousands of women who lost their children, husbands, nd homes at IDF hands.