05.10.2011 08.Cheschwan. 5772 Lech Lecha
Captive-taking was a common phenomenon in antiquity, and the Talmud stresses that redeeming captives is a great mitzva.
While we have discussed prisoner exchanges in previous columns, the recent deal with Hamas to secure Gilad Schalit’s freedom, along with the previous deal with Hezbollah to return the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, calls for renewed discussion of state policy. Even as we rejoice over Schalit’s safe return, we must calmly and collectively establish a balanced approach to an issue that has plagued Israel for decades.
Captive-taking was a common phenomenon in antiquity, and the Talmud stresses that redeeming captives is a great mitzva (Bava Batra 8a). Nonetheless, the Sages placed limitations on the ransom, asserting that one could not pay more than the person’s value (Gittin 45a) on the slave market, where many captives were sold. Some believed that this decree only aimed to limit the financial burden on the community, thereby entitling a wealthy individual or community to voluntarily pay an exorbitant sum. However, most scholars asserted that these limits prevented providing lucrative incentives for further kidnappings, thereby forbidding excessive payments even from the wealthy (YD 252:4). According to this logic, one might conclude that prisoner exchanges must follow the regular protocols of war, which include the release of all POWs following a cease-fire, or equitable exchanges between hostile parties, as is often the case with spies….