"A Look at the 15th of the Hebrew Month of Av" Special Article

The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom
The Attractive and the Noble
The Unattractive Ones
Sound Advice for Singles
The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom

Israel never knew such wonderful holidays as Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.
On these days the daughters of Israel would go out and dance in the
vineyards and offer themselves joyfully for the purpose of
establishing Jewish families. And despite the fact that all
individuals are different – some are rich and some are poor; some are
more beautiful and some less; some are of noble birth and some are not
– all the same, on these days, special effort was made to try and
bridge the gap, at least as far as wealth was concerned. The young
women would therefore go out wearing white borrowed outfits in order
not to embarrass one who did not herself posses such a gown.

Most likely, the young men were already acquainted to some extent with
the families of the girls in the area and had consulted their parents
regarding an appropriate match. The final decision, however, would
take place on these days. Perhaps these days were meant for those boys
or girls who were not successful in finding a mate in the conventional

The Attractive and the Noble
The Talmud (Taanit 31a) informs us as to the manner in which these
daughters of Israel would try to make themselves desirable: “The
attractive ones would exclaim: Search out beauty, for this is the
purpose of a wife; the ones of noble birth would say: Search out
family, for family is the purpose of wife; the unattractive ones would
say: choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.”

That the attractive girls would draw attention to their beauty is
understandable. Many boys choose their wives based upon beauty. Beauty
presents itself as a kind of guarantee to a good and happy life, a
life filled with vitality. Reality, though, does not confirm this.
There is no indication whatsoever that men who married so-called
attractive women ended up more content than those who married “less
attractive” women. When beauty comes in addition to good character it
can indeed add to life – but, often, it can be misleading.

Those of noble birth say just that: The main thing is character. A
good family is one in which many of its members have been successful
in obtaining a proper education and good livelihood. One can safely
assume that a woman who comes from such a family will possess a
pleasant and kind character, and agreeable educational habits. In
addition, it is highly probable that the children resulting from such
a matrimony will also possess such traits. We indeed find that the
sages (Baba Batra 110a) advise examining the brothers of the
prospective bride, for it often happens that the children turn out
like the brothers of the bride. The sages also advise marrying the
daughter of a Torah scholar (Pesachim 49a). This is the reason that
the Mishna in Taanit 26b only quotes the girls from good families; in
the eyes of the sages, their words were the most true.

The Unattractive Ones

The most surprising of the three groups is the unattractive one:
“Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.” A simple interpretation of these words tells us that these
young women are appealing to the unattractive, untalented boys who
would run after the attractive and distinguished girls only to be
turned away. To these boys they would say: “If you keep running after
the attractive and distinguished girls, you will remain single and
frustrated forever. Be realistic and marry one of us who are ready to
marry you. After all, the Torah commands you to marry – come, marry
for the sake of fulfilling God’s will.” And because marriage must
possess an element of affection they added: “So long as you adorn us
with gold,” for such behavior gives expression to your love for us.

But this is not all. There is a more profound way of understanding the
words of the unattractive girls. Sometimes a person who has merited
neither beauty nor desirable lineage, succeeds, by virtue of
exceptional faith in God, to perfect his or her character traits and
attain great personal achievement. The level such a person reaches is
even higher than that of the attractive and distinguished. A shared
life with such a person is sure to be full of beauty and happiness.
This is what they meant: “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven and
by so doing we will ascend together and surpass the level of all the
attractive and distinguished couples – and our children will be
distinguished by virtue of us.” And they added, “So long as you adorn
us with gold.” This last statement can be understood best in light of
the words of R’ Yishmael (Nedarim 9:10): “The daughters of Israel are
all beautiful, only that poverty makes them unbecoming.” If you
decorate us with gold you will uncover our true unique beauty. And so,
though in practice the most desired girls are the generally the
attractive ones, and they are followed by the distinguished ones, in
truth the distinguished are preferable to attractive and, sometimes,
the unattractive are the most desirable of all.

Sound Advice for Singles

Here, then, is a bit of advice for single men: Often, girls who are
actually quite pretty appear to be unattractive. This, though, is
simply the result of the man’s level of maturity. God created humans
such that they enter the world as babies and grow and develop until
old age. Each stage in life has its own purpose. At the age of twenty,
the desire to marry is very strong: “Twenty is the age for
chasing” (Avot 5:18). At that stage in life the heart is full of
enthusiasm and courage. The boy sees all that is good in his
prospective match and is ready to leap happily into married life. This
period is followed by a more restrained stage, the purpose of which is
to build and prepare the next layer of life. When an older single man
anticipates to be swept up by youthful enthusiasm when dating, he is
usually disappointed. Yet, instead of attributing this to his age, he
finds fault in the girl. He might admit that she is pleasant and
bright, but – he disappointedly explains to his close friends – she is
not attractive and exciting enough. Such bachelors must be informed:
If the girl is pleasant and smart in your eyes, and you enjoy being
together with her, and the only problem is that the excitement element
is lacking, “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven.” And do not
worry, for, if you invest energy in your relationship and “decorate
her with gold,” you can be sure that you will be blessed with true
love. The enthusiasm which accompanies falling in love is actually
meant to help a person take the monumental step of entering into the
covenant of marriage. Such emotion, however, does not guarantee a
happy marriage. Good traits and shared goals are much more important.
True, ripe, deep love which reaches the inner layers of the soul is
dependent upon these ingredients.

The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The author of the work “Bnei Yissachar” explains that Tu B’Av is a day
of deep-rooted significance because it falls forty days before the
date of the world’s creation. The sixth day of creation was Rosh
HaShannah. On that day God formed man. Six days prior to this is the
Twenty-fifth of Elul, and forty days prior to this is Tu B’Av (the
Fifteenth of Av). The sages tell us, “Forty days before the formation
of the infant an announcement is made in heaven: “The daughter of so-
and-so is matched up with so-and-so.” Tu B’Av, too, because it falls
forty days before the formation of the world, is a day of fatal
importance with a unique capacity to initiate life – especially for a
bride and groom who wish to establish a family.

"Our Own Flesh and Blood" (Part 1 of 2)

Overwhelming Tragedy

Rabbi Teichtal: The End of an Era

Rabbi Kook: Time For Action

Overwhelming Tragedy

An individual possesses the ability to grasp the short range
significance of events and to understand those aspects which affect
his own personal life. Yet, even this process takes time. Only after
enough time has passed is one able to analyze properly what has
befallen him. When a massive, sweeping event occurs – a tragedy so
overwhelming that the mere thought of it causes one to recoil in
horror – one must not lose sight of the fact that the world possesses
a creator and provider, and that, as dreadful and terrifying as things
might seem to be, there is pattern and purpose in the world’s

When tragedy befalls an individual – the death of a loved one, for
example – the feeling is so painful and so sharp that at first one is
unable to bare it. Because one lacks the strength to confront what has
happened to him, he “forgets” the event, as it were, attempting to
divert his attention from it. Thoughts attempt to comprehend the
tragedy yet are forced to recoil for it is beyond contemplation. It is
simply too difficult. Only after some time has passed – after one has
adjusted somewhat to the pain – does a person begin to accustom
himself to what has happened, to internalize the experience and to
consider it at greater depth. This process acts as a sort of defense
mechanism preventing one from facing the experience so long as he does
not possess the necessary strength. And, as noted, only when the pain
finally dissipates does the true confrontation, as difficult as it may
be, begin.

All this holds true with the “Shoah” (Holocaust) as well. It appears
that we have not yet reached the stage at which we can attempt to
understand what happened. As much as we may desire to earnestly
understand the Holocaust, we are unable. True, constant emphasis is
placed upon the importance of being “informed” about the Holocaust and
recalling what befell us, and perhaps for a portion of the public this
is necessary. Yet, my experience with the public leads me to believe
that the Holocaust was so enormous and so painful that true reflection
implies nothing less than crying. It is simply impossible to sit and
listen to all of the recollections which are broadcast on Holocaust
Day without crying. Such a horrifying tragedy; our own flesh and
blood. We ourselves were murdered along with the six million. The
deaths of the Holocaust confront us in such monstrous proportions that
the mind is overwhelmed. Therefore, it is impossible to consider the
Shoah without tears. We are still unable to give it proper meaning.

Rabbi Teichtal: The End of an Era

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook used to point to the fact that Rabbi Yisachar
Shlomo Teichtal, may God avenge his blood, the author of “Em HaBanim
Semechah,” reached the conclusion that the Holocaust came about
because Jews did not immigrate to Israel. Rabbi Kook did not present
this opinion as the final word on the subject, claiming that this was
undeniably the reason for the Shoah. He made clear, rather, that it
was the opinion of Rabbi Teichtal. He, who was there in the midst of
the Shoah and whose death served as a sanctification of God’s name, is
permitted to say such things. We, who were not there, are not
permitted to claim to know the reason for the Holocaust.

Many ask, “How is it possible that the Almighty allowed such a
terrible calamity to befall His people? How is it possible that such a
thing could have happened?” We might answer this question with a
question from an entirely different direction: How is it possible that
such an event did not befall the Jewish people earlier? After all,
throughout the generations the nations expressed their hatred for the
Jews in such a sharp manner, portraying the Jews as leaders of a world
conspiracy and the murderers of God. How is it possible that the
nations did not rise up and destroy the Jews on such a large scale
hundreds of years earlier? The survival of the Jewish people in the
Exile was no doubt a phenomenon which defied the laws of nature, a
miracle, for “were it not for the fear of God,” say the Sages, “how
would it is possible for one nation to survive among the
nations?” (Tractate Yoma 69b). So long as we managed to survive among
the nations the miracle persisted – the miraculous phenomenon of one
lamb which, despite seventy wolves surrounding her, is not torn to
pieces. And so it was, that even when one king enacted difficult
decrees, it remained possible to flee to a neighboring kingdom which
was willing to show favor upon the Jews, such that the People of
Israel were never completely erased. With the arrival of the Shoah the
miracle of Jewish survival in the Exile came to an end, and the force
which protected us because of our task in the Exile (the “elevation of
sparks”; the clarification of the minute details of the Torah) stopped
its functioning; with its disappearance, persecution and destruction
on a scale previously unknown began.

Rabbi Kook: Time For Action

It is possible to discern such a concept in the writings of Rabbi
Avraham Yitzchak Kook. In his book “Orot” Rabbi Kook explains that
when the Judaism of the Diaspora is detached from that of the Land of
Israel, its strength weakens. All of Exilic Judaism’s strength derives
from its desire to come to Israel – a desire which in the past,
because of factors beyond its control, could not be realized. This
longing had no choice but to find alternate ways of expressing itself,
on a restricted and individual level. The moment that the barriers
were removed, the gates opened, and the possibility to immigrate
granted – the life force which sustained Exilic Judaism ceased to
function. It was no longer enough to talk about Israel – the time for
action had come. The miracle ended. Even in the case of Jews who
managed to escape death in Europe, fleeing to other countries –
America for example – their plight and the plight of the generations
which followed deteriorated with the passage of years. This, despite
the fact that numerous Torah scholars fled to America; despite the
fact that observant Jews reached her shores in larger numbers than
those who reached the shores of Israel. Today it is possible to see
quite clearly that Yeshivas (rabbinic academies) in the United States
are not able to reach the level of an average Yeshiva in Israel. The
fact of the matter is that today American students are sent to Israel
to study Torah despite the fact that initially there were greater
numbers of observant Jews there. What’s more, assimilation has reached
such frightening numbers in the United States that it is referred to
as the “Quiet Holocaust.” In light of all this it is possible to say
with some confidence that the miracle of the survival of Jews in the
Exile came to an end some sixty years ago, and this found expression
in a number of ways: the Holocaust, the decline of the spiritual level
in the Diaspora, and the unprecedented assimilation there.

"The prohibition against Smoking" by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (final segment)

5. Educating Against Smoking
Having learned that the Torah forbids smoking because it is
detrimental to health and endangers the lives of both the smoker and
those in his proximity, it is obvious that we must educate every
individual not to begin smoking, for before one picks up this bad
habit it is easy enough to refrain from it. But, after having become
addicted to the habit and the nicotine, it becomes extremely difficult
to stop.
All the same, one who is already addicted to cigarettes is obligated
by the Torah to stop smoking. Indeed, once one has stopped smoking,
the danger of cancer or heart disease gradually decreases, to the
point where, after ten years, the chances of contracting heart disease
are no different than those of someone who never smoked. The
heightened danger of cancer disappears after fifteen years (Asya vol.
5, pgs. 224 & 235).
And, in truth, though the impression is that it is very difficult to
stop smoking, experience shows that via information and education even
one who is addicted to smoking is capable of stopping. For example, in
the year that studies proving the dangers of smoking were publicized
64% of doctors smoked, and when they were asked if they felt that it
was possible to stop smoking, they answered in the negative. Yet, ten
years later, only 16% of doctors continued smoking. From here, the
conclusion is that a clear understanding of the dangers of smoking is
an extremely effective way of putting an end to the habit. Hence,
smokers are obligated to study about the dangers of smoking, and to do
all that is in their power to kick the habit.

True, sometimes the mental state of the smoker, or the environmental
pressures that he faces don’t permit him to take upon himself the task
of quitting, and in such a situation we might consider him a victim of
circumstances beyond his control – force majeure. Sometimes it is even
better to suggest that such an individual not even attempt to stop
smoking, for such an endeavor is liable to take its toll on his entire
being and disturb his mental balance. But, the great majority of
people are capable of taking the steps necessary to quit smoking.

As a side note, it is also important to point out that habitual
smoking constitutes a great waste of money. A person who smokes two
boxes of regular cigarettes every day for fifty years, has spent
almost 150,000 shekels. If he had saved that same amount of money, he
would have in hand at the age of seventy, more than 300,000 shekels.

"The Prohibition Against Smoking" (Cont'd)

3. The Prohibition Against Smoking in Other Peoples’ Presence
Another Halakhic question which concerns the problem of smoking is,
“Is it permissible for a non-smoker to demand of a smoker to refrain
from smoking on the grounds that the smoke bothers him. It goes
without saying that in the house of the non-smoker, the right to
decide whether or not one smokes therein is his own. Hence, a guest
cannot demand that his host refrain from smoking in his presence, just
as he cannot himself smoke if the host if desires that he not.
The question is, what is the rule in public places, or in places which
are jointly owned. Can, in such circumstances, a non-smoker demand of
a smoker to refrain from smoking on the grounds that the smoke bothers

The Talmud (Baba Batra 23a) teaches us that even in a private domain
one must be careful not to cause damage to his fellow. For example, it
is forbidden for a homeowner to create a stench or smoke in his own
domain if it will be carried over into the domain of another causing
him discomfort. This is a clear proof that smoke is considered by
Jewish law as substance which damages and causes discomfort and that a
person can demand of his neighbor that he not create smoke which will
enter his domain and cause him uneasiness. This rule is true of a
public place as well: One can demand that his fellow refrain from
smoking. And if there are two office workers together in the same
room, one can tell the other not to smoke.
And even if over a long period of time one worker demonstrated no
opposition to his neighbor’s smoking, he still reserves the right to
demand that his coworker refrain from smoking. And if the smoker, in
such a situation, claims that because he has been smoking in this
place for years and nobody ever asked him to stop before, and since
this has become the established custom he ought to be able to continue
in his ways, it is, all the same, permissible according to Jewish law
to demand that the worker stop smoking. This is due to the fact that
it is well known that smoking greatly irritates certain people, and
nobody has the right to rely upon established custom where such a
custom involves discomfort to his neighbor.

All of the above is true even if we say that smoking does not affect
the health of those who inhale cigarette smoke, but merely causes
discomfort and unpleasantness; but today, with all that we know about
the health hazards involved in smoking even to those who only happen
to be in the smoker’s vicinity, the prohibition is all the more
severe. For example, studies have shown that when one of the members
of a couple smoke, the chances of the partner’s contracting cancer as
a result of cigarette smoke is three times greater than in couples
where neither smoke.
It is worth mentioning, in this light, that our beloved mentor, Rabbi
Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen Kook, zt”l, instructed his students in the Mercaz
HaRav Yeshiva not to smoke in the study-hall of the Yeshiva. Rabbi
Moshe Feinstein also forbade smoking in yeshiva study-halls and
synagogues because smoking causes damage even to passive bystanders.

"The Prohibition against Smoking" by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Cont'd)

Scientific Facts

Let us consider the scientific facts (as they appear in vol. 2 of
“Asya,” in the articles written by Dr. Meltzer, Dr. Hershkowitz, and
Prof. Katan) which served as the foundation for the Halakhic ruling
which forbids smoking.
There are three main diseases caused by smoking. The first affects the
lungs directly in the form of bronchitis and deterioration of the
lungs. These sicknesses attack the lungs’ immune system which stands
guard against elements which are dangerous to the body and they affect
the lungs’ ability to receive oxygen. In most cases, such ailments
damage an individual’s physical fitness and operational capacity,
while in rare instances they may even lead to death.

The second type of disease that may be caused by smoking is heart
disease: On the average, one in every four people who die from heart
disease received it as a result of smoking.
The third category is that of cancer. Comprehensive studies show that
smoking is the major environmental cause of cancer. The chances that a
man who smokes will contract cancer are twice as great as a man who
does not smoke. Smoking leads generally to lung cancer, to the point
that among smokers the rate of lung cancer is seven times higher than
among non-smokers. According to statistical calculations, then, we
find that more than 500 people die each year from lung cancer as a
result of smoking.

In summary, the death rate is much higher among smokers than among non-
smokers. For example, in a massive study carried out by American
insurance companies, it was discovered that the death rate of smokers
up to the age of forty-five is 80% higher than the death rate of non-
smokers of the same age group, while the death rate of smokers up to
the age of sixty is 125% higher than the death rate of non-smokers
belonging to the same age group.

In an interesting study carried out by one insurance company, it was
discovered that even the rate of traffic accidents for smokers is
higher than that of non-smokers. 6.59% smokers were involved in such
accidents while the rate among non-smokers was only 3.75%. The reason
for this difference is that smoking affects the hemoglobin, lessening
the amount of oxygen in the blood, which in turn damages the driver’s
concentration and judgment.
As a result of these studies many insurance companies raised the
prices of smokers’ policies.
At any rate, as concerns our discussion, as a result of these studies,
it was ruled that smoking is a severe violation of the Torah law.

"The Prohibition against Smoking"

1. The Prohibition against Smoking
A question that many people ask is, “What does Jewish law have to say
about smoking? Is it permissible or forbidden?”
Hundreds of years ago, there were doctors who believed that smoking
was actually a healthy practice, to the point where they would even
advise smoking to those suffering from certain types of sicknesses.
But, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that smoking is in
fact very bad for one’s health. Already some sixty years ago, in the
days of Rabbi Yisrael Meir from the city of Radin, or as he was better-
known as the “Chofetz Chaim,” the opinion of a number of doctors was
made public which stated that a frail person should not become
accustomed to smoking. These doctors explained that smoking saps a
person’s strength and might even cause death. Basing himself upon this
report, the “Chofetz Chaim” wrote that it is forbidden for a person to
accustom himself to smoking.
Despite this, though, because it was not clear to just what degree
smoking was dangerous, the majority of rabbis held that smoking was
not absolutely prohibited; only that it was not advisable to smoke.
They therefore did not object to Yeshiva students who had a practice
of smoking.
But, during the last few decades, it has become undeniably clear
through comprehensive studies that smoking is very dangerous to one’s
health. This being the case, it is clearly forbidden according to the
Torah to smoke. For, the Torah commands us to guard our lives, as it
says, “Only be careful and guard your soul greatly” (Deuteronomy 4:9),
and “You must guard your souls greatly (Ibid. 4:15). And the Torah has
commanded us to stay away from anything which might endanger life.
Therefore, if one builds a roof or a balcony, there is a Torah
obligation to build a guard-rail around it in order that nobody falls
from it. Hence we can see to just what degree a Jew is obligated to
maintain his health. It follows that the Torah prohibits smoking
(“Aseh Lekha Rav” vol. 2, 1; Tzitz Eliezer 15, 39).
As a side note it is worth mentioning here that Rabbi Dr. Mordechai
Halprin writes that it is possible that the prohibition against
smoking does not stem merely from the commandment to protect one’s
health. It may very well be that the Torah prohibition against
murdering also becomes an issue here. This is because with every
inhalation the smoker causes direct damage to his lungs and, in a
sense, brings his own death a bit closer. If this is the case, such a
person violates a severe negative commandment, “Thou shall not kill,”
which is one of the Ten Commandments.

PPrisoner Exchange in Jewish Law" Part 4

Israel’s Security Policy

We might liken Israel and its security policy to a person who
maintains a continuous $3,000 dollar overdraft in his bank account.
Over the course of fifty years he loses almost $30,000 in interest.
Yet, because he is unable to take control of himself, he lags months
behind schedule, forever in the debt.
The State of Israel maintains a constant state of overdraft, in both
its economy and its security. Israel’s economic problems are well
known to all. The national treasury spends money that it has not yet
received from community funds. As a result, we are forced to loan
money from the United States, and this, in turn, increases our
dependence upon America. No less a problem is the fact that we
maintain “overdraft” in the sphere of our defense policy. We do
everything when it is already too late. If the State of Israel had
waged a war on terrorist organizations two years ago our security
situation would be remarkably better today, and many Jewish lives
would have been spared.

Instead of carrying out “Operation Defensive Shield” after the large
terrorist attacks, it should have been carried out beforehand. Instead
of eliminating terrorist leaders after costly suicide bombings, they
should have been targeted beforehand, when they began to threaten us.
Instead of waiting another year or two to declare war upon the
Hezbollah, Israel should declare war upon them now. If we had
initiated the Yom Kippur War a few of hours earlier, the results would
have been immeasurably better.

May we merit witnessing the fulfillment of our prayers that “all
wickedness will disappear like smoke when You remove evil’s domination
from the earth. Then You, God, will reign alone over all Your works,
on Mount Zion, the resting place of your glory, and in Jerusalem, Your
holy city.”

"Prisoner Exchange in Jewish Law" Part 3

3. The Law Regarding Prisoners in Wartime

Though, as we have said, there are opinions that when the captive’s
life is at stake it is permissible to pay even more than the generally
accepted amount, in wartime it is forbidden to give in to any such
extortion whatsoever. The rule is that in times of war one does not
submit to any of the enemies demands. In fact, even in a case when the
enemy only stole some straw and hey from a border village, the
response must be a strong military one. For, as soon as one gives in
to them regarding a small matter, they will gain confidence and
increase their efforts to strike at us (see Eruvin 45a).

Therefore, if an enemy of Israel takes even a single hostage, we must
go to battle against them in order to save the captive, for if we
allow them to succeed in taking one hostage they will gain incentive
and step up their efforts to strike at us. To this effect we find in
the Torah (Numbers 21:1): “And when the Canaanites, the King of Arad,
who dwelt in the Negev, heard tell that Israel came by the way of
Atarim, he fought against Israel and took prisoner.” According to the
sages, they took only a single maidservant. Yet, in order to retrieve
her Israel did not suggest negotiations, but went to battle against
the Canaanites. An additional example can be brought from king David:
When the Amalekites attacked the town of Ziklag, taking the women
captive, David did not sit down at the negotiating table, but went to
war against them and saved the prisoners (Samuel 1:30).

In a case where Israel lacks the military capacity to engage the enemy
in battle it is permissible to exchange prisoners in the generally
accepted fashion, but any more than that is forbidden. This is all the
more true considering that we are today in an ongoing state of war
with surrounding countries and terrorist organizations and that every
concession is interpreted by them as an sign of weakness. Such
submission merely leads to more attacks and more attempts to take
hostages. What’s more, as a result of our willingness to free large
numbers of prisoners for one or two Israeli hostages, the terrorists
fear us less, for they figure that even if they do get caught, they
will most likely be freed before long in a prisoner exchange deal. It
should also be noted that many of the terrorists who have been
released by Israel in the past simply returned to their terrorist
activities, murdering, in turn, hundreds of Israelis. Hence, as a
result of our receiving one Israeli hostage, tens and perhaps even
hundreds of other innocent Israelis have been murdered.

It is important to realize, though, that at the end of the war, when a
final cease-fire agreement is reached between the sides, it is
permissible for Israel to release all of the enemy prisoners in its
possession in turn for all of our own captives being held by the enemy
– even if we have taken many captives. The reason for this is that
such exchanges are recognized as accepted practice at the end of the
war and are hence not considered acts of extortion. Unfortunately,
though, we do not foresee such an end to war and terrorism arriving
anytime in Israel’s near future.

"Prisoner Exchange in Jewish Law" – Part 2 of 4

2. The Maharam of Rothenburg

The Maharam of Rothenburg

Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293 c.e.), known as the Maharam, was
one of the greatest of the early Jewish codifiers. At the age of
seventy he was taken captive and placed in the Ensisheim prison in
Alsace, France. Emperor Rudolf I proceeded to demand an exorbitant sum
for his release. In order to understand the full significance of this
act it is important to realize that almost all of the rabbis and
leaders of the Jewish communities in that generation were the
Maharam’s students. Even the great rabbis of the generation that
followed were greatly influenced by the teachings of the Maharam. The
most famous of his students was Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, known as the
Rosh, whose rulings are cited extensively in Rabbi Yosef Karo’s
Shulchan Arukh. Because the Maharam was so important a figure, Emperor
Rudolf I hoped to extort a huge ransom from the Jewish community.
Indeed, the emperor’s evil scheme nearly succeeded. The Maharam’s
students and admirers were prepared to raise the sum necessary to free
their master. They felt that though the law forbids paying more for a
captive than the accustomed amount, when the captive at hand is the
leading Torah scholar of the generation, and the entire community is
in need of him and his Torah wisdom, it is permissible to pay any fee.
But the renowned Maharam would not permit it to be paid, for he
understood that such an act would only encourage the enemies of Israel
to imprison other rabbis in the future and demand huge sums for their
release. As a result, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg spent the final seven
years of his life in the Ensisheim prison – and it was there that he

By virtue of his greatness of spirit and his self-sacrifice for the
sake of the general good, the Maharam succeeded in preventing a dam
from breaking open: He saved the Torah leaders of future generations
from captivity, and the Jewish community from gigantic expenses which
may well have caused their complete financial ruin.

(Prisoner Exchange in Jewish Law (Part 1 of 4

1. “For the Sake of the General Welfare”

“For the sake of the general welfare”
The Sages of the Mishna teach: “Captives should not be ransomed for
more than their value, for the sake of the general welfare.” The
enactment of such a law was necessary, lest kidnapping become a
lucrative trade. The Rif (Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi), the Rambam (Rabbi
Moshe ben Maimon), the Rosh (Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel), and the Tur
(Rabbi Jacob ben Asher) all rule accordingly, as does Rabbi Yosef Karo
in his authoritative Shulchan Arukh (see Yoreh Deah 252:4).
Yet, regarding a situation in which the life of the prisoner is at
stake – i.e., his captors threaten to murder him if they do not
receive the ransom they desire – Torah authorities are divided: Some
say that it is permissible under such circumstances to pay more than
the captive’s value, because a Jewish life is at stake; others,
though, maintain that such a deal is forbidden out of consideration
for the general good, for if an agreement is reached, the terrorists
will simply step up their efforts to take additional captives.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed