There were times in history when kidnappings were so common that extreme measures had to be taken. An example was the case of Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg (1215-1293). Rabbi Meir, a major rabbinic figure, was taken hostage by a German vassal named Rudolph who demanded an exorbitant ransom.
The imprisoned rabbi, in an act astounding in its selflessness, issued a ruling from his cell ordering his students and followers not to pay.
Unfortunate stories like these offer modern rabbis precedents that can aid them in deciding present-day challenges. However, Rabbi Meir’s plight is only partially instructive for the decision makers of Israel in the 21st century.
We might be able to learn from Rabbi Meir how to avoid the exploitation of the Jews’ emotional attachment to life. But there are some things that we cannot learn from Rabbi Meir’s story.
We cannot learn from Rabbi Meir or any other Jewish source that it is permissible to endanger Jewish lives to retrieve the body of a Jew. Only for the sake of saving a life is a Jew obligated to go to extreme lengths. Assuming Regev and Goldwasser are dead, there would be no Jewish legal precedent for freeing terrorists in exchange for their bodies.