I realize I am late to the party. Part of this was purposeful in that I felt others had captured much of what was out there regarding the release of Gilad Shalit. Yet, I came across three pieces over the weekend that made me decide it would be good to at least offer up some of the material online regarding how we should think about and react to his freedom. Here are a couple of the more fascinating pieces I found (for some other headlines, check out Bruce’s Mideast Soundbites).
Why are we against the exchange that allows murderers to go free? Because we know the suffering that they leave in their wake.
Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.
Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki’s murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.
Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.
Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.
Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.
My son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists 10 years ago when they were 13 and 14 years old. They had been hiking in the wadi near our home when they were set upon by a Palestinian mob and stoned to death. It was a brutal, vicious murder.
We now run the Koby Mandell Foundation for terror victims’ families. We direct Camp Koby, a 10-day therapeutic sleep away camp for 400 children who have lost loved ones, mostly to terror. We also run mothers’ healing retreats and support groups.
MOST PEOPLE don’t understand the continuing devastation of grief: fathers who die of heart attacks, mothers who get sick with cancer, children who leave school, families whose only child was murdered. We see depression, suicide, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. You wouldn’t believe how many victims’ families are still on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. We see the pain that doesn’t diminish with time. We literally see people die of grief.
Bereaved families face acute psychological isolation.
Nobody understands us, they often complain.
They mean that nobody understands the duration or the severity of their pain and longing. In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated.
So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter.
When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something.
But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones’ deaths were for nothing.
Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn’t release them.
No sane government would.
When we were sitting shiva for Koby, a general in the army told us: “We will bring the killers to justice.” I believed him. I took his words to heart. Today I am thankful my son’s killers have not been found. So are my children. Of course, I don’t want the terrorists to kill again. But if they were to be released in this prisoner exchange, I don’t think I could bear it.
We don’t want other families to be put in our situation.
We don’t want terrorists to be free when our loved ones are six feet underground. Ten years after my son was beaten to death, the pain often feels like a prison. In many ways, I am not free.
We don’t want other terrorists to be emboldened because they know that even if they murder, they may not have to stay in prison. President Shimon Peres says he will pardon but he will not forgive. Terrorist victims’ families will not pardon or forgive the government for this release.
We have been betrayed. To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.
Furthermore, terrorism aims to strike fear in an entire society, to bring a whole populace to its knees. During the intifada, the terrorists did not succeed in defeating Israeli society. But to release prisoners now signals to Hamas that their strategy of terror was correct, effective.
They will celebrate wholeheartedly because they have won.
And as a result of prisoner exchanges, the Israeli justice system can only be seen as a joke, a mockery, even a travesty of justice.
It provides no deterrent and no retribution. It’s as if our government says to the killers: Come hurt us again. We’ll be happy to release you one day. We’ll let you go when you demand it.
I want Gilad Schalit home.
We need to protect our own soldiers. But not with a wholesale prisoner exchange. I wish that I could rejoice with the Schalit family. But I can’t.
The price is too high.
The writer is the mother of Koby Mandell, who was stoned to death near his home in Tekoa in 2001.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expresses joy over kidnapped soldier’s return, says it illustrates what Jewish people should expect at End of Days by Kobi Nahshoni
In a sermon delivered Tuesday night ahead of the holiday of Simchat Torah, the rabbi explained that the joy over Gilad’s return to his family illustrates what the Jewish people should expect at the End of Days, when the dead will rise out of their graves and return to life.
Yosef concluded his sermon by stating that “this is a great day of joy for all the people of Israel for Gilad Shalit’s return.”
“Every day we say (in a prayer), ‘Blessed is God, the resurrector of the dead’ – what a great joy we’ll experience. We are being described what will happen.”
According to the rabbi, the entire world was excited about the soldier’s release from captivity after five years, and in the future the dead will return to their families even decades after being taken away from them.
In a bid to demonstrate the great joy in the days of the Messiah, Rabbi Yosef explained that it would be like a multitude of weddings, as each person returning to life will have to remarry his widow in order to live with her again.
“Everywhere you go – a chuppah. This one’s wife has been resurrected, and that one’s wife has been resurrected – what a joy it will be!”
Rabbi Yosef followed Shalit’s return home on Tuesday, after being involved in the early stages of the prisoner exchange deal – offering support and encouragement. The rabbi stayed at home as usual and continued his Torah studies, but asked his family members to update him on every development.
Upon hearing that the soldier’s physical and mental condition was satisfactory, he excitedly recited the “Blessed is God that redeems and saves” prayer and said Jews must continue praying for his full recovery.
On the Sabbath morning of Nov. 5, less than three weeks after the release of Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, Jews in synagogues throughout the world will read a Torah portion concerning Abraham’s early journeys. The text recounts how invaders conquered the city of Sodom, taking Abraham’s nephew Lot as a captive, and the way Abraham raised an army to rescue him.
The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians.
The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.
Far from being some abstruse, obscure point of theology, pidyon shvuyim is called in the Talmud a “mitzvah rabbah,” a great commandment. The Shulhan Arukh, a legal code compiled in the 16th century, states, “Redeeming captives takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them, and there is no commandment more important than redeeming captives.”
So while journalists, analysts and scholars have offered various motivations for the disproportionate deal — the effect of the Arab Spring, the institutional culture of the Israeli Army to never leave behind its wounded, the symbolism of Sergeant Shalit as everyone’s child in a country of nearly universal military service — the principle of pidyon shvuyim preceded all those factors.
“For most people in Israel, it doesn’t translate directly as a mitzvah, because even if they’re attached to Jewish tradition, they’re not halakhic,” said Noam Zohar, a professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, using a term for following religious law. “But the underlying values — solidarity and the high value of every individual life — are part of our public ethos. The same values informed the high urgency of pidyon shvuyim.”
Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, framed the issue similarly. “Those things are in the DNA of the culture,” he said of the religious teachings about ransoming captives. “It’s a sentiment that can’t be measured in exact legal or judicial terms. It plays a role in those moments of perplexity. You fall back on your basic identity. As a Jew, as an Israeli, what do I do?”
From its initial depiction in Genesis, the admonition to redeem captives reappears in the books of Leviticus and Nehemiah, as well as in the Talmud, Shulhan Arukh and writings of Maimonides. Among the ancient commentators, as well as among Israelis today, debate has persisted over whether pidyon shvuyim is an absolute value.
A passage in the Talmudic volume of Gittin, anticipating the recent voices of Israelis critical of the Shalit deal, cautions, “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”
The traumas of Jewish history have provided innumerable opportunities for reconciling the tension between redemption and extortion. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews who traveled as merchants and traders were frequently kidnapped by pirates or highway bandits. During the Holocaust, German forces routinely threatened to destroy Jewish communities unless the residents paid a pre-emptive ransom.
As Bradley Burston wrote last week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, over the past 54 years, the nation has freed a total of 13,509 Arab prisoners in exchanges that brought home 16 captive Israeli soldiers — a ratio of roughly 800 to 1.
With such an imbalance, pidyon shvuyim has been both a cherished and a contested belief. A prominent German rabbi taken captive in the 14th century, Meir ben Baruch, instructed his followers not to pay a ransom, which he feared would be onerously high, and ultimately was killed. Israel was torn apart in the 1950s by a libel trial involving Rudolf Kasztner, a Jewish activist in Hungary who had paid cash, gold and jewels to the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in 1944 to save about 1,600 Jews headed for death camps. So controversial were Mr. Kasztner’s actions that he was assassinated by a fellow Israeli more than a decade after the war.
While Israelis have widely believed that sovereignty and military might ended the need for paying ransoms, the Shalit deal has proven otherwise. It was approved by a prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had repeatedly written against what he termed “terrorist blackmail” earlier in his political career.
“The Zionist diagnosis, the post-Holocaust diagnosis, was that powerlessness invites victimization,” said Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, a prominent Holocaust historian. “What’s intriguing here is that power has not resolved Israel’s vulnerability.”
Indeed, as the Jewish ethicist Elliot N. Dorff pointed out, contemporary Israel is vulnerable in ways that the small, scattered communities of the Diaspora were not. It has its own enemy prisoners to be demanded in a trade. The Shalit negotiations took place in a constant media spotlight, tracking not just five years of failed deal making between Israel and Hamas but the tableau of Sergeant Shalit’s parents sitting in a protest tent outside Mr. Netanyahu’s office.
For all the practical, pragmatic, geopolitical calculations that went into the final deal, it also benefited from the endorsement of a leading Sephardic rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party. With his approval, the Shas members in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet voted for the deal. And, in an unspoken, little-noticed way, religious tradition informed a real-world decision.
“The whole issue of redeeming captives,” as Mr. Dorff put it, “has not been a theoretical one.”