"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.

"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.

On Rabbi's and Politics

  1. Cause for Redemption
  2. The High Road to Salvation
  3. Two Paths
  4. ‘I will hasten it in its Time’
  5. Torah Luminaries and Political Leaders
  6. Royal Rabbis

Cause for Redemption

Question: Why do the Rabbis today not stand up with strength and
courage, like Mattityahu in the days of the Maccabean revolt, and lead
the Jewish people in a religious re-awakening and an all-out war with
the Arab enemy? Why do they not take as their role model the
Maccabee’s who dared to engage the Greeks and the Jewish Hellenists in

Answer: Mattityahu the Hasmonean priest did not begin his revolt when
Hellenism gripped the Jews, and our beautiful and holy city of
Jerusalem changed her complexion and took on the appearance of a
Hellenist city. Even when Hellenism had infected the Holy Sanctuary
itself, and the High Priests of Israel took upon themselves Greek
names and frequented the athletic games in the coliseum that stood
adjacent to the Temple Mount more frequently than they performed the
Divine worship in the Holy Temple, no revolt was instigated.

The revolt did not begin until things became virtually unbearable as a
result of religious persecution – when the Greeks, aided by
Hellenists, began to force people to practice idolatry. The vast
majority of pious Jews fled to the hills and the caves, and when they
were caught, they sanctified God’s name by giving their lives rather
than committing idolatry. Mattityahu the Priest chose the path of
active resistance and initiated the Hasmonean revolt.

The High Road to Salvation

Even so, this is not the ideal path to redemption. Ideally, Israel’s
redemption should pour forth from a genuine inner awakening and true
desire on the part of the masses. For, as a result of strengthening of
faith and Torah study, the nation will become united around Torah
values. This, in turn, will lead to the land’s liberation and the
construction of the Holy Temple. Such was the case in the time of
Samuel the Prophet and King David. It was the impact of the Prophet’s
Samuel’s educational activity that unified the nation and readied the
people for accepting upon themselves a king who would lead them in
realizing truly Divine ideals.
This was King David’s uniqueness. He initiated and brought about the
creation of the kingdom of Israel according to his own premeditated
plan. The judges that preceded David were different. Each of these
Judges rose up in response to enemy attacks from without. In order to
defend Israel and rebuff such assaults, each Judge united the people
and uplifted their spirits. David, though, took premeditated and
calculated steps in order to unite the Jews. He began by assisting
King Saul in his war with the Philistines, and when in time, Saul’s
jealousy of him grew, David chose to leave the public arena in order
not to cause a rift in the nation. Even after Saul’s death, David took
slow and calculated steps. He began by establishing his kingdom in
Judea. When the time was ripe, after the nation had accepted his
leadership, David made Jerusalem the seat of his kingdom. This step
was taken so that the entire nation would rally around the city of
Jerusalem, thus becoming the holy capital. In battle too, David’s
driving force was apparent. Rather than waiting for them to build up
strength and attack, David engaged the surrounding enemies in war.
Hence, till this day we proclaim: ‘David the King of Israel is alive
and enduring!’ It was David who established the kingdom of Israel.
Generally speaking, though, our salvation flowered in response to
difficulties and hardships which plagued the nation.

Two Paths

The first path calls for bringing the Redemption via our own active
initiative, like Samuel the Prophet and King David who displayed human
effort and were aided from above. This is ‘Redemption by choice,’ and
this is the preferred path.
The second path plays itself out via Divine intervention. Seeing the
hopeless plight of the Jewish people and their inability to advance
toward the desired elevated goals, God covertly intervenes in
historical events, creating a ‘no choice’ situation by virtue of which
the Nation of Israel is forced to take a stand and free itself. This
is a ‘no choice Redemption’ and it is riddled with difficulties and
hardships. To some degree, the redemption of Chanukah was of this
latter sort, for it began as a reaction to the barbarous decrees of
We, of course, yearn for a redemption which comes about as a result of
the ascent of the entire nation through faith, Torah, and the
settlement of the Land of Israel. We pray that in this manner the
Kingdom of David will be restored, leading to a peaceful and pleasant
redemption. Concerning the verse in the Book of Isaiah: ‘The least one
shall become a thousand and the smallest one a strong nation. I the
Lord will hasten it in its time,’ the Sages teach us: If you are
worthy: ‘I… will hasten it.’ If not: ‘… it will come in its
natural time.’

‘I Will Hasten it in its Time.’

There also exists a possibility of a redemption that combines both of
the paths we have mentioned. This sort of process is essentially ‘no-
choice,’ as illustrated in the twenty-sixth chapter of Ezekiel, yet
contains an element of human effort. This, in fact, is the literal
meaning of the passage: ‘I the Lord will hasten it in its time.’ Into
the midst of a natural ‘in its time’ process of redemption enters the
miraculous element of ‘I will hasten it.’
The more active a part we take in the process of our own Redemption –
through settling the land, education, kind deeds, and above all
through delving into the Torah of the Land of Israel, which directs
the Jewish people toward the Divine goal of preparing the world for
the Heavenly Kingdom – the more acceptable will be the suffering which
accompanies the Redemption and the birth-pangs of the Messiah.

In our next posting, Rabbi Melamed will relate to the following topic:

Torah Luminaries and Political Leaders

Question: Why did the revolt of the Maccabee’s not begin until forced
idolatry reached the hometown of Mattityahu the Kohen, Modi’in?

This and much more…

How Are Leaders Produced?

The Most Severe Problem – Unclear Goals
In addition to our deficiency when it comes to a heritage of
leadership, the religious-Zionist public has another problem, one
which is more serious: our fundamental goals are not well enough
defined. Despite the fact that, in many ways, ours is the best and
most balanced sector in the State of Israel, a smokescreen covers all
of our goals. The religious-Zionist community identifies with all the
important, Torah-related, national and universal values. We possess a
fundamentally positive view of both Torah and academic study, of both
Yeshiva students and those who work for a living. We esteem those who
devote themselves to the nation and the land via military service,
settlement, immigrant absorption, and the development of industry.
However, the manner in which all these values fit together is not
clear. How do we go about combining all of these praiseworthy and
important values? What do we do when two ideals conflict? How do we
determine which takes precedence? After giving precedence to one, how
do we nonetheless manage to give authentic expression to both ideals?
These questions have yet to be answered, and in such a state, it is
impossible to produce leadership. Leadership needs to have a clear
line of approach, and when the goals are not clear, it is impossible
to establish leadership.

Neither should one take this matter lightly, for the Talmud teaches
(Shabbat 119b): Rabbi Isaac said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only
because the small and the great were made equal, for it is said, “And
it shall be as with the people, so with the priest,” which is followed
by, “The land shall be utterly emptied” (Isaiah 24).

We see, therefore, that when there is no clear order regarding what is
“great” and what is “small,” i.e., which value takes precedence over
another, the entire value system crumbles and falls into ruin, and the
land is laid waste.

Torah and Science
Let us consider, for example, the relationship between Torah and the
sciences. Generally speaking, all students of Torah ought to take a
positive approach to the study of science, as explained in the Talmud
(Shabbat 85a). The Sages even enacted a blessing to be recited when
one sees an outstanding non-Jewish scholar: “Blessed are You O
Lord . . . Who has given from His wisdom to human beings.” The various
sciences, then, are considered God’s wisdom (and see Maharal, Netiv
HaTorah, chap. 14). Concerning this, the Gaon from Vilna, Rabbi Elijah
the son of Shlomo Zalman, says that whoever lacks the knowledge of a
portion of the secular sciences lacks a hundred portions of knowledge
of the Torah.

All the same, it goes without saying that Torah wisdom is preeminent
and superior to all other wisdoms.

Here the question arises: On a practical level, what sort of
relationship ought to exist between Torah and science? Should a person
begin studying sciences only after he has finished all of his Torah
studies? That is, at the age of about 700? Or should the student begin
combining secular studies with religious studies while still young?
And just how much should be incorporated? Perhaps this depends upon
the character of the individual?  How do we determine this?

In practice, because these matters have not been clarified, a deep
rift divides the Yeshiva world and the world of academia, each side
pulling with all of its might in its own direction. And this tension
gives rise to strong, reciprocal criticism. However, if the two sides
would sit down and calmly discuss the problem, they would most
certainly agree that both the Yeshiva and academia are of great value.
However, it must be pointed out that compromise is not the key to
solving the essential problem. Profound clarification is called for in
order to combine Torah and science in an ideal manner, i.e., in a
fruitful manner.

So long as we do not carry out such a clarification, it will be very
difficult to provide a comprehensive vision for the religious-Zionist
public as a whole, a public which must produce Torah scholars,
scientists, business-people, professionals, etc. When such a vision is
lacking, it is impossible to establish a study program which will
provide a variety of possibilities for different people. When both
vision and means are lacking, it is impossible to produce leadership
which will act to realize and communicate this to the public at large.

Torah and Livelihood
The ideal relationship between Torah study and earning a living also
remains a question. Is it best for a person to study in a Kollel
(Yeshiva for married men) his entire life, as some Haredi, “ultra
Orthodox” rabbis advise, or is such behavior forbidden in light of the
ruling of the Rambam (Maimonides)? Should a Jew make do with as little
as possible, leading a life of poverty and dedicating most of his time
to Torah study? Or is there value in the fact that a person spends a
lot of time at work and becomes wealthy?

This issue has not yet been solved, and there are many who waver: on
the one hand, they admire and praise the dedication of one who does
not work for a living at all, but lives off of a Kollel stipend his
entire life. Yet, at the same time, they are angered by such a person
and say that, in light of the Rambam’s ruling, he desecrates God. It
is difficult to educate youth according to such an approach, and even
more so to lead a public and provide an ideal example of Jewish life.

The same goes for the relationship between Judaism and democracy,
Torah justice and the law of the state, Yeshiva study and army
service, and many other issues. And, again, when such issues are not
sufficiently clarified, it is impossible to establish a position and
strive on its behalf.

Leadership must set up clear goals and press forward to fulfill them.
We do not have leaders because we do not have clear goals, and we do
not have clear goals because we lack able leadership. We must
presently work towards developing a system of leadership and
clarifying the foundations of our outlook.

How Are Leaders Produced?

The Religious Community’s Leadership Problem

Due to our two thousand years of exile, we have become estranged from
those studies which relate to the issue of leadership. During that
period, Jewish community leaders learned how to employ
“shtadlanut” (persuasive entreatment) when dealing with rulers due to
the justified fear that any show of self-dignity was liable to
endanger the community. There was no choice. At any rate, this manner
of leadership centers on survival, not on developing and carrying out
state-level initiatives. It is this ingrained heritage which continues
to set the stage for the emergence of leaders from the various sectors
of the religious public.

On the other hand, when it comes to family life, religious Jews have a
rich tradition and much experience. During the long exile, we acquired
a wealth of experience in fostering Jewish families under even very
difficult conditions. And, indeed, we find that, in practice, the
religious tradition is very beneficial to family life in light of all
the difficulties and challenges of modern society. Family life in
religious circles is more successful than in secular society in all

So, in fact, the religious public merits a greater blessing when it
comes to building families, but when it comes to public leadership, we
have yet to make any great progress. Secular leaders act more
naturally, and they also learn from the experience of the other
peoples. Religious Jews are not free to act according to their nature.
Neither do they possess an organized and established heritage
regarding how to build leadership upon faith and Torah. As a result,
most religious leaders know primarily how to deal in intercession, to
make declarations and condemnations, or to serve secular leaders.

An Intermediate Conclusion: Unity
We have to acknowledge this reality, and the resulting conclusion for
now is that we must strive for the unification of all sectors of the
religious public. If we expect more from our own public figures than
what they are capable of, we will end up being disappointed again and

If there would arise leadership capable of presenting a vision and
striving to realize it intelligently, with a broad, realistic
approach, it would be worth supporting in the hopes that it succeed in
changing the state of things. In practice, however, such leadership
does not exist. Therefore, the least we can do is ask the various
religious movements and figures to spare us the tension and
competition, to unite for the sake of the common goals of all sectors
of the religious public.

Such unity must embrace as many sectors of the public as possible.
Despite our differences of opinion, we must emphasize our shared
interests, for these constitute a majority. We must find an approach
which will provide maximum freedom for each sector while at the same
time allowing for maximum cooperation on behalf of shared goals. It
will be necessary to agree from the outset that there will arise
situations in which some Knesset members will leave the coalition and
others will remain. All will be obliged to respect one another and to
refrain from exaggerated accusations and denunciations.

This will be the first step toward developing a system of leadership
according to the Torah.

In the next article “An Intermediate Conclusion: Unity”